The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall
She lived where the railway tracks met the saltpan, on the Ahri side of the shadowline. In the old days, when people still talked about her, she was known as the end-of-the-line woman.
Vasethe, a man with a troubled past,
comes to seek a favor from a woman who is not what she seems, and must
enter the nine hundred and ninety-nine realms of Mkalis, the world of
spirits, where gods and demons wage endless war.
The Border Keeper spins wonders both epic—the Byzantine bureaucracy of hundreds of demon realms, impossible oceans, hidden fortresses—and devastatingly personal—a spear flung straight, the profound terror and power of motherhood. What Vasethe discovers in Mkalis threatens to bring his own secrets into light and throw both worlds into chaos.
A 2020 Nommo Award Finalist
A Book Bub Best SFF Books of the Summer Pick
The Border Keeper is Kirsten Hall’s introduction to the Land of Ahris and the adjoining nine hundred and ninety nine realms of Mkalis.
In this introduction to the vividly imagined world, we follow the story of Vasethe as he beseeches the aid of The Border Keeper, Eris (sometimes known as Wrengrath, othertimes Midan, and sometimes Destroyer of Addis Hal Rata), the protector of the Shadowline, the border between worlds, to guide him through Mkalis to find his lost love Raisha.
From here we enter the ethereal world of Mkalis, governed by capricious Gods and demons, where the breaking of rules can lead to horrific and terrifying consequences, borders can shift suddenly and populated by a grotesque cavalcade of monsters.
The story itself seems to incorporate various myths, legends and classical literature, and initially seems to draw on the myth of Orpheus & Eurydice and the journeying tale of Dante as he travels through the nine circles of hell. In addition to that there are rules that seem to draw from Celtic mythology, such as not eating anything that is offered whilst in the lands of Mkalis. However, it transforms into something else as the tale progresses.
We soon get the picture that nothing is as it seems and the plot shifts as quickly as the borders of Mkalis and when you think you have a grasp of the plot, it quickly slides out your grasp as Kirsten Hall deftly performs a sleight of hand trick to lead you in a different direction.
The book itself is not entirely perfect and some details feel like they are not paid as much attention to, as the tale’s main focus seems to be the journey and the world building. However, the heart of the story, revolving around love, grief, loss and regret made me forgive the other aspects.
The prose is beautifully constructed, and Kirsten Hall imaginatively paints the grotesque, hallucinatory lands that our two main protagonists travel through. The bestiary of monsters, Gods and demons are at once terrifying and bizarre, such as the crab creature that has a child intertwined with its body as it leads Eris and Vasethe through one of the Kingdoms.
The world building itself is interesting, especially with the border between the worlds. Ahris itself puts me in mind of fellow South African, Richard Stanley’s post apocalyptic landscape in his film Hardware, whilst the lands of Mkalis shift like sand as Eris and Vasethe travel the different realms
The Border Keeper is a story that is brimming with good ideas, and whilst not entirely executed as perfectly, it is a beautiful introduction to the world and the beings that inhabit the lands of Mkalis.