The Fragile Keepers, by Natalie Pinter [2020]

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 9/10

The moment had a personality. It was self-aware, poised, and graceful, a drifting soap bubble saying, “Look at me, remember this. Remember when everything changed.”

This is the kind of line, in the kind of book, that makes me want to read it all over again. There’s moments in The Fragile Keepers—quiet, innocuous moments—that could be glossed over without much thought, but actually mean everything.

Premise: Andre and her step-brother Ben witness a freak lightning storm of sorts in their California backyard, after which Shae—a beautiful winged creature, a faerie—appears in their shed. Unnerved at first, Andre and Ben eventually welcome Shae into their home. But Shae is no sweet little faerie. She has been sent to our world from another world by other faeries who, we can only assume, have a much bigger plan. In order to return to her world, Shae is tasked with giving gifts and collecting tithes, the details of which are shadowy and unknown even to her. When Shae starts developing a conscience and an affinity toward these humans—her fragile keepers—all of their lives, as well as the lives of their friends, spiral towards a haunting, transformative climax.

The Fragile Keepers is an incredible mix of real-world people and fantastical, otherworldly creatures. There are a lot of vivid descriptions of faerie lore and odd magic, but it never feels like too much. In fact, even in places where it doesn’t make any sense at all (to an unfamiliar reader, at least), we get the comforting feeling that either it will make sense at some point, or it was never meant to. It is ominous, like thunderclouds; the reader knows something bad is coming, perhaps only a page away.

The novel does run into moments of having too many characters hanging around, some of whom are arguably inconsequential to the story. Maybe it’s a personal preference, but these extra characters slowed me down a little in parts, especially around a very key scene to the whole story.

Natalie Pinter has crafted a wonderful debut. A dark, real-world fairy tale that is at once beautiful, ugly, haunting, dreamy, tragic, and thick with mood. It also has one of the most perfect endings I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. And by “perfect” I don’t necessarily mean “happy”.

The Fragile Keepers makes you look for the beauty in small things, and requires you to question the existence of something more.

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