This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Keeper’s Six will be released on January 17, 2023.
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but The Keeper’s Six has a really lovely one. Throw in my previous enjoyment of the author’s work and a page count that doesn’t even approach her usual doorstopping tendencies, and I didn’t need much convincing to request an ARC of Kate Elliott’s upcoming novel. The promise of a parent protagonist was just the cherry on top.
The Keeper’s Six stars Esther Green, member of a magical Hex (named for their number, not for their magic) that was banned from operation after a past violation put them on the wrong side of the Concilium. But when she finds her (adult) son Daniel kidnapped by a dragon, she brings the team back together for one more job to try to get him back.
And so begins an adventure that takes Esther through the mortal dangers of the Beyond, into a dragon’s hoard, and back to the scene of the incident that saw her suspended in the first place. The stakes are firmly established up front, and strong writing keeps the story flowing nicely throughout, with plenty of intermediate dangers along the way, and even a romantic subplot for good measure.
But while I was excited to see a short novel in a genre that often seems to have little between novella and doorstopper, I’m not convinced that the length was right for the story being told. Elliott has created an expansive world with plenty of material for more stories, but the attempt to communicate all the plot-relevant details yields a story that sometimes feels overstuffed and doesn’t have much room for misdirection. Had The Keeper’s Six been a novella, it would’ve required a more mysterious world, which would’ve had its own challenges. But it also would’ve made for a more streamlined tale, and the gaps in the reader’s understanding would’ve made it harder to anticipate key plot points. On the other hand, had it been a longer novel, the worldbuilding could’ve unfolded more slowly and included pieces beyond the plot that made the world feel more lived in. But in the middle, every piece of new information seemed a signal about a future plot development, robbing some of the suspense while simultaneously not really allowing the story to breathe. The combination of prose and characterization was still good enough to make for an engaging story, but it was one with the feel of unrealized potential.
While the length of the tale didn’t really allow the entire cast their moments in the sun, Esther and Daniel were both nicely-drawn—with Daniel’s love of cooking and penchant for political organizing coming to life remarkably well in such limited page time. And it was flourishes like those that kept the story interesting even when the worldbuilding threatened to overwhelm. Even at an awkward length, it still made for a fun read.
Recommended if you like: fantasy adventures with big worlds, political and romantic subplots.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Shapeshifters, Family Matters, Weird Ecology, and Standalone (at least for now).
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.