The Keeper’s Six

How do you make a novella feel like a much bigger book? If you’d like to know, take a look at what Kate Elliott has done with The Keeper’s Six, because it is beautifully executed.

The starting point is the worldbuilding. It is something that lots of writers love, but not all do well. Less experienced writers will pour everything they have in their notebooks onto the page. Clever ones, like Elliott, will tell you only as much as you need to follow the story, and that only sparingly, but they will do so in such a way as to make it seem like there is a lot more out there waiting to be told. (Which there may or may not be, it doesn’t matter much.)

The other key element is the plot. You hear a lot of advice about starting the story in media res, and generally the reason for doing so is to get the reader hooked quickly. However, by making it clear that there is a lot of backstory affecting your characters, you are giving the reader a sense of a much bigger book than the one they are actually reading.

Characters help too. You can’t spent a lot of time with each one, and you certainly can’t afford multiple points of view. However, if the backstory you keep hinting at involves conflicts between the characters, that adds to the sense of something much bigger.

So what do we have in the book? The world of The Keeper’s Six includes present-day Earth. It also includes a whole universe of other sentient races. But, this being fantasy, travel between worlds takes place via magic and a dangerous, monster-filled wilderness called the Beyond.

Travel through the Beyond is safest in a group of six people known as a Hex. They all have complimentary and necessary skills. The Gate opens the way in and out. The Ghost, being insubstantial in the Beyond, can act as a scout. The Voice is a diplomat, the Shotgun a fighter. The Lantern provides light in the often pitch-black Beyond. And the Keeper anchors the team to their home world. Together they form an adventuring party. And yes, you could write a role-playing game set in this world.

Here also be dragons. They are the most powerful of the sentient races, and being dragons they have a lot of knowledge and power that they don’t like to reveal.

Our heroine is Esther Green, now a grandmother and getting a bit old for adventuring. Besides – backstory – she and her Hex have had their license to travel revoked by something called the Concilium which is some sort of regulatory body for the universe. It was all her fault. Her relationship with the rest of the Hex is fraught as a result. But now she needs their help because her son, Daniel, who is also the Hex’s Keeper, has been kidnapped. By a dragon. And somehow this involves Daniel’s spouse, a non-human person called Kai.

Insert adventure through the Beyond here. Add in drip-fed bits of backstory that will help resolve the plot. Plus a whole bunch of Easter Eggs for people who love literature. And a bit of a love story too.

It is all expertly crafted, and a fabulous read. I do hope that Elliott writes more stories in this world, because it is too vibrant to set aside.

By the way, the dragons refer to Esther as “Star of Evening”. The name Esther, means “star” in Hebrew. It is the Hebrew version of the name Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess whose planetary aspect is Venus. The Biblical Esther was originally named Hadassah (“myrtle”), but her name was changed when she married the Persian king, Xerxes I. The evening star aspect was more associated with Ishtar’s warrior personality, while the morning star is associated with her sexual aspect. I’m sure that there is a lot more detail in the book that I have missed.

book cover
Title: The Keeper's Six
By: Kate Elliott
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US UK
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