Read Recently — September 2014 — This One’s a Keeper

The Complete Keeper Chronicles: Summon The Keeper; The Second Summoning; Long Hot Summoning by Tanya Huff

Another re-read. The Keeper Chronicles is Huff’s most light-hearted work of urban fantasy so far. Set mostly in Canada (no surprise there), it shares certain cosmological settings with her earlier novel Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light (and may also share a character or two; it’s been a long time since I read Gate, Circle), in that the universe we know is an island between the forces of Light and Dark, which are held out by barriers that wear down and need to be patched or outright fixed from time to time. If too much of one side gets in, the other side can send in a balancing force (if it notices in time). The Light is the good side, and generally waits to be invited in; the Dark prefers to come in at its own rate and will do harm while it’s here. At home, neither darkness nor light is individualized as such.

To that, Huff adds agents to go about keeping that balance, repairing the walls of the universe as needed: the Keepers. Keepers are essentially wizards; though rather than calling what they do “magic” they refer to it as manipulating possibilities (granted, some of the things they manipulate them to do are really improbable, but still . . .). They are called to the places they are needed by “Summonses”, a metaphysical pull that can vary from a slight tugging to a blindingly painful headachy pulling. They are assisted in their efforts by less powerful members of the same lineage, known as “cousins” (in the same terminology, keepers are called “aunts” or “uncles”, but most of them find that embarrassing and rarely insist on it).

Summon the Keeper opens with Keeper Claire Hansen being summoned to Kingston, Ontario, in the midst of a thunderstormy night. The town’s hotels are filled by various conventions; Claire is forced to take refuge at a Guest House (it is too dark to read the sign, even by lightning, but we later learn it is called the “Elysian Fields Guest House”), run by an old man named Augustus Smythe. Smythe checks her in, and doesn’t object to her cat, Austin (an elderly black-and-white who probably looks a lot like the model on the cover). Austin, as befits the cat of a wizard, talks and, as befits a cat, has strong opinions about his companion’s work. Most of his opinions boil down to “feed the cat”; as far as Austin is concerned if feeding the cat doesn’t solve the problem you were concerned about at least it will result in him being fed, which is better than the alternative. When Claire awakens the next morning, Smythe has fled, leaving her the deed to the building, the help of its Newfy handyman, Dean McIsaac (Dean’s Newfyness is not played for laughs; on the contrary he is the nicest person in the series. He’s also really good-looking; compared at one point to Clark Kent. He’s also 21, which causes Claire, who is 27, some issues), and the body in room six.

The woman in room six isn’t dead, mind you, though she is in need of dusting. She’s been asleep in suspended animation since the second world war. The spell holding her asleep is related to the spell in the heavily locked furnace room, which is a very important spell because it’s holding back the forces of Hell. It seems that back at the start of the war the woman in room six–an evil Keeper named Sara–took the expression “raise a little hell” a bit too literally. Fortunately, good keepers stopped her, put her to sleep, and used the power of the still open hole to Hell to keep her asleep while using her power to restrain Hell. They weren’t, at the time, able to close the hole, so this was the next best thing. Why they didn’t come back and finish the job is a mystery that Claire is going to have to solve (Augustus Smythe, a cousin, as obviously sent to monitor the site but wouldn’t have been able to close it himself; he did have the brilliant idea of saving on fuel oil by using the flames of hell instead of a furnace). Hell, lacking anyone else to talk to, talks to itself. In BOLD CAPS.

Claire, however, doesn’t lack anyone to talk to. In addition to Dean and Austin, there is the older woman next door who keeps butting in and can’t seem to get Claire’s name right (and has a doberman she calls “Baby” that Austin can’t keep from teasing), the ghost in the attic (his name is Jacques; he died in 1910 and is only stuck in the attic if all of the furniture and other items he is bound to stay there. Once Claire scatters his stuff through the building he gets around, though he has no intention of going anywhere near room six. He does, however, want to get into Claire’s bedroom–as a ghost, he’s intangible, but since Claire’s a Keeper she can make him temporarily solid and it has been a long time since he’s been with a woman. So yeah, there’s a minor but funny romantic triangle, but it’s not just that. The guys do bond over hockey, and Claire is well aware that anything she got up to with Jacques would be only temporary and the same needn’t be true of Dean). There are also customers. The Guest-house doesn’t get many guests, but they tend to be special. A vampire singer, for example, and a group of over-the-hill Greek Gods on a tour of North America (Zeus makes a pass at Claire, for instance, and everything Hades touches falls over dead), for another. But overall, Claire doesn’t want to be stuck guarding this one problem forever and is determined to fix everything. Before Sara wakes up. Before all Hell breaks loose. Before her younger sister Diana, also a Keeper and much more powerful than Claire is (and possibly the most powerful Keeper now alive), can show up and make things worse (Diana means well, but she’s a teenager and doesn’t always have the best impulse control; when she’s away from home the family keeps track of her by where the biggest disasters occur).

The Second Summoning opens with Claire and Dean traveling together but not sleeping together; even Austin, who’s been fixed, thinks that’s weird since they’re so obviously attracted to each other. But Claire is worried that Dean will get hurt dealing with matters he isn’t magically able to handle, and one particular incident pushes her over the edge and she leaves him.

Meanwhile, Diana (who is, remember, a teenager) gets into some minor trouble at school and gets assigned to work on the decorating committee for the school’s winter dance. Diana is ordered to produce a giant snowflake design for the ceiling of the gym, over the protests of Lena Giorno, who thinks the theme for the dance should be angels (Lena thinks the theme of every dance should be angels; Lena’s a bit obsessed). What Diana comes up with is a snowflake-shaped spell (or device, or something) that “captured good feelings rising up from the crowd, filtered and purified them, then sprinkled them down like metaphysical snowflakes through the center hole.” This will soon be important.

Claire and Dean’s separation lasts only until Diana gets home from the dance (well, plus a few hours). Claire was heading home for Christmas anyway, so she gets Diana to use her ability to infallibly dial the right number on a phone to call Dean so that Claire can apologize and the two of them can admit that they love each other. Dean drives down immediately, Claire meets him in the driveway, and the two of them retire to her apartment over her parents’ garage, where they make beautiful music together.

Actually, what they make is light. To be more exact, their passion opens a brief doorway to the higher possibilities which results in some unshaped Light coming through. Normally it would quickly dissipate, but it gets drawn through Diana’s snowflake, which concentrates it, and then is drawn to Lena Giorno’s house where she is wishing hard for an angel to appear to her (and makes an appropriate sacrifice). Since she’s wishing for an angel, the Light takes the shape of one (that is, what Lena thinks of as an appropriate shape for an angel), but before it can finish taking shape Lena’s father bursts in and finds what he assumes is a naked teenage boy in his daughter’s room, at which point his expectations are fulfilled and the angel gains what no angel has ever had before. And it’s fully functional, not that he ever gets that chance to try it out. Mr. Giorno dumps him on the Catholic priest, who puts him up for the night but doesn’t believe he’s an angel. So the next morning the angel (now using the name Samuel), slips away and ends up in Toronto, having a hard time finding anyone who wants to hear his message (since things got a little confused during the summoning, he knows he’s supposed to have a message, but isn’t sure what it is. So he’s coming up with all sorts of things that people need to hear, but which they don’t really want to).

Dean and Claire end up patching a string of small holes/darknesses that lead them out of town. Everyone in the Lineage knows about the angel, but everyone assumes that he will deliver his message and then return to the light, so no one really worries about it. What Claire, at least, is worried about is that Dean, realizing that their first time was good enough to create an angel (and that the whole Lineage is aware of it) is worried that it will never be that good again and that Claire will be disappointed and, well, Dean starts to suffer from performance anxiety. So Claire is not happy with the angel already, she soon finds out that the Darkness has used the angel’s appearance as both an excuse to push through enough darkness to form a being of its own (since the Light formed an angel, the Dark forms a demon; since the angel is a fully-functional teenage boy, the demon is a fully formed teenage girl. More on her in a bit) and as a shield to hide the whereabouts of the demon. As long as the angel is in the world, Claire can’t find and stop the demon. Remove the angel, stop the demon, cure Dean’s problems all in one stroke.

Diana, on the other hand, sees Samuel as human and worries that returning him to the Light would erase his individuality, effectively killing him. She takes him under her wing and does her best to protect him, both from Claire and from himself (the former is easier than the latter). She is also the first to realize that the demon is a girl, and worries about her, too.

The demon, using the name Byleth, is having a rough time of things. Neither angels nor demons were meant to have hormones, and hers are getting in the way of her attempts to do evil. So is the fact that she’s manifested in Canada, where people apologize to you when you bump into them. She starts out underdressed for an Ontario winter, and gets taken in by a middle-aged couple named Porter who take her rather petty attempts to be evil in stride, commenting about how it’s nice to have a teenager around the house again. She only gets away from them by accepting a ride to Toronto.

Then Diana comes up with a way to remove Samuel’s angelosity, leaving Byleth exposed to all the Keepers who might be seeking her, especially Claire. Deciding to go out with a bang, as it were, Byleth heads for Kingston, planning to release the forces of Hell and planning to use an easier-to-open portal where one already once existed. Diana and Samuel follow, intending to save her if they can. Surprisingly (or not) this leads to happy endings all around, including a solution to Claire’s concern that Dean is going to get hurt ferrying her around to accident sites all the time. Could it include basing themselves out of a certain guest house? Why yes, it could.

Long Hot Summoning begins with Diana graduating from High School and getting her first adult summoning. Finding on her last day of school that one of her schoolmates bought a cheap tacky but magickal piece of jewelry from a store in a mall in Kingston, Diana de-enchants it and then finds herself Summoned to a mall in Kingston, where the Erlking Emporium lurks on the lower level, complete with tacky merchandise from the Other Side, a troll proprietor, and a magic mirror security system. The mirror wants out, so it trades some important information: the mall isn’t just a mall and it isn’t just an accident site; it’s a segue. What’s a segue? About 35 pounds. No, it’s an attempt by a force from the Other Side to match up big sections of territory on both Sides, leading to a large space of Other Side on This Side, meaning that anyone on the Other Side who wanted to could just come wandering over. And since whoever’s creating the segue is employing a troll, they’re probably not the good guys.

A segue is a bit more than Diana can deal with on her own. She’s going to need more experienced help. And since she’s in Kingston, that means Claire. Fortunately, Claire is available and, once she’s seen the extent of the problem (the mall parking lot is full of minivans), she’s certainly willing to help. She and Diana pack for an extended stay on the Other Side (never eat the food of the Other Side–it’s really fattening) and then they’re away into the Other Side of the mall, leaving Dean and Austin to run the Guest House (Austin was actually supposed to go with them, but something interfered and left him on this Side. Which turns out to be just as well, because Dean needs his help. But more on that in a bit).

On the Other Side, Claire and Diana find that the mall is virtually identical to the real side, meaning that the segue is close to being complete. It’s being battled, though, by a group of misplaced street kids who, thanks to eating Otherside food, have turned into Elves and who, thanks to the fact that the Otherside tends to respond to wishes and thoughts, are led by a teenage, elfin version of King Arthur. One of the Elves, Kris, the head of Arthur’s guards, leaves Diana smitten. The elves are also threatened by the mall’s Our-Side security guard, who has a weird fixation on teenagers and is able to drag back to our world anyone caught in the beam of his flashlight.

While Claire and Diana are away fighting evil, Dean has to deal with a heat wave and the guest house’s only guests: an anthropology professor and his mummy. Her name is Meryat, and the professor accidentally brought her back to life. Now the two of them are waiting for something. The professor’s grad student, Lance, who shows up in their wake, thinks that Meryat is evil and slowly sucking the life out of the professor. Austin agrees but Dean doesn’t and manages to send Lance off on a wild-goose chase. Of course, what if Lance was right?

I haven’t really talked about the humour much, it being mostly situational in the stories. In the second book, for example, there’s a running gag about the Greenstreet Mission in Toronto, who keep inviting people to hear the word of God. What everyone wants to know is, which word? (see, it’s only funny in context). Or the bit in the 3rd book about where Lance has a document on his PDA (remember PDAs? What happened to them?) that includes a ritual greeting to Osiris. Unfortunately, when he actually gets a chance to use it, it turns out to have been corrupted by something else he downloaded. But, if you trust my sense of humour (and you shouldn’t), this is quietly funny (never laugh-out-loud, but). Huff also continues tuckerizing her friends, but lays off Michelle Sagara-West for once. Overall, this a fun series, and though the omnibus is back-breaking huge it’s a good chance to get all three volumes. Highly recommended.


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