My review of the Kerstin Hall’s The Border Keeper is a tale of being careful what you wish for.
Let us rewind. See the excitable blogger, high on weird fiction and baroque pulp, bounce into a discord asking for recs. Give me modern weird adventure! Things like The Unknown Name but not that book. Give me some fucking trips.
Well, I got a dose alright.
The Border Keeper starts when a chap named Vasethe goes to see the Border Keeper – who he calls Eris – about a spot of light tourism in the demonic realms where man should tread not. Why? I don’t remember why. And on talking about it with a friend who’s just finished the book, I was wrong about what type of why it even was.
At this point I should reveal I read this novella after a month and a bit span, with numerous pauses for other books and lots of travel. That isn’t the ideal way to take on information and therefore what I experienced could just be my circumstances.
However, it could also be that the ideal way to give information in a novel doesn’t also involve a dense, nay opaque prose that places atmosphere first and last and only. There are plus points to this style, but clarity isn’t one of them, particularly with a plot that only kicks into high gear in the last third of the book.
Some books force you to re-examine how you really feel about a current in fiction. The Border Keeper is one of them. My multi-faceted dislike of ‘all about the vibes’ books doesn’t jibe well with the weird books that are hell for leather on weird vibes. I am fairly set on preferring long form books to shorter fiction as it does character better, but I think I might have to make an exception as vibes has less opportunity to bore and lose me. That goes double for books that take on that fairly modern, very dense, discover everything as you go approach to prose and storytelling. Said referred to friend said they like books that make them work. I, picking my words carefully, kinda despise them. I love books that let me work, but not books that make me.
As such, even in novella form, The Border Keeper, was too long for me. I enjoyed parts of it immensely, I loved the atmosphere, but by the end it was a slog. I feel bad about being negative given the ambition, the imagination, the doing exactly what I asked for but not what I wanted. But there we go. I do have some fairly negative feelings about this story.
And yet, and yet, I have the sequel Second Spear as an ARC and am legitimately excited to try it. A bit scared too, but I do very much want all the cool things in The Border Keeper to come together and wow me because there was so much cool stuff. To lean on the friend a final time (hi Becca if you read this), it’s really metal. It has demons and monuments to fallen cities and malevolent plots and all things that are good.
It’s just I need more than that, and will take less of that weirdness if it gives me more coherency. Maybe I prefer weird as a seasoning than as a main flavour. Maybe it’s just this book. Maybe it really was just the circs. Whatever it was, The Border Keeper is worth a look through for everyone who wants a trip, but it wasn’t for me.
4 thoughts on “The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall”
Okay so — The Border Keeper is weird and vague and hard to understand. Second Spear is not. It’s the same world, but there’s way less of the vague uncertainty of The Border Keeper. It SHOULD be easier to read for you — it certainly was for me! Great review!
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That’s what I like to hear – hopefully I’ll be able to let you know how I found it soon.
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