I have had the privilege of watching a few authors grow from their fan fiction roots to professional publication. My wife Erin is one example, as is my friend Greg Gick, and it is only a matter of time before Cameron Dixon joins the fray. Another author who has gone far is R.J. Anderson, whom I know as Rebecca. Right from the beginning, her X-Files and Doctor Who fan fiction impressed me with its keen eye for character, and her ability to string together coherent and compelling sentences and stories. I knew that she would be going places, and I’m pleased to say that I was right.
Her first professionally published novel, entitled Knife, has just been released in the United Kingdom. In the next few months, it will be formally released in the United States and Canada under the title Fairy Rebels: Spell Hunter. I have read the book and, regardless of the title, it has all of the things that makes reading an R.J. Anderson story easy and fulfilling. This is quite an accomplishment, since she is writing a tale about faeries, and the lore has been thoroughly explored by dozens if not hundreds of authors. I am frankly surprised that critics in the British Isles haven’t turned up their noses at this interloper from the colonies playing in a realm that has been played out on their side of the pond. However, Rebecca has added new twists to the genre, and keeps the reader interested through the strength of her main characters.
The story follows a young faerie named Bryony — a classic, seven-inch tall, white-haired, winged, almost Tinkerbell-like creation, who lives in a grand oak tree with the rest of her faerie clan. She chafes under the rules of her elders, forbidding all contact with the outside world except under the most controlled circumstances, and especially forbidding all contact with humans. Rebelling one day, she takes a flight outdoors, and runs into a young boy who looks up at her with wonder in his eyes. She is almost about to touch the kid’s outstretched hand when one of the elder faeries catches Bryony and sweeps her back to the oak.
As Bryony grows older, she rises in the ranks, and eventually takes on the role of Hunter — charged with protecting the gatherers who venture out from the oak for food, and for hunting for sparrow or squirrel meat. After apprenticing with the current hunter, Thorn, she flourishes at the job, and revels in the freedom it offers. But despite Queen Amaryllis’ best efforts, Bryony cannot repress her natural curiosity about the humans living in the house next door. And when her bone and wood-based weapons prove ineffective against a marauding crow named Old Wormwood, she resolves to take advantage of human technology by invading the house and stealing a small, sharp knife. This venture proves so successful that, in spite of the Queen’s discomfort, Bryony changes her name to Knife.
Knife’s explorations raise disturbing questions about the faeries of the oak. All are terrified of humans since a mysterious “Sundering” robbed them of their magic and creativity years ago. A strange illness called the Silence stalks the older members of the clan. Why, if all faeries are born from eggs, are all the faeries of the oak shaped as females? Why can the faeries, who used to be master artists, writers and weavers, no longer so much as hold a pencil? Why is contact between the faeries and the humans now forbidden? Did the humans have something to do with the Sundering? And why is Queen Amaryllis so determined that no one know the truth?
As good as the writing behind Knife is, Erin noted that the author took a considerable risk in the narrative. Except for Bryony, all of the faerie characters of the oak come off as cold and lacking in creativity. It takes a few chapters to realize that this is deliberate; part of the problem that Bryony has to solve. It does make it harder to get into the story, although I was happy to read along with Bryony as she rebelled against the stolid strictures of her life. Not only that, a number of secondary characters prove to have depth early on, including Bryony’s foster mother Wink, and especially Bryony’s churlish mentor Thorn.
Then there is the relationship between Bryony and the child she met earlier in the story, who grows up to be Paul McCormick, a troubled young man crippled in an automobile accident. There is real chemistry between the two, and the tension between the vast differences between fairy and human are keenly felt.
Rebecca is adept at handling faeries. She has obviously researched the subject thoroughly, but writes in a way that doesn’t require a doctorate to understand. My own understanding of faeries, acquired through my own writing research, offered up little gems of understanding as to why the plot turned the way it does through Rebecca’s subtle understanding of faerie psychology (which is quite different from human psychology) but average readers will be swept along by the confidence of Rebecca’s writing. Everything makes sense without having to be explained.
Knife has made a splash in the United Kingdom, receiving favourable reviews from The Times newspaper and other big venues. The book has also been sold to Romania, among other places, and it debuts in Canada and the United States late April. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person, and that person couldn’t have hoped for a better debut than this.
Wherein I’m Interviewed by a Fictional Character
In other book news, congratulations to K.C. Dyer, an author friend of mine and fellow Harry Potter protester, on the release of her latest novel, A Walk Through a Window. The story is of a young girl, named Darby, forced to spend her summer with grandparents she doesn’t really know, who finds a doorway (well, a window) back in time. There, she experiences the crossing of the Irish to Canada during the potato famine, before going further back, to the time North America’s first settlers crossed the Bering Strait land bridge.
Thanks to KC (and Darby!) for this opportunity.