the book cover for The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall

STAR RATING: 4 stars
PAGE LENGTH: 240 pages
WHAT SERIES? The Mkalis Cycle
HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 2, as of right now
CW: Blood, gore, body horror, violence

IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke


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.

I’ll be quite honest with you — I’m not normally one who picks up novellas. They’re over too quickly for me, so in my rather dumb opinion, why bother reading them? The only reason I picked up The Border Keeper is because Tor sent me a copy of The Second Spear, which is the direct sequel. I’m not one to read sequels without first reading the starting book, so off I went to find a copy of The Border Keeper. Thankfully, my library had it, so I borrowed it, and well, I finished it in a day.

I mean — it’s not even 250 pages, so…easy peasy.

The Border Keeper is one of those stories that sets you down right smack dab in the middle of a story and expects you to keep up. There’s no coddling, there’s no real explanation of anything. You just have to read, and hope you catch what’s important. I’m not usually a fan of this sort of writing. I like to be handed things in ‘real time’, so I know what’s going on. The Border Keeper doesn’t do that. You’re given names of places, demons, and gods rapid fire with little to nothing to back them up. Normally, this would frustrate the hell out of me, but here it surprisingly works.

In fact, the book that reminds me most closely of The Border Keeper is Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Same thing happens — you’re dropped into an unusual, confusing world, and left to pick up your own pieces as the story moves forward. The writing in The Border Keeper is atmospheric, and tangible. You really feel as if you’re following the characters as they move through these increasingly impossible, slightly terrifying worlds.

My one wish is that the plot had been slightly more clear. You’re not really given the true reason behind anything until after halfway through the novella. Am I glad I read this? Sure, I guess. I’m not really sure I enjoyed the story as much as I consumed it. It’s very clearly not my usual cup of tea, honestly. I’ll head onto the next entry into this series and see where that gets me. Four stars, because the writing itself is phenomenal.




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