On my most recent trip to our town’s used bookstore, I got a hefty dose of Tanya Huff books. Having finished the Gale Women series (though that didn’t stop me from accidentally buying another copy of The Future Falls by mistake, oops), I was happy to discover several books in two different series from Huff. I decided to start her Keeper Chronicles first with Summon the Keeper. It was a great change of pace from some of the other books I have read lately. Tanya Huff’s storytelling is that comfy kind of familiar where you always feel like you’re coming home.
Claire Hansen is a Keeper, which is an efficient way of saying she is a member of a supernatural lineage dedicated to preserving the fabric of the universe. She does this by sealing sites where the fabric of the universe has worn thin, sometimes as a result of people unwittingly using what we might call magic but what Claire calls “the possibilities.” Summon the Keeper sees Claire arrive at the Elysian Fields Guesthouse in Kingston, Ontario. Previously under the supervision of a Cousin—a less powerful ally to the Keepers—he scampers off Claire arrives, leaving her in charge of this dilapidated hotel. She has a talking cat, Austin, by her side, and quickly charms the hotel’s one employee, Dean, a handyman/chef/all around hunk. There’s an evil, sleeping Keeper in room six and a literal hole to Hell in the furnace room, and Claire is determined to seal this site and get out of Kingston no matter what.
Most of the fantasy novels I picked up from the used bookstore are what I would call “classic” fantasy from the 1980s and 1990s. Summon the Keeper, published 1998, is no exception. There’s something really quaint about reading a book that is now twenty-four years old—I love the references, now so outdated, to things like computer towers with CD-ROM drives. The fact that Huff sets her stories so often in Canada also makes me smile!
Huff is a master at writing compelling and intense scenes whether they are action-focused or feelings-focused. Claire is a great protagonist: she is capable and confident in her abilities, yet she also has plenty of flaws. Sometimes we might describe her as overconfident, though in a different way from her younger sister. I like that, at twenty-seven, she is older than a lot of female protagonists that we get in urban fantasy, yet she is still young enough to be plenty inexperienced, both at her job and her life.
Though the love triangle between Claire, Dean, and Jacques does very little for me, I appreciate what Huff is trying to accomplish. Claire’s reluctance to deal with the tension between her and Dean drives, directly or indirectly, quite a lot of the conflict in this book. Though Hell, personified by an ALL CAPS split personality that comments sarcastically on events throughout the book, is the nominal antagonist, one might also argue that Claire is her own worst enemy. She spends so much time trying to “solve” the problem of the Elysian that she keeps stirring up trouble. My main reaction, as I was reading, was “Man, Huff is never giving Claire a break,” but this is usually the result of Claire’s own actions.
In this way, Summon the Keeper, despite being a slimmer novel, is packed full of entertaining action and intense drama. I was genuinely enthralled by the plot, curious to find out how Claire would resolve the problem of the evil Keeper and seal up the hole to Hell. The ending is fine—a little rushed, a little too cinematic for my aphantasic brain to process—but I am looking forward to reading the sequel, and likely soon, given that I acquired it at the used bookstore too!