Thursday, 5 June 2014

Book Review: Nomad by RJ Anderson

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Nomad is ostensibly the second book in the Swift series but actually it’s the culmination of the entire series going back as far as Knife. It’s a fantasy about faeries and humans, their interactions and failings, their noble aspirations and their thoughtless treacheries.

Author Rebecca Anderson has been criticised for allowing her Christian conviction to interfere with the story, though in practice all that really means is that one of the major characters in one book was the son of missionary parents.

My favourite character throughout the series has been Martin who is unique even for a faery. He could lie. When the Empress needed to deceive someone, she’d send Martin. He was the bad boy of the faery world and, despite his love of theatre—especially Shakespeare—his casual treachery and outright callousness did not make for an appealing character.

Then a seismic shift took place. The Empress, ruthless and cunning beyond measure, was on the verge of taking over a peaceful Welsh faery kingdom by deception. There was nothing to stop her. Yet Martin, her cold–hearted minion, turned on her. And the reader knows, though no one in the faery realms has a clue, that he has absolutely no political ambition whatsoever. He’s not out for the throne.

Now Martin’s been on the run for several books, gradually moving from bit player to star. Increasingly he’s coming across as a deeply tortured soul. Do faeries have souls? The author raised it at one point but it was a question that never got truly explored. Except perhaps through the stories themselves.

As Nomad opens, Ivy, half–faery half–piskey, and Martin, half–faery half–spriggan, are travelling together across Cornwall because Ivy’s been exiled from the Delve.

As they reach key landscape features, she dreams of a spriggan boy who lived centuries ago and she suspects is Martin’s ancestor. Martin, by contrast, doesn’t ever dream. They conclude that the dreams are those Martin would have, if he could, and that she’s receiving them because a bond was created between them when Martin saved her life (in the last book).

Ivy realises her aunt Betony—Joan the Wad—is still ignoring the signs that the Delve is actually poisoning the piskey population. Far from keeping them safe and protected, the Delve is killing them. Risking her life, she makes contact with her old friends Jenny and Mattock, hoping that together they can find a way to convince the conservative hide–bound piskeys that the Joan is wrong.

Martin is derisive about their plans. He suggests they are doomed before they even start and that they could learn a political thing or two from Shakespeare’s Richard II.

He’s off to London to find a dealer in antiquities who won’t ask too much questions and also won’t rip him off. He wants to ‘cash in’ as much as he can of a spriggan hoard found inside a carn. He’s agreed to go halves with Ivy on the value of the hoard. The plan is to stop sleeping rough and get enough money to share a house Ivy wants to rent from the father of their mutual friend Molly. Faeries renting a house? Ah, not just any house.

Molly’s mother was a renegade faery who surrounded the home she lived in with her unsuspecting human husband with a wide variety of wards. Hence it’s the perfect ‘safe house’ for Ivy to be reunited with her mother and sister and it’s a boon for Martin. No one looking for him will be able to cross the wards—and, even if they do, an alarm should go off, giving him plenty of time to flee.

At least, that’s their brilliant plan.

When Martin doesn’t return after a second trip to London, Ivy isn’t entirely surprised. His reputation for disloyalty, unreliability and cavalier thoughtlessness is immense. Yet she can’t help thinking about the times he risked so much for her...

Meanwhile, her dreams about the spriggan prince from the distant past continue and the pieces of a long–lost jigsaw begin to fall into place.

I was considerably worried in this series that as Martin came further into the foreground, from hunter to hunted, from the Empress’ spy to rootless wanderer, he wasn’t going to turn out as I hoped. You can never be sure in series like this that the character you’ve grown to love and want to see redeemed is also the character the author feels the same way about. But it’s all I could have wanted. And then some.

A book about love, redemption, deceit, sacrifice and a lot of English countryside.

Anne Hamilton loves looking at fantasy in all sorts of ways. Her new book analysing the mathematics of one of the greatest of all English fantasy poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is out this week.


  1. Annie I'm interested that those qualities; love, redemption, deceit and sacrifice are found in this series. I have to admit as a child, I believed in faeries with my whole heart. BUT, I once built a house for them with little cups full of cordial, plates with bread (buttered with vegie and also jam) as neat as my little fingers could handle. I guess it was a test, because the next day nothing was eaten. I was so disappointed I told them I didn't believe in them anymore!

    But if an author can bring out these themes successfully as you say, well, good for RJ.

    1. Hi Rita - all the best stories are about love, redemption, deceit and sacrifice, aren't they? It sums up the Gospel in a way - God loves us and wants to redeem us and so, despite our treachery and deceit, He made a way for us through the sacrifice of Himself in His son. Although the echo of the Gospel is very faint in this series, I think even the smallest resonance thrills our hearts.

    2. I guess that's why some stories never really resonate and others thrill us like you said.

  2. Hi Annie Thanks for your review. This sounds like an interesting series. What age group is it pitched at? I did find it intriguing that having a character 'a son of a missionary' is allowing one's Christians believes interfere with the story!