Knight’s Surrender is a 2014 YA Fantasy novel by Heather Reilly and published through her own small-press publishing company, Reilly Books. This is the first novel in the Binding of the Almatraek series of a planned five books, three of which are currently available. This is the first in a series a reviews of quality indie fantasy leading up to our Spring 2017 release, Fantasy from the Rock.
From what I’m seeing of the fantasy genre, and I am new to it, the evolution of the genre happens not through innovations in setting or circumstance but through style. More than any other genre I can think of, fantasy reads best if you understand the history from which it came, and the authors that came before and (possibly) inspired the author, either knowingly or unknowlingly.
To that end, I can see the connective tissue linking JRR Tolkien to George RR Martin, and now from George RR Martin to Heather Reilly. With each passing generation of fantasy scribe, elements of the previous are transferred over while adding twists and changes and refinement: that’s how the genre can seem to outwardly the same but so functionally different all these years later.
I loved every minute of this novel, and upon finishing it immediately went onto the Indigo website and bought the next two in the series. In a masterful stroke, Reilly takes the “multiple points-of-view” aspect that is so significant yet so off-putting from Martin’s work and refines it, making it more palatable, by making each novel in the series from a different character’s point-of-view rather than alternating chapters. This grounds the reader in the story in a way the fantasy I’ve read often overlooks, and is a welcome addition to the genre. It has the added affect of making the novel a much easier, less weighty read than Martin’s work, and making more suitable for all-ages (both in tone and in the less-confusing narrative point-of-view choices). This sort of forethought into the mechanisms of story, narrative, point-of-view, and character are — so far as I can tell — emblematic of Reilly work and the care she takes in crafting her world.
In this entry, the point-of-view character of Aylan is a remarkably developed young female lead who, with her handmaid Millie, discover the mysteries of the mystical world Reilly has crafted with borrows just enough from cultural fantasy artifacts to be familiar, while adding enough flavor of her own to keep the reader interested. Aylan very much plays the audience point-of-view character as well, coming from a remote rural farm and needing much of the mechanics, social, and cultural norms explained to her — and thus, to us as well. This is an old-but-effective trick, and is another reason why Reilly made the intelligent choice choosing Aylan for this inaugural outing.
I love taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.
I’m honestly worried that the Matt’s Freudian Slip moments will get boring during these fantasy reviews leading into Spring, because what bothers me most about any fantasy story is often the same thing: treatment of women.
To explain, no female is treated badly in this book — and that’s kind of the problem. The entire medieval fantasy genre is stuck in a bind for me: if they treat women in a time-period-appropriate way (re: badly) then I get bothered by that. But if the novel goes the other way a shows women in a positive, fair light, then I’m bothered by the historical inaccuracy. Fantasy can’t win with me, and I’m aware of that bias and try hard to overcome it.
So, if what ‘bothers’ me about Knight’s Surrender is how outspoken Aylan can be without getting admonished by the males in power around her, is there any evidence to support that being what the book is about? Yes. Plently. And it comes back to Reilly’s key choice in making the story from Aylan’s point-of-view. She is seeing her actions as getting good reactions, but we’re seeing them very much through the lens of her eyes. In this way the novel subverts that expectation but also deals with it at the same time, in essence creating a medieval time slightly more progressive than our own and shining a light on our own troubled history. It’s a sort of master stroke that doesn’t inhibit the enjoyment of a reader that doesn’t notice, but engages the thoughts of a reader that does on an intellectual level not seen by most fiction billed as being appropriate for ages nine and up.
Knight’s Surrender is available in print and eBook formats. With lots of comedy, heart, and some powerful machinery working beneath the surface of the author’s prose, Knight’s Surrender by Heather Reilly is a must read for fantasy fans and a delightful read for fans of YA fiction looking for something fresh.
‘Other Indie’ is a recurring series of articles on Engen Books in which authors highlight the best in independent publishing, in the hopes of helping readers break through the cluster of books they may not be sure about in an age when anyone can publish via digital formats. Engen Books is an independent small-press publishing company based in St. John’s Newfoundland and is proud to highlight the talent of independent authors not our own. Knight’s Surrender is © 2014 Heather Reilly. This review is © 2017 Matthew LeDrew. ‘Other Indie’ banner photo credit: Steve Lake.