Nathan’s review of The Keeper’s Six by Kate Elliot
I have heard so much about Kate Elliot’s work but had yet to take the plunge into her extensive back catalog. When I saw that she was releasing a new novella from Tordotcom (which has been on fire lately with their novella releases), I thought there was no better time to jump in.
Well, this one really didn’t work for me.
But I want to make clear that I think this novella could work for some readers who look for different things in books than I do. Namely, this book has some really fantastic worldbuilding. Kate Elliot creatively combines tropes from both fantasy and science fiction to craft a universe unlike any I have ever seen before. There are magical portals, deadly climate patterns, shape-shifting dragons, over-sized dangerous insects, government bureaucracies, queer romances, rugelach baking, and so much more. Elliot packs so much fun and strange things into this little novella. I am a very visual reader (I create the “movie in my mind”) and was actually overstimulating myself while reading!). If you read fantasy or science fiction to dive in and explore a world much unlike our own, then definitely give this one a go.
And I want to emphasize that Elliot’s worldbuilding is fun. While maintaining internal worldbuilding coherence, Elliot took a no holds barred approach to what she wanted to introduce. Reading this novella made me wonder why we don’t see more worldbuliding like this in fantasy and science fiction. Elliot’s creativity jumps off the page and there are so many clever and creative elements that I had never seen before in speculative fiction. Elliot also injects a lot of wit and humor through the book. There are many moments that made me smile and laugh in between the more intense plot points.
I think I struggled with this book because while I enjoy a good fictional universe, I look for plot and characters before all. This is where The Keeper’s Six fell a bit short for me. While there is a plot (summarized in the publisher’s blurb above), it takes a back seat to Elliot’s worldbuilding. A lot of the limited page count is dedicated to characters explaining the “rules” of the universe to one another. The plot really fails to build forward momentum because it keeps screeching to a halt for another info-dump. Points in the novella that should have been really exciting and tense were dragged down by characters monologuing about the worldbuilding and how everything works. Due to these narrative starts and stops, I had a hard time latching onto the plot. Worse, there were times where I had a hard time following the plot because just so much was thrown at me all at once.
I’m not sure the novella format was ideal for this story. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a 1000 page chonker, but just another 100 pages would have allowed the narrative to breathe a bit. I was overwhelmed by the frantic pace of the worldbuilding, while the plot and character got sidelined by the novella length.
Concluding Thoughts: Filled to brim with creative worldbuilding, this novella is perfect for those looking for a fun romp through a wholly original science fantasy universe. However, the intense and creative worldbuilding so come at the expense of deep plot or characters.