Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansen is the standalone prequel novel to her Tearling trilogy, the first of which was excellent, the second good, the third disappointing. Beneath the Keep is every bit as good as the first novel, if not better. If you haven’t read the trilogy, read this first. It’s a rollercoaster ride, a dystopian story of a country at war, the rich denying the poor, drought, famine, rebellion, cruelty and the hope of a True Queen who may exist at some time in the future. Many names are familiar from the trilogy, many are completely new.Christian is twenty. An orphan, he was born in the Creche, the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Tear’s capital city New London. The Creche is only one layer of the underground and it is not the worst, in some dark places unimaginable horrors take place. Since he was a small child, Christian has been a fighter. Now he is a legend, unbeaten, still alive unlike the many he defeated. It is a deadly game of kill or be killed. He cares only for one person. As small children he and fellow orphan, now prostitute, Maura were sold together into slavery, together they learned how to survive. Christian is pragmatic, Maura dreams of going ‘topside’, to see the sky and the stars.
Princess Elyssa is heir to the Tear throne but she has a problem. She dislikes her mother Queen Arla and her politics, struggles to perform her royal duties and pay homage to the Church which she believes to be corrupt. Elyssa becomes sympathetic to the secret resistance group, Blue Horizon. As they give food and tools to the poor, Blue Horizon spreads the word about the coming of a True Queen. But as Elyssa becomes outspoken she becomes dangerous, not just to her mother but to a group of criminals including a white witch who can read and control minds.
Meanwhile in the rural Almont, harvests are failing and landowners try to recoup their losses by demanding more money from their tenant farmers. One young woman fights back, and so a rebellion is born.
The climax is a fantastic set piece bringing together all the story strands. I sat up late at night to finish the book. Yes some of it is back story for the trilogy but there are so many twists and turns and new character insights that I surrendered to the ride. If you’re reading it knowing nothing of the Crossing, the Tearling and the mythology of the series, I envy you the discovery of this absorbing chronicle.
In Beneath the Keep, Johansen shows us the underworld of the trilogy. Underground, it is dark, terrifying, dehumanising. She gives us hope while also showing the horror.
BUY THE BOOK
If you like this, try:-
‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden [#1 Winternight trilogy]
‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi [#1 Legacy of Orisha]
‘La Belle Sauvage’ by Philip Pullman [#1TheBookofDust]
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BENEATH THE KEEP by Erika Johansen #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5lm via @SandraDanby