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Old 8th Jan 2009, 12:25   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default RJ Anderson: Knife

Knife is the debut novel of RJ Anderson, a LiveJournaler whose blog I’ve been reading for a few years now, and perhaps most well-known (amongst those of us who tend to such things) for her essay on The Problem of Susan, the much debated argument about CS Lewis’s handling of that character in The Last Battle. With a long-standing interest in YA lit, she has embarked upon story-telling of her own, and Knife – published as Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter in the US – weaves at least some of her Christian beliefs into the tale of a young rebel fairy and the boy she falls in love with.

Anderson’s heroine is not Eoin Colfer’s zappy Capt Holly Short, nor Holly Black’s slick human-sized city-dwelling Roiben, nor Herbie Brennan’s Pyrgus and Holly Blue from his Faerie Wars series. [Too many faeries or authors called Holly there, I think!] Nor is she to be compared with the defunct ‘kick-ass fairy’ that was Jesse Jameson. The closest I’ve read to her imaginary world of the Oakenwyld is in the Various trilogy by Steve Augarde. One key differentiating factor drives Anderson’s fairy folk – that they are all female – and the central mystery of their world is not so much what is the strange ilnness (The Silence) which is killing the few faeries left, or lack of magic since a centuries-before event called The Sundering, but what is the nature of the engagement of the faery folk with the human world.

It is made clear that inspiration and creativity and ‘magic’, as well as the human relational qualities of kindness, self-giving and love, begin to vanish from the Oakenwyld as they cut themselves off from humankind. Knife, the hunter-gatherer faery who is the only one allowed to roam the Outside, re-establishes this link when she becomes intrigued, entranced and ultimately in love with a human teenager, Paul, wheelchair-bound after a car accident. The remaining magic she possesses, enables her to transcend her size (seven inches) and become briefly human in form when the need is most desperate. There is a cost to be paid in many a fairy story and Knife is prepared to pay it ultimately but her decision is not the one that results in the story’s successful conclusion.

I enjoyed this book a lot but I found it hard to visualise the faery characters and it wasn’t until late in the book that I could work out how tall Knife was. There were good elements of The Borrowers, Garth Nix’s Lirael and even The Name of the Rose, in the setting of a claustrophobic oak-tree with its small dying community. It would be an ideal read for the 11-14 age group, and the relation of Paul and Knife is an endearing one from the start. However, there were some occasions when Knife, visiting a human house for the first time, sometimes was puzzled by objects and human concepts (a marriage), and other times where there was no explanation at all: the POV is all from Knife but she shows no puzzlement at what baked beans are. Rather than time spent on one being getting to understand another’s world, Anderson focuses instead on the nature of humanity compared to the bargaining nature of faerykind, where nothing is ever a gift, not even knowledge passed on, and heartfelt thanks to someone puts them in a life-debt they can never pay. This is partly where I see Anderson’s Christianity at work in the text. She uses a phrase with the faeries – “Great Gardener” – to denote some divinity which is never explained, but of course this figure is God, the first gardener of Eden, or Christ who appears newly alive, mistaken for the gardener by Mary, in the garden tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. In my own head I was understanding Paul’s human world (albeit faulty) as a vague representation of the divine nature, with the faery oakenwyld representing our human world: when the faeries sever their links with humans and become cut off from the source of their creativity and good human relations, their own lives become less fruitful, Silent, and more a series of functional bargaining, of quid-pro-quo and reciprocal altruism with no kindness involved. It is a rather extreme connection to make, I grant: I don’t think that a life lived without knowledge or acknowledgement of the divine and spirituality leads to the death of humankind, or of its creative springs, nor to a lack of human love and kindness, since the divine is still working in us whether we agree that it’s there or not, but I do think it weakens some of these elements to some degree. Hmm, a bit contentious that, but I think it is a hidden layer to the story of Knife.

This would get another half-star if there was more detail (and slightly less confusion over which faery was which (all faeries being named after wild plants/herbs/flowers/trees gets a bit boggling), but it was a jolly good read. I will be recommending it to the school book club in ten minutes and looking out for whatever Christian Anderson faery story comes next.

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Last edited by Colyngbourne; 8th Jan 2009 at 14:09. Reason: Upping the stars
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Old 8th Jan 2009, 14:15   #2
Colyngbourne
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Default Re: RJ Anderson: Knife

I have upped my star rating by half a star since this morning, more for my own personal reading of the story than anything else. This aspect of the two worlds meeting and a relation happening which enriches both, becomes more vivid the more I think about it. RJA quotes Josiah Conder's hymn "The Lord is King, lift up thy voice":
Quote:
This world of ours, and worlds unseen / and thin the boundary between
in her book and in her blog title and it is not surprising that this surfaces somehow in the story.
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