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The Border Keeper

(Border Keeper #1)

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  479 ratings  ·  115 reviews
A 2020 Nommo Award Finalist
A Book Bub Best SFF Books of the Summer Pick

"A phantasmagorical picaresque through a lushly realised underworld, populated by a grotesque bestiary of fantastical creatures. . . . This twisty example of the new weird genre examines love, loss and loyalty, packing skilful world-building and a powerful emotional punch into a little over 200 pages."—
Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Published July 16th 2019 by Tordotcom
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Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  479 ratings  ·  115 reviews

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Amy Imogene Reads
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019, fantasy
This is the kind of story that I love—It’s lingering, it’s mythic, and it leaves you on the edge of a conclusion. The story of traveling to the afterlife with a guide, but with such an interesting edge.

Concept: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Execution: ★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Pacing: ★ ★ ★ 1/2

The Border Keeper opens with a landscape. A tiny house lies on the horizon of a desolate, completely empty desert. There is a low fence stretching across the world behind the house—it extends beyond all eyesight in either direction, and it l
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A stunningly good novella - I would have happily read a full-length novel set in this world, but the economy of storytelling here is its own little miracle. It’s a dark, weird, sweet fantasy that gestures toward a much larger universe without beating you to death with worldbuilding.
K.J. Charles
Weird and lyrically written fantasy with a lot of world building and characters and backstory and plot packed into novella length. I never quite connected emotionally with this one--the POV character is keeping secrets from himself and other characters and the readers, which added to the decision to go in media res rather than exposition made it feel a bit distant to me. Beautiful writing and lots of great ideas.
Lady H
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2021
I think the best words I can come up with to describe this book are: odd, slightly bewildering, and extremely unsettling. It features tropes I don't usually enjoy: the journey trope and the weird shit for no reason trope, a combo I like to think of as the Alice in Wonderland effect, an effect I'm not generally fond of, but oddly enough, I think it worked very well here.

Perhaps that is partly due to the writing, which is gorgeous: so lush and evocative and descriptive. Everything here was so vis
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I mean who doesn't wanna traverse the nine-hundred and ninety-nine demon realms of the with a murderous god-like snarky-ass witch?

"This is mine now; begone fools".

I love her. I can't decide if I wanna hang out or if I would be too frightened of her genocidal ways. Vasethe is a brave man.

Engrossing characters, tightly wound plot, exceptional world-building, luscious prose. I could go on....

In fact I will go on...

Real treasures in the book include the way th
Sheena ☆ Oh, the Sheenanigans!

The pages flawlessly flowed with the authors writing style that immediately immersed me into this fantasy world she was able to create that was filled with mortals, gods, demons and other unworldly creatures. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough and before I knew it, this magnificent read was over. It was such an easy fun read that left me wanting more and despite the fact that I thought it ended too soon, the novel was engaging enough to engulfed any reader into the story of Va
Jun 13, 2018 marked it as to-read-so-bad-it-hurts  ·  review of another edition
'It's a twisty kind of story, and no one is quite what they seem. Thematically, it has a lot to do with ideas of healing and justice, but there are also pretty demons with long hair and an exceedingly grumpy genocidal witch.'


This isn't quite the romp through a fantastical underworld I had in mind (as in, not as fast-paced or as rich in detail as I'd imagined), but you know when you read or watch or play something that gives you this inexplicable yet pleasant vibe and it just kind of sticks with you for the rest of the day? Yeah, that's this book.

The worldbuilding is really where the story shines--a mix of weird horror and your typical fantasy fare. You get demon-god politics, crab children, and horrific and imaginat
Tawnie Mizer
This weird little twisty novella immediately jumped up to the top of my to read list when I saw someone advertise it on twitter and took my breath away.

It follows a man named Vasethe who journeys to seek help from a woman named Eres who is not what she seems. Cause you see, she is the border keeper the guardian between his world and the 999 realms of Mkalis, where demons and gods wage endless war. With her aid, he crosses over for a purpose which at first is unclear but is soon revealed. Through
Sachin Dev
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is special, in that it's like nothing I have read before. It's wildly original and Kerstin Hall is definitely one of the exceptional talents to watch out for. I was left a bit dry with that abrupt ending but overall I thought The Border Keeper is a beautiful, intriguing lyrical fantasy novel that fiddles with your concepts of death and life, takes you to some amazing worlds and realms. Detailed review closer to release! ...more
A fast-paced fantasy debut. Hall's descriptive language and plot that draws on various mythologies creates a vivid world of lost souls and revenge. ...more
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! So much imagery. Don’t glaze over one sentence. I’m on my second reading and loving it all over again.
Aug 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was so good and hard to put down!

Imagine a world where you can travel to another realm if you know the right people but also have to be very careful because the realms have very strict rules that can have dire consequences if broken.

Vasethe is one of those travelers who has his own reasons for wanting to travel to another realm. He meets The Border Keeper who he calls Eris, a very powerful woman that has had many reincarnations but has chosen within the last few centuries to mostly sta
J.A. Ironside
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Many thanks to for mailing me an ARC 😊

I am quietly amazed at the huge world and the scope of the story which Hall managed to fit in such a small space without it ever feeling forced. This is a huge story about love and loss and redemption that spans life and death, and multiple other dimensions too. If I were to liken it to anything, I would say it's something like taking a stroll through the third panel of Hironymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. It's twisty and complicated, and v
Rick Brose
The Border Keeper has a lot going for it. Kerstin Hall has created a cool world filled with depth and interesting characters. There is a strong sense of history related to both the world itself and the relationships between the characters. Several reveals within the novella caught me pleasantly by surprise. However, there were other times where I felt lost in the plot and the characters; feeling like I was missing out on key details. Despite that experience, I would still be happy to dive back i ...more
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was weird but phenomenal I still have no idea what's happening. ...more
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2019
It took me embarrassingly long to finish this. But that's not any fault of this novella because it was very atmospheric and enjoyable. In fact, the stretched out reading period might even have added to the story's vast feel. It takes you in and out of so many different realms and when you go through it slowly, it expands even more, if that's possible. I love liminal stories. I enjoy portal fantasies very much. Something about the sad tinge of this novella made it stand out from the others. I sho ...more
Dec 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, fantasy
When you read a decent amount of fantasy you wonder if the attraction for writers in the genre is that they can basically construct any weird scenarios they wish, though there also seems to be a tendency to keep certain things found in other books, mixing and matching at will. Or even creating differing types of monsters (like sparkling vampires, say). That being said, I mostly enjoyed this novella and will likely read the follow up (as it was clear as I was reading it that there would be a sequ ...more
Jul 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
This definitely needs a full length novel. The pacing is a little bit off, but the prose was captivating.
Jul 23, 2020 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
I think the slow pace here is what had me close the book. I got about a third into it and just rather go to sleep. Very little is given away up to that point about the characters or world compared to what I’ve become accustomed to.
Aneta Tu
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What an imaginative gem! Turns out, one can build rich and satisfying world without the need for writing 15 books each 900 pages long ;)
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I've been sitting with this story for a day, I read it yesterday while commuting for work throughout the day, having only now decided to sit down to review it. As I review this I'm watching a family of House Finches shake off the recent rains at my feeders while wishing someone would come to clean my house at my me as Vasethe does.

The atmosphere of the book is steeped in its own smoky lore and I as I often say wanted to stay in this world, to go on my own tour with the Border Keeper herself and

When it got going and started making sense, I liked it, but the start was super confusing.

I got annoyed with it because it took a while to work out what the story was supposed to be. It drip fed information about what was going on and kept the reader in the dark for far longer than was necessary. All the characters seemed to know what they were doing so why not tell the reader? It felt like a bit of a lazy way to create suspense.

I loved the character of Eris – even though I say that I didn’t lik
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set on the border of the real world (albeit not one we know) and in various alternate realms, the relationship between Eris - or whatever name she's known by - and Sethe ebbs and flows depending on what world they're in and how Eris feels about things. There are rules they must live by in all worlds, usually stated when entering a new realm, and many realms rulers (or claimant) are vying for control of all Mklais with shifting alliances and loyalties. There's also a question of whether the borde ...more
Aug 12, 2019 rated it liked it
As I'm reading through the other reviews I can't help thinking I missed something because all I can keep thinking is that this could have been a grand tale and instead I got two boring and disjointed people whom I could not relate to nor care about. The world building was nowhere near as wondrous as it could have been, 999 realms to play in and the story was meh. The idea was so cool, and it did have me wanting to continue, I kept waiting for this reveal or things to unfold, thankfully it was a ...more
Aug 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
I ... I don't know how to rate this book. I liked it, but I still have no idea what was really going on. Who are these characters, really? Why are they not who they seem to be at the beginning and how did they get this way? Why isn't any of this explained in at least *some* detail? I very much enjoyed the world and would like to explore more of it and learn the details.

I like a good twist/reveal as much as anyone, but not when there are so many and they aren't totally revealed anyway, leaving m
Dec 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Border Keeper
Author: Kerstin Hall
Publisher: Book
Publishing Date: 2019
Pgs: 237
Dewey: F HAL
Disposition: Irving Public Library - South Campus - Irving, TX

At the border between worlds, a railway track ends and a desert begins stretching away into shadow. A man with a troubled past comes here seeking help from the Border Keeper to find someone beyond the nine hundred and ninety-nine realms where the gods and d
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novella, fantasy
An enjoyable and briskly paced story that interweaves intriguing world building with dramatic development. I do wish it were just a bit longer, since the setting could certainly support a bit more exploration; and though I like the quick pace, it breaks down a bit near the end, trying to cram in just a bit too much revelation and resolution in not enough space, and lacking sufficient denouement for my taste. Still an excellent read though.

A few other points:

-- I don't like the cover art. Looking
In this fantasy novella, the spare, broadstroke writing was a mental challenge and a benefit rather than a detriment. Whereas some novellas leave me unfulfilled and reaching for my next 700 page read, this one pushed me and left me satisfied. World building is presented in tantalizing snippets rather than in great detail, but it feels vast and unknowable rather than incomplete and frustrating. Descriptions are otherworldly and a pleasant mix of graspable and not to suit the overall atmosphere of ...more
John Rennie
Jul 24, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is written in a slightly obscure style, that is things happen for reasons that are not immediately clear to the reader. This style can work very well and add interest to the book. For example Caitlin Kiernan tends to write this way, and indeed I wonder if Kerstin Hall has read and been influenced by Kiernan's books. The problem comes when the obscurity gets in the way of the story. If you find yourself being stopped abruptly and wondering what the hell is going on then I find that spoi ...more
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KERSTIN HALL is a writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, and she is a first reader for Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her debut novella, "The Border Keeper", is available from Publishing. ...more

Other books in the series

Border Keeper (2 books)
  • Second Spear (Border Keeper, #2)

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
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