March 10, 2013


by R. J. Anderson
Orchard Books
357 pp.
Ages 11-15

Every once in a while I decide to review a book that was published a few years ago just to bring attention to a worthwhile read that I may have missed.  In fact, I have enjoyed the first two books of R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels series, Spell Hunter (HarperCollins Canada, 2009) and Wayfarer (HarperCollins Canada, 2010), reading them when they were published, and had looked forward to a third book in the series.
However, the third book was never published in Canada, only in the United Kingdom, and its name follows the alternate titles for the books published in Great Britain.  Arrow is the title of this third book, following Knife (Orchard Books, 2009) and Rebel (Orchard Books, 2010).

So, now that I've tried to clarify that there were only two books in the series prior to Arrow, but with different titles depending on where they were published, I insist that you read them before this third book just because you'll not want to miss out on the superb story-telling and strong characterizations of the very different faeries and how they all come together in Arrow.  And in case you're convinced that faeries are for little girls, I might remind you of a mermaid prejudice I had that was completely unfounded. These faery books are not for little girls.  There is romance and treachery and bullying.  In Spell Hunter, there is talk of stealing children, a suicide attempt and a man using laudanum as a pain-killer.  Not your typical faery book.  What is typical of each of R. J. Anderson's books is the flavourful and robust language (e.g., "Great Gardener" is the faery expletive) and the intricate plots and subplots, chock full of connections and relationships, and secrets and revelations.  And I haven't even mentioned the humour.

Just for a little background, in Knife (a.k.a. Spell Hunter), a world of faeries live in the Oak, rarely leaving, for fear of death or losing their powers, except as dictated by their queen. Knife has become the Queen's hunter and freely leaves the Oak, reacquainting herself with a human young man, Paul. Together they learn the truth of the Sunderling, an event that cost the faeries their magic.

With the last vestiges of magic, fifteen-year-old faery, Linden, leaves the Oak in Rebel (a.k.a. Wayfarer), and with a human ally, Timothy, attempts to find other faeries and help the Oakenfolk recover their magic as well as ensure the people don't die off.  Together they bring back the Stone of Naming from the Green Isles, home of the Children of Rhys, to help protect them from the Empress, a self-appointed ruler who learns the true names of faeries to bind them to her forever.

Now the Oakenfolk, all female faeries under Queen Valerian, with Rob and the rebel faeries who escaped the Empress' control, and Garan and other Children of Rhys, who'd taken the Stone of Naming and left the Green Isles without permission, are preparing for an attack by the Empress. 

Back on the Green Isles, the Elders of the Children of Rhys are convinced that they have been cursed by the removal of the Stone of Naming, but are assured that they are not threatened by the Empress.  Rhosmari, formerly betrothed to Garan, is determined to retrieve the Stone of Naming.  Leaving the Green Isles through its secret portal, Rhosmari heads to the mainland and meets Martin, a faery who is trying to evade the Empress and her "enforcers", the Blackwings.  Having heard that the Empress has already attacked the Oak and burned it to the ground, Martin offers to work with Rhosmari to find Garan.

R. J. Anderson's newest faery rebel book plays on several keys themes, including trust vs. deceit, and freedom vs. bondage. While the power and control that the Empress seeks, at all costs, is the obvious example of bondage, Martin recognizes that the Children of Rhys have their own bondage.  Moreover the subjugation to which Rhosmari and others subconsciously relinquish control goes beyond these extraordinary constraints, often including the much more typical ones of guilt, remorse, survival, and love. The extent to which the individual chooses to accept or reject these restraints or even see them as such depends on the individual.  And the submission of one's trust to another, for their affections, or their loyalty or their admiration.

But if you're not looking for understanding or clarification with regards to these themes, and would still enjoy a fantastical romp, Arrow (after Knife and Rebel) provides an inviting portal into the faery realm.  But be forewarned:  Arrow's world of faeries has little in common with those in which faeries scatter sparkly dust and flit around granting wishes.  This one is immersed in politics, love, and allegiances - all the issues sure to cause heated discussions among humans and faeries alike.

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