Publisher: The Book Smugglers
Release Date: April 18, 2017
Received From: Review copy from publisher
Sometimes failure is just the beginning
All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.
From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.
Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.
Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.
Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope.
SEXUALITY: asexual, presumed lesbian
TROPES: magical abilities, chosen one
TAGS: fantasy, young adult, mythology, queer romance
WARNINGS: fatphobia, alcoholism, mentions of cheating, physical illness, aphobia, murder, violence, cissexism
I hated this book pretty much from the beginning, and the only way I was able to get through the whole thing was so remind myself it was a review copy and slip into ambivalence.
From the very start, the main character, Lai, is the most annoying heroine I’ve encountered recently. Her narrative voice is constantly contradictory–sometimes saying one thing and then directly contradicting that within the next sentence or paragraph–and she claims to be the best warrior in her age group, but lacks the basic instincts to throw out her hands to catch herself when she falls. This all happens from chapter one, so I had an incredibly difficult time believing that she really was such a great warrior and meant to be the Chosen One. This didn’t really change much throughout the entirety of the novella.
I also had issues with some of the representation. Everything about this world Lai lives in is so incredibly binary–women as priestesses, men as soldiers–and, again, that didn’t change even when she met other cultures. There was no room for anyone outside of the gender binary, and there was never any exploration of how trans people or nonbinary people lived, which was something that would’ve made the worldbuilding more complex in that it would’ve challenged her worldview more. Also, there’s one fat character who is found eating in nearly every scene he’s in. It is possible to write fat characters without making them overindulge and judging them for it. And it is also possible to write a fat character without ultimately making them a villain. Finally, there was no racial diversity. At all. The cover indicates that Lai is white, but skin color is never ever described for any character.
This story was very clearly supposed to be an exploration of religion and mythology, but it felt very shallow due to the introduction of a monotheistic religion clearly based on Christianity. I believe that it was good that the author included the concept of monotheism to a character who has followed a polytheistic religion all her life, but there is no further exploration other than her judgments on the people who follow that religion. This aspect of the story would’ve been better served by showing the differences between their religious practices, and having Lai recognize that there is nothing wrong with the monotheistic religion, even if she doesn’t quite understand it. Instead, there is just a few passing comments about it, and then it’s never mentioned again.
Speaking of the worldbuilding, this story suffered due to the length. The whole plot is supposed to span over a number of years, which made everything feel very rushed since this book is only a novella. There was little to no room for the author to expand on the world she created and the cultural aspects outside of religion because of the plot that she was working with. It was completely overshadowed by the plot, but even that wasn’t nearly as in depth as it should’ve been. There were so many aspects that could’ve been explained and explored more. The battle scene at the end of the novella spans across four pages, at most, and as a result, is anticlimactic and unsatisfying. Also, I’ve finished the novel, and to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure what a Keeper of the Dawn even is. More than anything, that part of the story deserves more explanation because it’s one of the key elements of the story.
Lastly, I want to touch on Lai’s sexuality. This book has been advertised as a novella with an asexual protagonist, but that is not touched upon nearly enough. There is nothing to indicate this until approximately 35% in when she tells a man that she “prefers to sleep alone,” which could mean any number of things and isn’t exclusive to asexual people. Later, there is a slowly developing relationship between Lai and Tara, her roommate with the Keepers of the Dawn, but even that only goes so far as to say that she prefers to read in bed or snuggle once their relationship finally reaches the couple stage. That is not exclusive to asexual people either and could be a an aspect of a new relationship between people of any sexuality. It’s not until about 70% into the novel that Lai finally explicitly indicates, in both the narrative and speaking out loud, that she is not interested in sex. It’s mostly a good moment because while Tara is slightly confused at first, she accepts it and doesn’t pressure Lai into anything, but there’s two things wrong with this scene. Firstly, when Lai asks what else they could possibly do in bed other than read and snuggle, Tara says, “What would a normal couple do in bed?” This is aphobic and incredibly unnecessary. The fact that she doesn’t have sex is does not make Lai abnormal, and to say that is to imply that all a-spec people are abnormal. Secondly, this is not good ace rep. I should not have had to pick at scraps to find out she’s ace until 70% into the story. At that point, it’s almost over. If I had not continued the story, as I originally intended to DNF very early on, I never would’ve even seen this part. Lai’s sexuality is something that could’ve very easily been introduced early in the novel, but instead, the author very poorly attempted to code her as ace without being explicit, and frankly, failed miserably. I would not ever recommend this book as a good example of one with an ace protagonist.
This story was a failure from practically the first page, and I would not recommend it.
Dianna L. Gunn has known she wanted to be a writer since she was eight years old. She wrote her first novel for Nanowrimo at the age of eleven years old, but quickly discovered that writing books is not an easy way to make a living. So she decided to broaden her horizons, seeking another career that still allowed her to work with words.
Her freelance writing career started when she became a marketing intern at Musa Publishing(now defunct) in September 2011 and quickly became a staff writer in charge of multiple imprint blogs. Since then she has worked with a variety of small businesses and non-profits to improve their online brands and create long term marketing strategies. Some of her most notable work has been for the tech education non-profit STEAMLabs and natural dog care company ProPooch. She is extremely dedicated to helping her clients build successful brands and making their dreams come true.
When she isn’t helping her clients bring their dreams to life, Dianna can be found busily working on her own dream of being a successful fantasy author. Her first YA fantasy novella, Keeper of the Dawn, is available now, and she hopes to announce a second release date soon.