Review: The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall

Book: The Border Keeper

Author: Kerstin Hall

Pages: 208

Source: Owned

Publisher: Tordotcom

Genre: Fantasy, Novella, Magic, Horror

Publication Date: July 16, 2019

Goodreads Summary:

She lived where the railway tracks met the saltpan, on the Ahri side of the shadowline. In the old days, when people still talked about her, she was known as the end-of-the-line woman.

Vasethe, a man with a troubled past, comes to seek a favor from a woman who is not what she seems, and must enter the nine hundred and ninety-nine realms of Mkalis, the world of spirits, where gods and demons wage endless war.

The Border Keeper spins wonders both epic—the Byzantine bureaucracy of hundreds of demon realms, impossible oceans, hidden fortresses—and devastatingly personal—a spear flung straight, the profound terror and power of motherhood. What Vasethe discovers in Mkalis threatens to bring his own secrets into light and throw both worlds into chaos.

My Review:

I bought this book on Kindle because I was approved for an ARC of the second book, Second Spear.  I didn’t realize it was the second book when I requested it, but I decided to go ahead and read the first book.  Both books are pretty short, so I thought they’d be a nice quick read.  The Border Keeper does tell a unique story with complex characters, but I had some issues with how the story was told.

The Border Keeper takes place between two worlds.  There is Ahri, or the human world where most people live, and then there is Mkalis.  Mkalis is the world of the dead, demons, and gods.  It’s made up of 999 realms, and each realm is ruled by a demon or a god.  The ruler of each realm also makes the rules of their realms, and these rules are magically enforced.  The most important rule throughout the realms is, “Do not lie.”

I know that seems like it’s very condensed and easy to understand.  Unfortunately, much of the framework for how these worlds work is fed to the reader in bits and pieces throughout the story.  Sometimes books do that well, but in the case of The Border Keeper, I found it affected my ability to understand what was happening in the story.  I felt like the author was intentionally holding things back to be able to have something to reveal later rather than allowing these details to emerge organically throughout the book. I did, however, enjoy many of the characters in the story. 

The main two characters are the border keeper herself, known mostly as Eris in the story, and a man named Vasethe.  Eris’s character is unique.  In her role as the border keeper, she is dual-souled and has a lot of power, both magical and political.  She resides in a desert in Ahri along something known as the shadow line.  This is the magical barrier between Ahri and Mkalis, and no beings are allowed to cross it without the border keeper’s consent.

Thus when Vasethe shows up, Eris pretty much knows he needs her help crossing to Mkalis.  She also suspects he needs to find someone because usually the people of Ahri only want to go to Mkalis to bring back a dead loved one.  However, their journey is anything but easy.  They continue to run into problems throughout their travels, and they have to figure out why some of the rulers of the realms in Mkalis may be suddenly working against Eris when they have feared and respected her before.

Again, it has taken several days of thinking about this story to be able to organize my thoughts on it in this way.  There are several threads of mystery running throughout the book, and the author drip feeds answers to the reader which left me confused for most of the book.  This wouldn’t have been so bad if it was a full length novel, but in a novella it made it difficult to continue reading.  I can usually finish novellas in one or two days at the most, but it took me weeks to finish reading this one. 

The loose ends in the book were mostly tied up hastily at the end, but the ending was pretty abrupt.  I was still left with questions about the characters.  Vasethe is a mystery up until the end.  He and Eris don’t share their secrets with one another until the last couple of chapters.  It’s never clear why they are so hesitant to be open with their pasts either.  The secrets themselves aren’t so terrible, and there don’t seem to be any lasting consequences from their revelation and the resulting issues this causes. 

I do still plan to read the next book, Second Spear, because I was given an ARC for it, and I hope it answers some of the questions I still have about the worlds of Ahri and Mkalis as well as the main characters.  I also hope it gives the author a chance to further develop the ideas presented in The Border Keeper because they are very interesting.  I want to know more.  I just hope the execution improves.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I gave The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall three out of five stars.  The setting, characters, and magic in the book were very interesting, and I want to learn more about them.  I just had a difficult time with how the story was told more so than what the story itself was.  Hopefully, the sequel shows some improvement, and it won’t be as difficult to understand now that I have a basic understanding of the setting.

Have you read any of Kerstin Hall’s work?  What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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