Review: “Summon the Keeper,” Tanya Huff

Pros: So funny I couldn’t stop quoting it to my husband; wonderful characters
Cons: Not quite as much chemistry between male/female leads as I might have hoped
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

Claire is a Keeper, and it’s her job to clean up metaphysical ‘accident’ sites. When she’s needed, she feels a summoning. This time she’s been summoned to an odd little bed-and-breakfast. It sports a dreadful name, an enthusiastically domestic helper, a woman who’s been kept in a mystical slumber for decades, and, oh yeah, a hole to Hell in the furnace room. At first Claire is sure she’s there to close the site, but it can’t be closed without freeing the sleeping woman–and she’s powerful and oh-so-very evil. Perhaps Claire, who arrived with her talking cat, Austin, will have to adjust to life in one place. At least there are plenty of oddities to keep her busy. The wardrobe opens onto other realities (it’s traditional), the elevator leads to fictional dreamscapes, the neighbor is determined to stick her nose into everything. there’s an amorous ghost on the loose, an imp is wreaking havoc on the inn, and there are guests coming to stay. And, oh yeah, Hell is determined to corrupt Claire and break loose into the world.

 

Summon the Keeper is the first book in the Keeper trilogy (you can find all three books packaged together in The Complete Keeper Chronicles). In some ways it’s reminiscent of Tanya Huff’s The Enchantment Emporium. It’s also set in Canada. It also involves a strong, capable, fairly young woman taking over an ‘inherited’ business (an inn this time instead of a junk emporium). That woman is also part of a unique lineage that possesses specialized abilities to manipulate and use unusual powers, and, once again, family is heavily involved.

However, I did not come away feeling like I’d read the same story twice. They’re variations on a theme, but each is quite unique. While Emporium is certainly funny, it isn’t the same focused hilarity that I found in Keeper. I genuinely chuckled, snorted, or even cackled up to several times per page. My poor husband had to put up with me reading quotes to him, and those were just the ones that I couldn’t contain myself over.

The battles, Keeper vs. Keeper, good vs. evil, had been won but both times at a terrible cost. The first had resulted in the eruption of Vesuvius and the loss of Pompeii. The second, in disco. Claire had only a child’s memories of the seventies, but she wouldn’t be responsible for putting the world through that again.

Dean, Claire’s helper at the inn, is a strapping young man who, when things go wrong, thinks first about how he’s going to get the stains out. He’s so pure even Hell can’t get a toehold on him. Austin, the cat, is… well, he’s a cat. Jacques, the ghost, plays off of Dean well, particularly when vying for Claire’s affections. And then there’s Hell. Hell likes to talk to itself. In all caps. And it seems to be getting a little squirrely down in that hole in the basement. As entertaining as the rest of the book is, Hell steals all the best lines. Huff does a magnificent job of twisting and torturing stereotypes in order to come up with something delightful. I particularly like the fact that Claire is definitely not a too-perfect, too-strong character. She has her flaws and her ways of being annoying, but without becoming unlikable as a character, and without undermining her strength.

There are plenty of delightful interludes leading up the main event, and the main story itself wraps up in fun and clever ways. I didn’t wholly and completely feel the chemistry between Claire and Jacques, but that’s a minor quibble. I’m looking forward to starting in on book two in the morning!

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