I don't generally review many middle grade novels, but I had read several lovely reviews of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter--a debut middle grade fantasy novel by R.J. Anderson--and then was lucky enough to receive a copy from the lovely Ms. Anderson herself. Interestingly enough, the same book has been published in the UK under the title Knife, with dramatically different cover art. The changes in title and artwork make it clear they're marketing it to a slightly older young adult audience over the pond, while the U.S. cover and series-friendly title are distinctly more middle grade. As a result, I wasn't sure what to expect going in--a state I honestly quite like being in when starting a new book by a new author.
Bryony is a faery who has spent her short life longing to leave the Oak tree that forms the boundary of her people's world. The only faeries allowed out in the wild at all are the Gatherers who are sent out to forage for food and the Queen's own hunter--a faery trained to hunt and protect the Oakenfolk and the fragile existence they have carved out for themselves. When she is summoned before the Queen, Bryony is stunned and elated to hear she is to be the new assistant to the Queen's hunter. Proving herself extraordinarly skilled, she changes her name to Knife and determines she will not only protect and provide for her people but discover why they are slowly dying out, unearth their mysterious and forbidden connection with humans, and discover why she is drawn to the stone House on the hill and to the unhappy boy named Paul who lives there.
The UK Cover
What makes this story unique is the world R.J. Anderson has created. These faeries are unusual in several ways. They are tiny, much smaller than humans, and are therefore constantly in danger outside of the Oak. They are also surprisingly all female. New faeries are not born in the traditional sense, but hatched from eggs that appear when another faery dies. Lastly, they are, by and large, unemotional creatures focused on their own well-being and supremely uninterested in the welfare of those around them. As a result it is interesting following Knife tread beyond the boundaries of her world, learn how to deal with the emotions of humans, and come face to face with the many ways in which they can mess with and forever change your life. I enjoyed the mystery element to the story as well as the friendship that slowly develops between Knife and Paul through Paul's art. So much so that I wish they'd been able to spend a little more time together so that there would have been room for a little more in-depth exploration of their connection.