The Keeper of the Mist: A quietly charming traditional YA fantasy

The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier fantasy book reviews young adultThe Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier

Kerianna, the illegitimate daughter of the dissolute, ailing Lord of the country of Nimmira and a former serving girl, is a baker in the town of Glassforge who prides herself on the quality of her wedding cakes and other baked goods. It’s a struggling business, and Keri has to run it by herself since the death of her mother, but it’s modestly successful and Keri has hopes for the future.

Rule over Nimmira passes from parent to child, along with the magical power that enables the Lord or Lady of Nimmira to maintain the magical mists that hide the entire country from the powerful countries around it that would quickly take over Nimmira, if they only knew of its existence. Though Keri has daydreams of being the next ruler and fixing the problems of Nimmira, she, like everyone else in the country, expects leadership to fall to one of her three older half-brothers. So it’s a shock to everyone, including Keri herself, when the aged Timekeeper of Nimmira appears on her doorstep and addresses her with the ritual words, “The Lord is dead. This is your hour, Kerianna Ailenn. This is your hour and your day.”

The Timekeeper’s magic has chosen Keri as the new Lady of Nimmira, to lead the country with the help of three others: the Timekeeper, who has some mysterious powers over time itself; the Bookkeeper, who magically knows and writes the history of Nimmira and has instant access to any book she needs (I really want this power!); and the Doorkeeper, who holds the magic that locks and unlocks all doors in Nimmira, as well as the borders of the country. When the former Bookkeeper and Doorkeeper decline to serve any longer, the magic quickly pulls in Keri’s best friend, the lovely Tassel, and her stubborn, energetic cousin Cort, to replace them.

Keri already has an uphill battle to overcome her own self-doubt and trepidations and to convince the people of Nimmira ― not the least her disappointed half-brothers ― that she is a capable leader. But her problems are compounded by a potential disaster in the making: the magical mists that have hidden Nimmira for several generations are failing fast, and dangerous men are entering the country from both Tor Carron to the south and Eschalion to the north, possessing different and potentially threatening magical powers. Keri and her friends need to figure out what has gone wrong with their borders and fix it, fast. And it’s not clear whether the Timekeeper or Keri’s brothers will be a help or a hindrance.

The Keeper of the Mist is an engaging light fantasy, in the traditional, classic vein of YA fantasies, quite strongly reminiscent of some of Robin McKinley‘s fantasies. Chalice and Spindle’s End both came to mind as stylistically similar. Rachel Neumeier creates an appealing world, centered on a lovely, pastoral country that is surrounded by harsher climates, enemies and magical powers, and hidden from them by magical mists of confusion and forgetfulness. The struggle to recreate Nimmira’s magical borders is a major plot point, although Keri does begin to realize that her country cannot remain permanently isolated.

There is just a little romance in this book, but it’s very restrained and understated ― although there is an amusing contrast between one character’s gradual recognition of feelings for an old friend and another’s whirlwind romance that develops almost literally overnight. Equally significant is Keri’s close relationship with her friend Tassel. Keri is a little wistful about Tassel’s beauty and confidence, but not jealous. Despite their differences, they are fast friends who know that they can count on each other’s help and support, and this plays a vital role in the development of the plot.

While Keri is a familiar character type in fantasy, the young, uncertain person suddenly thrust into power and forced to cope with danger, Neumeier deftly shows her growth as a person and the depth of her love and concern for her country and its people. Some of the secondary characters also reveal initially unsuspected depths as the crisis of protecting their country deepens, which is always a pleasure to encounter in reading. The enemies of Nimmira were a little overly cooperative in letting their attention lapse at critical times, leaving Keri and her friends to their own devices and giving them time to plan escapes and counterattacks, but otherwise the plot flows smoothly and logically. The Keeper of the Mist will appeal to younger teens, as well as older readers who appreciate charming, lighter fantasies.


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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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4 comments

  1. sounds like some neat ideas in here–the various roles, the idea of the mists, the disappearing isolation. And it’s always good to have cooperative enemies :)

  2. I like the play with the names of the three advisors, but “magical Book-keeper” sounds a little bit like a job description that would end up getting you investigated by the SEC.

    • You know, that Bookkeeper … she does some things toward the end of the book with her powers where I was all, well, if it’s like THAT, couldn’t she just write ALL their problems out of existence? But I suppose there are limits to what one can do, even with magic.

  3. This sounds like a lot of fun! Adding it to my TBR post-haste. :)

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