Review of Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn

34810880Keeper 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.

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5 thoughts on “Review of Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn

  1. I think this is the first of your reviews that really stumped me. After reading the Keeper preview thing, I was already fairly undecided about reading it, but ultimately decided to give it a chance.

    I’m not saying I’m regretting it, but I thought it was fairly weak. Nothing really sticks in the story – like, how she kills early on in a certain ritual, and that bugs her, but then it kinda doesn’t matter anymore since something else comes up. Or how it turned out a certain vision was actually not false in the sense first concluded – did anyone care about that in the end? Apologize? Also small things: like when she’s called to a certain someone’s office, a scene that ends up with her showing her healing powers. Fine. That done she leaves – but why was she called in the office in the first place? Just randomly to keep the plot moving?

    It’s those small things that kept bugging me – she works at stables, but her actual work never gets described. She looks at portraits of people that aren’t ever described. She moves to a new city she never explores. She gets new training that barely gets a single scene. And so on.

    And everything in the plot always just happens. Warns people of her vision: they believe her, brief battle, everything fixed. Her erstwhile bully suddenly wants to be her friend. Her lover doesn’t mind that she’s asexual. The merchant just lets her go when she wants to. His family hates her, but it doesn’t matter. Her mother’s amulet is important, but at some point forgotten. Again, and so on.

    Not everything needs to be expanded, but at least sometimes some things should be. Maybe I just had a bad day reading it or something, but I thought this needed more work. The basics are solid, but where’s the polish? Outside the mythology, anyway.

    (as a peace offering; do you know JD Cunegan’s Jill Andersen series? It’s a superhero/vigilante series with an asexual heroine, as far as I remember)

    1. I do think I would have preferred an expanded version, but I do like that I was able to read it fairly quickly. I haven’t heard of the Jill Andersen series – I’ll look into it!

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