Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by R. J. Anderson


In Knife, R. J. Anderson's vision of faeries owes a lot to J. M. Barrie's Tinkerbell. These tiny winged creatures live a precarious existence in a hollowed-out oak at the bottom of someone's garden, and they're a selfish lot. Their magic is dwindling, so they are hidden from human eyes by their queen's magic, and they're not allowed to leave the tree without permission. Bryony is a rebellious young faery, and she chafes against these restrictions. But when she does venture outside she claps eyes on a human boy, and this encounter awakens a curiosity in her about the forbidden human world.

The faeries are terrified of being seen, but there are other dangers they face. Some of them have to go out to forage for food, but crows and other animals consider them a snack food. A few of them are also succumbing to a mystery illness which leaves them silent and forgetful before they die of it. So the once busy tree is emptying, and at this rate they risk extinction. The faeries want to discover other colonies of their kind. Bryony is also interested in the family of humans with all their strange things, and particularly in Paul, the sullen young man who has returned to live with his parents.

This novel begins by seeming to be aimed at a younger audience than it ends up as, shading from middle grade to young adult as the main character ages. Bryony is a headstrong child surrounded by older faeries who tell her what to do all the time, and as such it's a somewhat conventional story of rebellious youth versus authority during the early chapters. The beginning is acceptable thanks to the unique faery society the author has created, but it didn't blow me away. It's not until mid-way in, when we learn more about Paul and his family and their problems, that the story becomes much more compelling. It changes from a childish adventure to a more mature study of depression, as well as a touching story of friendship. At the same time Bryony, now known as Knife, is learning more about a terrible event in their past known as the Sundering which left them in such a reduced state. The faeries are keen on keeping secrets, and are reluctant to talk about certain things. But Knife suspects foul play, and she won't rest until she learns the truth.

R. J. Anderson has a real knack for moments that turn on the waterworks. This is a story of love and sacrifice, and in parts it's extremely sweet. I also enjoyed the way faery society is so distinctive, so that even saying "thanks" is taboo, and the queen assigns everyone a role for the rest of their lives, and so on. The faeries are physically very distinct from humans, even apart from their small size and wings. So Knife is interesting because of its rich vision and detailed back story. Its characters reveal themselves to be more nuanced as the story progresses. But most of all it's the kind of heart-warming, honey-sweet tale that leaves you with a good feeling after reading it.

12th September 2013

Book Details

Year: 2009

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
  Female Protagonist  

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3 star rating

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