Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn. ★★★★
I loved this fantasy novella! I picked it up mainly because I heard the protagonist was asexual (true), and I ended up with a novella that was beautiful in so many ways and really resonated with me.
Lai’s mother and grandmother before her have been priestesses, and Lai can’t imagine any other life for herself. In order to become a priestess, she must win through the trials, for only one girl can be selected by the gods as the next priestess. But what about after the trials? What will happen to the friends she’s in competition with? And what if… she fails?
If you read that blurb and start thinking, “Oh this is a competition plot line like so many YA books recently,” let me stop you right there. The trial takes up at most the first third. The majority of the book is not about the competition, it’s about what happens afterwards. Honestly, that was a relief. I’ve read so many books along the lines of “teenagers must battle for X” that I’m not super interested in another. Not everything needs to be the Hunger Games.
Gunn packs so much into this little novella. True, the supporting characters could be developed more, but I think there’s just not space and that doing so would make the story drag. Lia is squarely the focus in Keeper of the Dawn.
I knew Lia was asexual going in, but it still struck me how similar her perspective could be to my own, in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen from another YA protagonist. It’s more in the details of her narration than anything else. Like the way she describes people as beautiful but not as hot or attractive. It felt markedly different from what I usually encounter and a lot closer to how I actually think.
Lia’s asexuality is explicitly addressed in the book. In the second half she has a romance with another female character, and she discusses it with her love interest at one point. It’s unclear how Lia identifies in regards to romantic orientation, but I feel like she could be similar to me. Since I realized I was ace, I’ve been searching out books with asexual protagonists, but Lia is the one who’s asexuality seems most similar to my own. I honestly didn’t expect to have this sort of reaction to Keeper of the Dawn.
In addition to everything else, Keeper of the Dawn is just so beautifully written. Gunn’s prose is so elegant and graceful, and she’s remarkably successful at making her world feel truly magical. I adored all the attention she paid to the mythology and world building. This is a truly lovely novella.
In short, I came for the ace representation and stayed for a sincerely great story. I have little doubt that this will end up being one of the best fantasy novellas I read in 2017.
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a free and honest review.