Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review: "Keeper of Light and Dust" by Natasha Mostert

He was on top of her now, as she lay dazed and in pain. The face, draped in black cloth, looking down at her was unnerving. He was smiling, she could tell by the way the skin puckered around his eyes. She sensed his thoughts, as clear as though he had spoken them. You die in here. You die out there. She lunged at him, trying to rip the hood off his face, but he grabbed her hand and bent her ring finger violently away from her palm and she screamed and fell back. Gently he smoothed the hair away from her forehead and then touched her face deliberately-- the eyebrows, the cheekbones, the jaw. She tried to move her head away but he still had hold of her hand and the finger twist this time was so violent she screamed again and felt the tears come to her eyes. Slowly, slowly his other hand traveled down the side of her neck. His thumb came to rest on her collarbone, his middle finger on the hollow of her throat. ~Excerpt from Keeper of Light and Dust by Natasha Mostert Mia is a Keeper, a guardian and healer who watches over a small group of martial artists. She is descended from a line of women who have guarded warriors as they go into battle, though the tradition has been mostly lost over time and Mia is one of very few Keepers who still practice their mysterious art. Keepers are masters of the use of chi and can funnel their own energy into those in their care. But someone else has developed their own, deadly version of the Keeper's art. One that steals the chi, or life force, from the chosen victim and the latest target is one of Mia's fighters. After the death of one the fighters Mia used to protect, Nick Duffy, a childhood friend of Mia's, begins to suspect foul play and starts to investigate a series of deaths involving fighters. Little does Nick know that the killer, a man who refers to himself at the Thief, has targeted Nick as his next victim-- just as Nick finally gotten the courage to act on his longstanding love of Mia. "Keeper of Light and Dust" was a very interesting book for me to read, yet also very hard to review. There's no denying that Mostert is an excellent writer. She can command the reader's interest whether the story has a lot of action or not. Mostert heavily incorporates martial arts into her story, and as anyone who has read this blog should know, I have been a martial arts practitioner since 1992, so this aspect of the story had personal interest to me. The main character, Mia, is an expert at the style of martial arts that focuses heavily on the flow and movement of katas; in slang terms this kind of fighter is referred to as a "vogue." The down-and-dirty type of fighter is called a "grunt" (which is where I would categorize myself-- in case you wanted to know). But "Keeper of Light and Dust" goes way beyond martial arts as a subject matter. Mia is a tattoo artist as well as a Keeper so we spend as much time in the tattoo parlor as the dojo. But where Mostert gets really ambitious is when she tackles the topic of chi, or the life force that animates each of us, as well as the subjects of biochronology and astral travel. Whether or not someone would like "Keeper of Light and Dust" may very well depend on what they look for in a story. If you like introspective writing that delves into more esoteric territory then you will probably love this book; likewise if you're drawn to romance. If, on the other hand, you're drawn to action and suspense, you may find the story disappointing as the excerpt at the top of this review is one of very few scenes of its kind. As I read this book I found myself doing something I rarely do-- wanting to rewrite the story to fit my vision of what it should be. Quite a conceit on my part. I believe the reason for my need to rearrange things to my own liking comes from my background in martial arts. I won't, for a second, claim to have more knowledge than Mostert. I don't. What I do have is lots of first-hand fighting experience and because of that I know that sport fighting is not generally life threatening. Sure mixed-martial arts can be fierce and can lead to some pretty serious injuries, but it is still a controlled environment and that, in my opinion, takes a lot of tension out of what could have been a very suspenseful novel. Mostert never makes it clear why Mia guards martial artists who fight for sport versus men who put their life on the line in really dangerous occupations. I kept thinking the story would have made so much more sense if Mia's charges were soldiers heading onto a real battlefield, or even men with a dangerous profession such as police officers or firefighters. Because the men are not naturally in any real danger I felt that the plot-line involving the Thief was somewhat contrived to give the story a feeling of suspense that didn't naturally exist. I also wanted more detail about how Mia guarded her men. We learn that Mia uses a form of astral travel and during that time she goes to a place called the Retreat. But we're never taken through the process in which Mia either guards or heals the fighters and the reader is left without a clear idea of what Mia's process is. We're essentially told what Mia does without ever being shown how it's done. "Keeper of Light and Dust" is at its best when it explores the more mystical topics related to the chi-- and the romantic aspects are also well done. But the premise of the book led me to expect a much higher level of tension, so for me, the story was a slight disappointment when it didn't live up to that expectation. But I hesitate to discourage readers who find the premise interesting from picking up this book because it is well written and could be very interesting to someone who is looking for something more thoughtful and less action oriented. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go toward funding the Cooperation For Peace and Unity's "CPAU Fighting for Peace." "Fighting for Peace" is an initiative aimed at empowering Afghan women through boxing. Visit Natasha's website to learn more about her involvement in this program.

1 comment:

Stewart Sternberg said...

I read these reviews, consider buying some of the books, and I think...Stewart...

I call myself that. I discovered I don't answer to Hal.

Stewart, wouldn't it be cool if once a year, we had a top ten list. I would suggest it be in June so I can go buy my books for summer reading.

I answered..."Yeah...that would be cool. SQT should do that. Top Ten books reviewed or suggested by readers...with the criteria being that they have to have been published in the last twelve to fifteen months.