Summon the Keeper
by Tanya Huff

The World is About to End . . .
. . . and its all Canada's Fault


What They Say:
THE CAT

Austin was a black-and-white, far-from-young cat. Not just any cat, mind you, he was the Keeper's cat, a very outspoken feline with extremely strong opinions he was always willing to voice. After all, who knew better than Austin what was best for the well-being of Claire - and for the not-quite-as-important rest of the universe?

AND THE KEEPER

Claire Hansen was a Keeper, a member of that select group which kept the universe in one piece. And now she'd been Summoned to the Elysian Field Guesthouse, a rundown bed-and-breakfast that seemed to attract the most "unusual" clientele. And Claire was not happy bout this latest assignment, not happy at all.

Not when she'd been tricked into taking over here by a horrible little gnome of a man who'd abandoned his post before she'd even figured out who he really was . . .Not when Room Six held a resident who'd been sleeping there for so many years that she really needed a good dusting - except that it was far too dangerous for anyone to get that close to her .. . Not when the basement housed too much temptation for anyone's mental health . . .Not when found herself surrounded by "helpers" as distracting as Dean, the hunky-yet-innocent handyman, and Jacques, a ghost with a real lust for life. . .And especially not when it looked like this might be not the only most challenging mission but one she'd be stuck handling forever. . .
The Premise: Running a second-rate B&B was never on Claire's bucket list. After all, she was a Keeper: a witch who specialized in sealing dimensional breaches, and made sure nothing too bad crawled through to menace human society. And she'd travelled the world, closing some of the most dangerous dimensional rifts in modern history. Why should she settle for such a mundane job? Only old Keepers got stuck babysitting rifts.

So when the guardian of the Elysian Fields Guesthouse dumped the place on her, she immediately set off to find the place's rift, and close it. It'd be five minutes work, tops. She'd been on the Bermuda Triangle team, after all, and this was just some minor site in Kingston, Ontario. Heck, she'd grown up only about an hour away. She'd polish this site off, and be home in time for a nice dinner with her parents.

And so what if Austin had a bad feeling about the place? He'd been wrong before, and this is a site in Kingston. All of the dangerous, unsealable rifts were well-documented, and people passed through here all the time. Only a small, rinky-dink rift would go unnoticed here. The Elysian Fields Guesthouse wouldn't even make her top ten list - although the housekeeper/handyman/cook was kind of cute. Maybe she'd ask him out, before leaving . . .

Then she found the turquoise door, and realized just how much trouble she was in. And not just because of the corny puns . . .

The Review: Some books are just fun to read. Not particularly dark, nor thought provoking, Summon the Keeper will never make the list of top ten sci-fi/fantasy titles. But who cares? Sometimes you're just not in the mood for Tolkien. And this is a book that features cameos by both Captain Picard and the Wicked Witch of the West.

With such a bizarre mix of secondary characters, Summon the Keeper could easily have devolved into a mess, yet the author managed to keep everything moving forward. The more exotic creatures and cameos help underscore the stakes, without detracting from the core cast.

And its actually funny, often in a "girl power" sense. Claire's off-the-cuff spells usually rely on plays-on-words or aphorisms (she's a big fan of "penny for your thoughts"), and she and Austin (the cat) banter a lot. There's also a steady string of puns and humorous observations from behind the turquoise door.

In a broader sense, the author also seemed to really enjoy the dynamic of an enlightened feminist as a fantasy hero. No jokes about shoes here - the two main male characters are primarily eye candy, and the (good natured) humor's often at their expense. All of which fits the feel of the novel - Claire's a modern woman, after all. She can save the world and rescue the cute guy.

Plus, the author took the time to properly set things up. There's a reason why no other Keeper has found the B&B . . . and why Claire can't just walk away. Unless she's willing to write off North America (possibly the entire planet), Claire's stuck making beds and taking care of the guest house's "eclectic" mix of guests.

And the Elysian Fields Guest House makes for a good setting. Its not quite as iconic (or hostile) as the Overlook Hotel (from The Shining), but two centuries of hosting a (very, very hostile) dimensional rift have made the old mansion . . . interesting. And there are some nice mundane tidbits, from the annoying neighbor to Claire's efforts to renovate the place.

Unfortunately, particularly for a such magic-rich fantasy title, the magic of Summon the Keeper is more of a plot device than any coherent system. If it moves the plot forward, Claire can usually do whatever's needed . . . And if its better for her to be helpless, then she's helpless. Nor is the author afraid to contradict herself, or to leave odd gaps in Claire's spell book.

For example, early on, its established that Claire doesn't have a spell to bypass a locked door (which is a little hard to believe, given her line of work). Except during the big ghost v. housekeeper fight, Claire unleashes . . .a spell to bypass a locked door. So consistency isn't a big thing here.

The book does have a wonderful mix of supernatural creatures, though. Austin (the talking cat) has some wonderfully snarky lines, but its the monsters who really shine. The rules of the setting require evil energy to manifest in a form the bulk of people (in that area) can accept. . . but other than that, the sky's the limit. Usually that means traditional supernatural creatures like ogres or banshees, but not always. Rumplestiltskin shows up at one point, for example, and so does everyone's favorite asthmatic Sith Lord.

And that massive selection of possible characters extends to the B&B's guests. Reality is so damaged around the Elysian Fields Guesthouse, that almost anyone (or anything) could show up looking for a room. A vampire folk rocker, a couple werewolves working the dog show circuit, some retired Olympians . . . If a character (or creature) would be fun to write about, the author has several good excuses for them to show up.

As for content, Summon the Keeper is appropriate for a pretty wide variety of audiences. There's no direct physical violence, and very little swearing (cursing is a little risky next to such a potent source of evil energy, after all). There is one sex scene, but its tastefully done, and even there, all we really get is a couple lines of sexual innuendo. We're talking PG, maybe PG-13

Series: Summon the Keeper is the first novel in the Keeper Chronicles series (currently three books long). Up next is The Second Summoning

Recommended for: If you liked Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, you're going to like the dynamic here. Claire and Austin remind me a lot of Sabrina and Salem, just a little older, and I could definitely see Sabrina working as a Keeper. Plus, the elevator is somewhat similar to her closet.

Or if you enjoyed the vibe of Ghostbusters, which mixed a serious plot with a lot of goofy supernatural hijinks. In many ways, the Elysian Fields Guesthouse is the Canadian equivalent of the skyscraper. And actually, there's no reason why the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man couldn't make a cameo . . .

My Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed Summon the Keeper. Its just such a fun title. After finishing it the first time, I immediately started rereading it, and my copy is now starting to fall apart. Even knowing how it ends, I often find myself having to re-read the whole thing.

The sequels weren't as strong, and then there's the weird matter of Huff's Enchantment Emporium . . . but I have no problem recommending Summon the Keeper to anyone who likes fantasy - particularly if they wonder why Canada never gets in on the "end of the world" action.

Two caveats, though. If you don't like puns, you're going to be in trouble. And don't steal the towels