Today, I’m reviewing Soulkeeper and Ravencaller, the first two books in The Keepers trilogy by David Dalglish. I read Soulkeeper a few months ago but decided to hold off on reviewing it until I read the sequel. This was because the books in this trilogy do not tell independent pieces of a story, but feel like one long book that was arbitrarily broken into multiple pieces. There are pros and cons to this strategy that I will get into later, but the first con to this style is that it makes reviewing sequels difficult. So I decided to take the time to read both parts of this series in order to give it a full review because it is definitely worth talking about.
The Keepers is an odd story in that it seems to eschew a number of traditional storytelling elements – in a good way. The premise of the story is this: humans have lived in relative peace and happiness for 1000 years under the guidance of the church of the Three Sisters. The church worships three very real deities that govern creations, life, and death in what feels like a reimagining of the fates from Greek Myth. The Sisters each have various wings of the church dedicated to them, and each wing has different day-to-day jobs that serve the people of the world. According to myth, The Sisters vanquished evil fantasy creatures of the world long ago and built a perfect world for humanity. Turns out that the Sisters actually just blinked all of the magic creatures out of the world, then froze them in time, but they have started to come back. And while they aren’t exactly evil like the lore says, they are definitely angry and looking to take out their rage on humanity.
What is interesting about The Keepers is there isn’t really a road map to what the story is about, and it results in the narrative feeling very surprising, fresh, and delightful. There isn’t a clear cut good or bad side, and there isn’t a clear way forward. An outside influence shafted two groups of people who both wanted the same pieces of land, and because both groups hold a good claim to it, they started murdering one another. It feels like a fantasy take on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and while I don’t think The Keepers is going to provide the solution to a conflict that has lasted decades, I do think Dalglish approaches it with mindfulness and thoughtful exploration.
Our cast is a very large collection of character POVs from all sides of the conflict, but there is a focus on a trio from different wings of the Three Sister Church. Devin is a Soulkeeper, traveling through remote villages as a preacher and undertaker of sorts. Adria is a Mindkeeper, who functions as a priest and healer. Tommy is a Wise, a scholar who studies legends and lore to inform the present. Each of them is related through blood or marriage and each of them finds themselves awakening with magical power as the various magical races return to the world. The group acts as the voice of reason in the rising conflicts between human and magical beings, and they collect a number of allies, both human and magical, through the story as they try to keep everyone from killing one another. The three lead characters are all likable and relatable, but I would mostly describe them as inoffensive. I was much more attached to many of the magical side characters, like a sentient fireball named Puffy.
On top of an unusual plot, the series has incredible worldbuilding and magic. The lore, which is extremely relevant to the plot, feels very fleshed out and original. There are “schools” of magic in the world, and each has its own domain. My personal favorite school is “change magic,” which focuses on transmutation on a large and violent scale. One of the antagonists of the story, a magical being named Janus, is a master of this discipline and fights by changing everything he touches into horrific new substances. The fantasy races are also all imaginative and fun. The deer, rabbit, and owl people, in particular, tickled my fancy. In addition, the politics and bureaucracy of the story are well thought out to the point that they feel very believable while providing tons of roadblocks and speed bumps to easy conflict resolution between all the various sides.
Now that you have heard about all the good, let’s talk about some of the bad. First and foremost, I don’t like how The Keepers uses sex as this strange combination of currency and moral compass for the human characters. For the human protagonists, it feels like their “reward” for doing good deeds or saving the day is getting to bone someone. For the human antagonists, it feels like Dalglish is always showing us some horrible sex crime that they committed that indicates how evil they truly are. I thought the relationships, writing, and diverse ways the various characters paired off was well-handled – I just found it strangely discordant that there was so much focus on sex when the major themes of the book seemed to be focused elsewhere. Especially because sex is not used to break down barriers between any groups in conflict. However, there is an antagonist who is a straight-up incel, which felt like it added some interesting commentary. In addition, while I generally liked the prose of the books there were a handful of scenes that definitely felt like the writing was forced or awkward. The difficulties usually had to do with changing between set pieces or character objectives. Some of these transitions could have felt a lot more natural.
The Keepers is a very interesting and original series that most will find refreshing. I would recommend that you wait for all three parts of the trilogy to be out before picking it up, but definitely make sure to read it when you can. Soulkeeper and Ravencaller have some of the best worldbuilding and magic I have read this year, and every page feels filled with mystery and wonder. I know these books are a lot of pages to take on at once, but they are worth it.
Rating: The Keepers – 8.0/10