Nathan‘s The Keeper’s Six Book Review
This Book is For You is You Like:
- Science fantasy
- Kickass Jewish grandmas
- Intense and extensive worldbuilding
- Creative twists on dragon mythos
This Book is Not For You if You are Looking For:
- Easy to follow plots
- Deep and fleshed out characters
You never stop worrying about your kids, even when they’re adults. Kate Elliott’s action-packed The Keeper’s Six features a world-hopping, bad-ass, spell-slinging mother who sets out to rescue her kidnapped adult son from a dragon lord with everything to lose.
It’s been a year since Esther set foot in the Beyond, the alien landscape stretching between worlds, crossing boundaries of space and time. She and her magical traveling party—her Hex—haven’t spoken since the Concilium banned them from the Beyond for a decade. But when she wakes in the middle of the night to her grown son’s cry for help, the members of her Hex are the only ones she can trust to help her bring him back from wherever he has been taken.
Esther will have to risk everything to find him. Undercover and hidden from the Concilium, she and her Hex will be tested by false dragon lords, a darkness so dense it can suffocate, and the bones of an old crime come back to haunt her.
There are terrors that dwell in the space between worlds.
I have heard so much about Kate Elliot’s work but had yet to take the plunge into her extensive back catalog. When I saw that she was releasing a new novella from Tordotcom (which has been on fire lately with their novella releases), I thought there was no better time to jump in.
Well, this one really didn’t work for me.
But I want to make clear that I think this novella could work for some readers who look for different things in books than I do. Namely, this book has some really fantastic worldbuilding. Kate Elliot creatively combines tropes from both fantasy and science fiction to craft a universe unlike any I have ever seen before. There are magical portals, deadly climate patterns, shape-shifting dragons, over-sized dangerous insects, government bureaucracies, queer romances, rugelach baking, and so much more. Elliot packs so much fun and strange things into this little novella. I am a very visual reader (I create the “movie in my mind”) and was actually overstimulating myself while reading!). If you read fantasy or science fiction to dive in and explore a world much unlike our own, then definitely give this one a go.
And I want to emphasize that Elliot’s worldbuilding is fun. While maintaining internal worldbuilding coherence, Elliot took a no holds barred approach to what she wanted to introduce. Reading this novella made me wonder why we don’t see more worldbuliding like this in fantasy and science fiction. Elliot’s creativity jumps off the page and there are so many clever and creative elements that I had never seen before in speculative fiction. Elliot also injects a lot of wit and humor through the book. There are many moments that made me smile and laugh in between the more intense plot points.
I think I struggled with this book because while I enjoy a good fictional universe, I look for plot and characters before all. This is where The Keeper’s Six fell a bit short for me. While there is a plot (summarized in the publisher’s blurb above), it takes a back seat to Elliot’s worldbuilding. A lot of the limited page count is dedicated to characters explaining the “rules” of the universe to one another. The plot really fails to build forward momentum because it keeps screeching to a halt for another info-dump. Points in the novella that should have been really exciting and tense were dragged down by characters monologuing about the worldbuilding and how everything works. Due to these narrative starts and stops, I had a hard time latching onto the plot. Worse, there were times where I had a hard time following the plot because just so much was thrown at me all at once.
Not only was the plot a bit thin, but the characters fail to make much of an impact on the reader. The basic premise of the magic/science fiction system is that groups of six people create a “Hex” – a team in which every person has a particular job to travel between Realms and complete missions. This means that at the minimum Elliot had to introduce and develop six characters, and this did not count the villains, allies, and others that Esther (the main character) encounters on her quest to save her son. Characters come and go throughout the novella with aplomb, and many characters introduced early on get separated from the main POV character and aren’t seen again until the end. I had a hard time keeping each character, their personality, background, and role in the Hex straight. Pretty much all of the characters were two-dimensional place holders that existed only to propel the worldbuilding. Even Esther doesn’t really develop as the plot progresses. Everything we know about her at the beginning of the novella (namely, that she is a badass Jewish grandmother) is all there really is to her.
I’m not sure the novella format was ideal for this story. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a 1000 page chonker, but just another 100 pages would have allowed the narrative to breathe a bit. I was overwhelmed by the frantic pace of the worldbuilding, while the plot and character got sidelined by the novella length.
Filled to brim with creative worldbuilding, this novella is perfect for those looking for a fun romp through a wholly original science fantasy universe. However, the intense and creative worldbuilding so come at the expense of deep plot or characters.