Most people don't realize it, but the veil separating our world from the countless, unimaginable horrors of Hell is a thin one, often frayed almost to the point of breaking, and very little stands between us and horrible, messy deaths, or worse. Thin holes are perpetually opening between here and there, evil leaking out anywhere where people's actions or words or thoughts encourage evil over good, selfishness over selflessness, greed over generosity, hate over love. Very little stands between us and that horrible fate. But not nothing. No, we have the untiring efforts of the enigmatic people known as Keepers to thank for our continued, Hell-free existence. Scattered across the world, constantly on the move from trouble spot to trouble spot, relying on the support network of family and other lesser talents known as Cousins, the Keepers are the first line of defense against the evils of the dark.
Claire Hansen is one such Keeper. With her aging black-and-white, opinionated, too-intelligent, too-snarky, and too-vocal cat Austin as her companion and voice of feline reason, she deals with some of the nastiest stuff imaginable, with very little personal reward. A Keeper's life tends towards the unpredictable, messy, and not always long. Claire's life is about to fulfill the first two attributes, with more than enough to go around.
Her latest Summons has brought her to the quaint little bed-and-breakfast known as the Elysian Fields Guesthouse. Much like the Hotel California, it's a lovely place, but not so easy to leave once you arrive. For in the middle of the night the old owner, Mr. Smythe, one of the aforementioned Cousins, buggers off to parts unknown, leaving Claire as the new owner. Neither she nor Austin are terribly thrilled, especially when they find out that the Elysian Fields has a few small drawbacks:
1) The incredibly handsome, if somewhat naive handyman, Dean MacIsaac, who sets all of Claire's hormones ringing.
2) The incredibly lecherous ghost, Jacques, whose hormones would be all over Claire, if he had a body.
3) The woman in room six, who's been asleep for decades, and mustn't be disturbed under any circumstances.
4) The portal to Hell in the basement.
All in a day's work, right? Deal with Sleeping Beauty. Close the portal to Hell before anything bigger than a gremlin escapes. Fend off Jacques, fall in love with Dean. Sounds like a plan?
Wrong. Poor Claire has to deal with her younger sister's accidental 'help' which could upset everything. And then there are the guests. Vampires, werewolves, and Greek gods on vacation are only some of the hazards of the trade.
That's all in Summon the Keeper. Now, we can safely assume that Claire survives the inevitable and near-explosive mess, because she, Dean, and Austin return for the sequel, The Second Summoning, which finds the trio on the road in Dean's truck, having left the Elysian Fields far behind in the barely capable hands of its previous owner, Augustus Smythe.
With nothing better to do but follow the Summons that drag her from crisis to crisis, Claire finds herself struggling to cope with her growing, problematic attraction/relationship with Dean, and Austin's own self-centered feline nature. She can't keep Dean, and she finds that it's even worse to her health, mental and otherwise, to try and get rid of him. Her family, loving sorts that they are, aren't much help either. Her sister Diana, the most powerful and youngest Keeper alive, is getting in more trouble than she knows what to do with, and wants none of Claire's help.
It gets worse. A night of passion is all it takes to tear some disturbing rips in the fabric of reality, with the end result of depositing an angel and a demon, both cursed with teenage bodies and teenage hormones, in our world. If they meet? Just don't ask how bad it would be. Trust me. Angel. Demon. Teenagers. Bad.
Once more, it's up to Claire, Austin, Dean, and Diana to save the day, and they're not even all on the same page with whom to help, and how. Can they stop the two supernatural entities from making things irreversibly bad? What's more superior, an angel or a cat? Are hormones any match for pure evil? And will Dean and Claire ever get their relationship right? And will Austin ever get fed anything better than generic cat food, which he despises?
From the strengths of these first two novels, it's clear that Tanya Huff has here a series that rivals her Vicky Nelson Blood books. Claire and Austin are the perfect odd couple team, bickering and arguing their way to victory, with Dean acting as an anchor to reality for them both. The premise is along the same vein as Mercedes Lackey's Diana Tregarde books, but with the Canadian tone that Huff is so good at.
Entertaining and often riveting, the Keeper's Chronicles are good examples of urban fantasy, from one of Canada's best fantasy authors, and well worth the read. I can only hope to see more in this series, following the main characters, or exploring any of the other many intriguing aspects of the Keepers and Cousins, and the world they move in. There's plenty of material left to cover. (And speaking as a cat owner, I love Austin, and I'm deathly afraid of my cats learning to talk!) So go check these books out if you like urban fantasy or Tanya Huff.
[Michael M Jones]