Title: Keeper of Light and Dust
Author: Natasha Mostert
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Publication Date: April 2009
Hardcover: 310 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel.
Why did I read this book: We were contacted by the publisher and offered a chance to review this novel. After seeing the striking cover and reading the synopsis, I could not wait to dive in to this one.
Summary: (from amazon.com)
A highly original supernatural thriller blending magic, science, martial arts, and the greatest desire of all: to live forever
Mia Lockheart has a secret. Her mother was a Keeper, as was her grandmother—women who were warriors, healers, and protectors. As Mia practices her craft among the boxers and martial artists of South London, and begins a romance with her childhood friend, the fighter Nick Duffy, she has no idea that a man who calls himself “Dragonfly” is watching from the shadows.
Adrian Ashton is a brilliant scientist, an expert in the breaking field of biophoton emissions from cells within the human body. He is also a skilled martial artist—and a modern-day vampire. With the aid of the enigmatic Book of Life and Death, written in the thirteenth century by the legendary Chinese physician Zhang Sanfeng, he preys on other martial artists and drains them of their chi—the vital energy that flows through the body.
Mia finds herself drawn to his dark genius, but when he targets Nick as his next victim, she is forced to choose between the two men. It becomes a fight to the death in which love is both the greatest weakness and the biggest prize.
For centuries, Keepers have guarded their wards, exchanging ink on skin of warriors in order to provide them protection through the realm of energy and spirit. Mia is the latest in a long line of Keeper women, inheriting the power and practice from her late mother. A tattoo artist and a practitioner of martial arts, Mia lives a quiet, peaceful life, undisturbed and safe. That is, however, until one of her own, Valentine, dies a few days after a return to the ring – a return that he did not tell Mia about, and that Mia could not protect him from.
Nick Duffy, childhood friend, boxer, website entrepreneur and hopelessly in love with Mia, begins training for his own fight when he hears about his old friend Valentine’s untimely death. Nick investigates and finds that a string of fighters have recently died under the same mysterious, post-fight circumstances. A strange new poster on Nick’s website with the screen name “Dragonfly” also catches Nick’s attention…and he begins to suspect that Dragonfly knows more than the cryptic posts he leaves.
Then, the handsome and charismatic Adrian “Ash” Ashton starts training at Nick and Mia’s dojo, and soon he and Nick are fast friends as Ash helps the fighter get into shape for his first ever championship match. Wriggling his way into the affections of both Nick and Mia, Ash becomes a part of the inseparable trio. Ash hides his own dark secret, however, and awaits in the shadows.
Keeper of Light and Dust is a dark, rich thriller. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any other works by Natasha Mostert, but the characterizations and prose in her latest novel are beautifully constructed. There is a lyrical, spiritual quality to Ms. Mostert’s writing that is compelling, for example:
Today I watched you. Stranger, who I know. I know your faithful heart. I know what moves you; how deeply you can love. Warrior woman; loyal healer. You hunt, you defend, you carry in the chambers of your mind the songs and legends , the wisdom of your sisters. I am curious of your ways. Gifted innocent: you touch the great energy easily , carelessly. You need not steal to hold it in your hand.
The book alternates between the real-time, third person omniscient point of view to strange excerpts from the eponymous ‘Book of Light and Dust’ and to the first person musings of the killer, ‘Dragonfly’. At approximately 300 pages, this is stylistic novel, driven by its lyrical writing and its three main characters – which is an astonishing change of pace from most of the books I have read as of late.
Mia, as healer, warrior and Keeper is an endearing heroine; she and Nick, the fighter, are perfectly matched. While Mia is more spiritual and intuitive, Nick is forceful and driven. From the opening chapter it is clear that Nick has always been in love with the artistic Mia, and even more clear that the two of them belong together. Ash, on the other hand, is a paradox of a character, simultaneously likable but clearly untrustworthy. I do like that Ms. Mostert wrties characters that live and breathe as normal people, not wholly good or wholly evil; they simply exist as they are. While the mystery elements of the story are hardly suspenseful, her characters and writing style make this a compulsive read.
A possible drawback of the novel is that the killer is revealed in the first chapters of the story, detracting from any suspense elements – however, Keeper of Light and Dust is not so much a mystery novel as it is a love story – a ballad not only for Nick and Mia’s growing relationship, but also one for the spiritual nature of fighting itself. From Ms. Mostert’s detailed account of the life of a fighter, the smells, sounds, mentality of the dojo, it is clear that Keeper of Light and Dust is as much a labor of love for the fighter as it is a traditional love story. Indeed, reiki healing and the concepts of chi play a huge role in this novel – so much so that it might be offputting to some readers. I, for one, am more aligned with Nick: I love the ‘grunts’, the down and dirty aspects of fighting but tend to glaze over when it comes to the spiritual aspects of the martial arts (unless it is presented by some martial arts guru, a la Kickboxer or Ong Bak). Still, Ms. Mostert manages to keep the attention of even the most reluctant reader by means of her beautiful prose, and her detailed action scenes.
Overall I enjoyed this novel. It’s a departure from the books I normally read, and I was very glad to have stepped out of my comfort zone. I’d certainly recommend the book, especially to those who desire a darkly romantic novel with a different sort of supernatural emphasis.
Notable Quotes/Parts: An exchange between Mia and another fighter:
“Hi, Mia.” She felt a hand on her elbow.
Okie stood behind her, a guilty grin on his face. He was wearing a T-shirt sporting the words “BadAss Black and Beautiful.” Okie was not known for his modesty.
“Okie! What are you doing here? If JC sees you…”
“Yeah, I know.” Okie shook his head, dreadlocks swinging. “He said he’d thump me if I came back before the rib’s properly healed. But I forgot my book in my locker and I want to know the ending.”
Okie was addicted to romance novels. The cover of the book he was clutching in his hand depicted a massively muscled man dressed in a kilt leaning over a woman with a stupendous bosom. To Mia the woman looked astonished but maybe, she thought, she just wasn’t very good at distinguishing between surprise and ardor.
She had to smile. Okie pickedup a lot of flak for his taste in literature but he would have picked up even more if it weren’t for his wicked left hook.
Lucky for you, we are giving away a copy of Keeper of Light and Dust!
The contest is open to everyone, and will run until Sunday at midnight, Pacific Standard Time. In order to enter, just leave a comment here. We will announce the lucky winner this coming Sunday. Good luck!
Verdict: A strong, lyrical novel with compelling characters. Definitely recommended for anyone that craves a different sort of love story, or a good fighter novel.
Rating: 7 Very Good
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