Thursday, August 11, 2011

Two Amazing Books

I was discouraged by my reading this week.  Between Sunday and Wednesday I read three books and enjoyed none of them.  The next book in my pile on Thursday was Spell Hunter (Knife in the U.K.) by R. J. Anderson.  I was slightly afraid to pick it up because I really wanted to like it and I wondered if I was in some sort of slump where I just wasn't liking anything.  I went and ahead and began reading it at 9:00 that night.  BIG MISTAKE.  I didn't just like the book, I loved it.  Which meant I was seriously sleep deprived come Friday morning.  And today too because of course I had to read its sequel, Wayfarer (Rebel in the U.K.) too.
 
These are the North American covers.  As usual the U.K. covers are waaay better, but that is a topic deserving of its own post.

Synopsis for Spell Hunter (taken from Author's Website):
There are humans at the bottom of the garden, and a glimpse inside their forbidden House convinces the fierce young faery hunter known as Knife that they have knowledge that could help her dying people.  But if the human world has so much to offer, why is the faery Queen determined to keep her people away from it? Is there a connection between the House and the faeries' loss of magic? And why is Knife so drawn to the young Paul McCormick — that strangest of creatures, a human male?

Synopsis for Wayfarer (taken from Author's Website):
The faeries of the Oak are in danger of extinction, and their only hope for survival rests in fifteen-year-old Linden. Armed with the last of her people's magic, she travels bravely into the modern human world. Along the way she makes a reluctant ally—a human boy named Timothy.   Soon Linden and Timothy discover a danger much worse than the Oakenfolk's loss of magic . . . a potent evil that threatens to enslave faeries and humans alike. In a fevered, desperate chase across the country, Tim and Linden must risk their lives to seek an ancient power before it's too late to save everyone they love.

R. J. Anderson's books first came on my radar because she is a member of sounis.  I always enjoyed reading her comments there so I started following her livejournal.  Again, good stuff.  I can now say that she is an amazing fiction writer as well.
 
Spell Hunter
Knife is one amazing little fairy.  She is a fierce warrior, brave, has a craving for knowledge and a refusal to just accept what people tell her.  She questions and challenges everything.  This is a good thing because her people are in need of help and they need to be thinking outside the box to get it (or rather outside the tree).  Knife is willing to do that.  At the same time she can be frustrating because she is very cool and aloof and works very hard not to forge emotional ties.

Paul, the human protagonist, has such a tragic story.  But Anderson writes him so while I sympathized with him, like Knife I never felt sorry for him.  I found myself torn between wanting to shake him out of his despair and hug him out of it.  It helped that I think snarky cynicism is always sexy he had the type of humor that sets my heart aflutter. 

The conflict in this novel is mostly internal for both Knife and Paul.  They both have to come to terms with truth about themselves as the story unfolds.  There is also the communal conflicts of the faeries for Knife to deal.  There is no evil force they are trying to defeat.  I liked this aspect because most of the time the greatest struggle is the one for survival, which is the battle the faeries are fighting at this juncture.  They are trying to figure out a way to survive in the wake of an evil force that came and went a couple centuries ago.  All is not right in the little faerie world and Knife and Paul have to figure out went wrong so they can figure out how to make it right.  While the world building sets up the next book there is nothing added to this book superfluous to the story being told.  The end left me with a sense of completion and this novel could definitely stand on its own.

There is a romantic element in the story and it is exactly the kind I like to read.  Fascination that leads to a friendship first.  There is an exchange of ideas and shared hardships.  It builds well so what both of them are willing to do for the other by the end is believable.  I also kind of like that this was about a human boy and a girl with special powers.  That is a refreshing turn around in YA romance.

I loved the other faeries in the novel too.  They all had such distinct personalities, despite there being several of them I never was confused about which was which. 

In this novel the Christian worldview that R.J. Anderson brings to her writing is subtle.  Self sacrificing love is a major theme and the faeries often make reference to and send up prayers to "the Gardener".

Wafarer
The Christian allusions in this novel are more obvious but are not dogmatic.  Prevalent themes in this novel are faith, doubts and how do deal and work with people who believe differently than you do.  The connection between the Gardener and the God of the Bible are made evident when Linden (the fairy protagonist) shares their story of creation with Timothy (the human protagonist) which clearly ties in with the story of the creation and fall in Genesis. The relationships between humans and faeries has been tainted as a result of the fall and that is where the main conflict in this novel lies.   A great deal of the tension in this novel is set up because of the differing ways Linden and Timothy view their faith and the world.  It is very true to life and beautifully executed.  I honestly feel the only people who will feel uncomfortable with the religion in this are western Christians (who should see in themselves some disturbing similarities to the Children of Rhys).

Timothy is a missionary kid who grew up in Uganda.  He has recently started attending boarding school in England.  He has reached that point all children of Christian parents reach when they must stop relying on their parents' faith and rely on their own.  Surrounded by his Christian classmates, whom he views as hypocrites, and hit hard (probably for the first tie in his life) by the messages of secular humanism and atheism all around, Timothy is plagued with doubts and has reached a crisis point.  What he believes and how his doubts will affect his relationship with his family plagues him through the whole story.  There is never a complete resolution to this and I LOVE THAT because a crisis like this is not resolved quickly or easily, certainly not in the span of three weeks.

Linden, on the other hand, is one of those who has a faith like a child.  She doesn't waver and views life through an optimistic haze that drives Timothy demented.  Even when she is discouraged, her faith is what she relies on first.  She has moments of doubt but they never overcome her.  She is an admirable character but a hard one for me to identify with (like Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia). 

Knife, Paul and all the fairies of the Oak are back in this volume and they are all still wonderful and complex.Several new characters are introduced as well including an evil faerie Empress.  The most fascinating of the new characters, to me, is the enigmatic Rob (who totally shocks Linden with the evidence that boy faeries do actually exist).

Despite again having a male human and female faerie protagonists this is not at all a rehashing of the first book.  The bond between Timothy and Linden is one of shared experience and friendship.  Again, something I appreciated.  Yes, boys and girls can be just friends and miscommunication can be  avoided by actually discussing things.  Concepts not often seen in YA novels.  All of the ingredients were there for Anderson to bend a love triangle out of her plot (or even a quadrilateral, possibly a even a pentagon) but, thank goodness, she chose not to go that route.  I for one am thoroughly sick of love polygons in any form.  For those who like romance in their stories there is plenty of romantic feeling between Paul and Knife evident and flourishing.

Arrow, the third installment in the series, was released in the U.K. earlier this month.  There is still no U.S. release date for it so I'm going to order it from Book Depository because I don't want to wait indefinitely.  There is a fourth book planned.

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