Rachel Neumeier is one of my favorite authors, and also a person I very much enjoy. When she offered to send me an ARC of her latest book, The Keeper of the Mist, I was happy to accept. And even happier to read the book, which turned out to be one of my favorites by her! I want say my favorite and it might be true, but I should probably reread City in the Lake and House of Shadows and The Floating Islands and Black Dog. Just to be sure.
I’m not normally great at coming up with succinct pitches for books, but in this case I’ll say: this is great if you’re a character-driven reader, who likes magic, landscapes that are like characters, fantasy politics, and girls being friends. Also, quiet romance and food. (I had to stop in the middle of reading this to make cake. Just to warn you.)
As the book opens, Keri, the main character, has lost her mother and is working to keep her bakery afloat. When the Lord Dorric of Nimmira dies, not entirely unexpectedly, she doesn’t anticipate inheriting anything. But in fact, the position passes to her, bypassing all three of her half-brothers. Her Timekeeper, Doorkeeper, and Bookkeeper are also somewhat unexpected, at least to Keri. Very quickly, they have to face a huge challenge because the Mists that protect Nimmira have begun to fail, meaning the aggressive countries on either side will suddenly realize there was a land hidden from them all along.
There are a number of things I love here. Complicated families to begin with: Keri had never been acknowledged by the Lord and her new position comes as a surprise, at least to her. It also sets up tensions between herself and her three half-brothers. Neumeier deals with this in an interesting and complex way as Keri has to navigate the question of which of her siblings she can trust.
I also love settings where the landscape feels important. This is definitely one and I love the way the three lands are described. There’s a very clear and vivid sense of the way land and people influence each other.
I absolutely loved Keri’s friendship with Tassel, which is perhaps her most un-fraught relationship through the whole book. I totally bought them as longtime, close friends who know and rely on each other. And I appreciated how central their friendship is to the story.
In some ways, this is a sharper book than Neumeier’s previous stories. There’s a lot about being a young woman navigating the world and relationships: the way that others—even and maybe even especially those who care about you—underestimate and misunderstand you. Keri is relatively competent and confident but most of the male characters don’t see that clearly.
Also, her cakes sound amazing and I would like one.
All in all, this is a lovely mix of vivid descriptions, a great depiction of a young woman coming into her own strength, and some subtle and thoughtful commentary on the world.
Book source: ARC
Book information: 2016, Alfred A. Knopf; YA fantasy