The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker may be filled with darkness, but it’s another great read to ignite your spooky season. This story is unique and at the helm is a main character archetype I rarely experience but thoroughly enjoy. Baker immerses her reader in the world of Reapers and Shinigami where death is guaranteed and kindness is unexpected. It was such an interesting read and I’m so excited the story will spread its shadows to encompass a second book.
The Reapers of London are a cruel and selfish group. They venture out into the streets to collect souls and follow the strict rules set in place by the High Council. Ren Scarborough is half Reaper and half Shinigami and has spent centuries in disgrace, receiving not even the smallest of comforts from her powerful Reaper father and stepmother. The only light in her life is her half-brother Neven, who has stayed by her side despite his parents’ wishes. The High Reapers make Ren’s life a living hell, and one day she accidentally retaliates by using the Shinigami light powers she’s hidden away. Ren escapes with Neven in the chaos to Japan to find her mother and embrace her Shinigami heritage. Upon arrival, Ren finds that she doesn’t fit in with the Shinigami either but is desperate to join their ranks. Ren agrees to help the death goddess Izanami with three difficult tasks to earn her place among her court and sets out across Japan with a god of fishermen and Neven as her companions.
Ren is as cold as the London crypt she calls home. Keeper opens with Ren collecting a man’s soul, going out of her way to scare the poor guy and destroy any great expectations about the afterlife. Baker served me up a hardcore main character with little to no moral compass and I was thrilled. I think of how easily this book could have been about Ren’s struggle with her role as a soul collector, but I am glad Baker had a different story in mind. Instead, we get a Reaper/Shinigami who leans into her role, doesn’t hesitate to get violent, adds a dash of cruelty, and tops it off with some satisfaction. Ren’s morality is fascinating in a world where death is her duty, and Baker asks us to draw the line on what is not right in this world of darkness.
Among the fantastical and supernatural elements, Baker tells a heartbreaking story of a biracial girl looking for a home with people who accept her. As half Reaper and half Shinigami, Ren is unable to find a place among both groups because they only see the part of her that doesn’t fit. This otherness shrouds Ren like a cloak, influencing her actions and creating conflict with the people around her. Ren is offset by Neven who was basically born into Reaper royalty. Neven has always cared for her and had become somewhat of an outcast himself for befriending his half Shinigami sister. I enjoyed the sibling dynamic that dominated this story, especially as Ren’s drive to be accepted pushes the limit. She starts to reject the part of herself that is a Reaper, but in doing so she dismisses the brother who has never left her side.
The world in Keeper is as odd, terrifying, and violent as I imagined a Reaper/Shinigami plane of existence would be. Baker has built two fascinating worlds, and both are uniquely structured. The Reapers and Shinigami each have their own death god, method of operation, and possess different powers to aid in their soul collection. London Reapers have the ability to stop time which enables them to collect souls without difficulty, but every moment spent in suspended space is taken off their long life span by Ankou, the Father of Death and King of the Reapers. In Japan, the Shinigami serve the goddess Izanami who lives in an underworld of impenetrable darkness. The Shinigami have the ability to weaponize light and will lead souls to Izanami’s realm to enact a horrifying heart extraction that rivals Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Both worlds are extremely interesting and Baker did a fantastic job setting the scene and pulling the reader into each realm to experience all its horrors.
When you pick up The Keeper of Night, you’re not just getting an awesome horror fantasy, but a story that is emotionally compelling. Within the darkness, there are intense moments of self-doubt as we see Ren attempt to come to terms with all the jagged parts of herself. There’s a lot to love in this story, but I would tell you to pick up Keeper just to see the world Baker created. Ren set her sights on me and lured me in, so I’m officially in limbo until book two.
Rating: The Keeper of Night – 8.5/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.