Ester is awakened in the night by the phone ringing. It’s a terrible connection but she makes out her son calling for help and saying “ruin…” before the call drops. She tries to call back but the phone didn’t register the call. That’s when she knows that something is wrong. Despite being forbidden from using her magic, she summons her Hex and goes after him. Kate Elliott’s The Keeper’s Six has a basic understory with a complicated overlay of magic, dragons, and interdimensional travel.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Tordotcom Publishing for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The Keepers Six contains some spoilers!]
A hidden world of magic, dragons, and… bureaucracy?
There is a lot of background to understanding the world Elliott creates in The Keeper’s Six. Ester is a member of a Hex. A Hex is a group of six people with magical powers that can travel through the Beyond, an interdimensional area between different realms. Groups smaller than six can still move through the Beyond but never bigger than six. The Hex members must work together to make it through the many dangers of the beyond when they venture there.
Each person in a Hex has a specific role. Ester is a Lantern, meaning she can manipulate light. Then there is the Shotgun, a fighting expert, the Gate, who opens the veil between the realms and the beyond, the Voice, who can communicate with any being without language barriers, the Ghost, who becomes intangible in the beyond, and finally, the Keeper, who anchors the team to their home realm. A Keeper can remain in the Hex’s home keep (an anchoring portal to the Beyond), allowing them to escort one other person, known as Cargo.
Hexes are sanctioned by the Concilium, which is a body of dragons that governs travel and commerce in the Beyond. Without the permission of the Concilium, a Hex cannot operate and the members can face severe punishments. Basically, Dragons are the only beings that could originally travel in the Beyond. They set up these Keeps in different realms to gain access to things they wanted. As time went on they realized that they could share some secrets of inter-realm travel with other sentient beings and then they could have those beings gather things for them instead of doing it themselves.
A mother and her son’s story in The Keeper’s Six
In The Keeper’s Six Ester and her son, Daniel, both belong to the same Hex. The Hex was disbanded about a year prior to the beginning of the book because a client accused them of breaking a contract. However, Keepers are very rare, so Daniel still operates their local Keep, allowing inter-realm travel to continue. Then Ester gets that late-night call. She doesn’t care what the Concilium says, she’s going after her son. She calls her Hex, uncertain if they’ll answer, and heads to the Keep to look for clues.
At the Keep, Ester finds her son-in-law, Kia asleep with his and Daniel’s four children, but not Daniel. She also finds the Keep deserted. The only sign that something is wrong is a roux that is slowly burning on the stove in the kitchen. Ester makes the connection between “roux in the kitchen” and Daniel saying “ruin…”. When she checks the pot, bingo! There is a dragon scale in the congealing mess. Ester is sure it is a clue to the identity of who took Daniel.
When the rest of her Hex shows up Ester shares why she called them. There is a lot of unresolved tension between the members over how they disbanded a year ago but they all love Daniel so they agree to help. The Hex sets off to learn who took Daniel and why. The answer ends up being related to events that happened five years ago and threatens to tear Ester’s family apart. Can she trust her Hex, and herself, enough to get Daniel back and resolve the danger? And can they do it without tipping off the Concilium and facing those consequences? It’s a delicate situation but that’s what Ester specializes in.
A lot to take in in a short amount of pages in Kate Elliott’s novel
The Keeper’s Six is a pretty short book, only 208 pages. But it’s the launching point of an entirely new world with some very complicated rules. This means that a lot of the book is given over to describing how things work with Hexes, the Beyond, and Dragons. Some of this is given to the reader through Ester’s thoughts, some of it is done through conversations with other characters, and some is left ambiguous.
Elliott’s magic and the Beyond were different enough from other stories that I was left confused sometimes about what was happening or why. Sometimes explanations followed confusing events but sometimes the story just moved on. It also felt like a lot of the book was “the Beyond 101” instead of a dynamic story.
The actual story of Ester protecting her family was nice and the heartbreaking events of the past were very poignant. I would have enjoyed more time with the story and less time with the classroom. Of course, without the explanations, the book would have been extremely confusing. Perhaps a longer book overall would have helped. It would have allowed the explanations to remain but allowed for a deeper story.
A short flight of fancy
The Keeper’s Six wasn’t the most amazing book I’ve read recently, but it was okay. Its length is a double-edged sword, I think with more space Elliott could have created an even more compelling story but at the same time, the low page count makes it a small time investment. I think this might be especially good for younger kids, middle-school to high-school age because of that lower page count. The magic is more subtle and more regulated than it usually is in fantasies but it was an interesting take.
Elliott’s ending was very emotional but was a great payoff after everything Ester has to endure and rehash. Happily, the ending was a complete wrap-up and completion of the story while also leaving an opening for more adventures. I love those endings. A story should be complete at the end of a book but life always continues and that’s nice to remember too. If you’re looking for a different type of magic then The Keeper’s Six might be just what you’re looking for.
My Rating: 7/10
The Keeper’s Six by Kate Elliott is available now! Does it sound like something up your alley? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of another recently published book, Mr. Breakfast!
Book Review: Mr. Breakfast by Jonathan Carroll