Sometimes failure is just the beginning.

All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.

From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.

Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.

Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.

Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope. (via Goodreads)

I received an eARC from The Book Smugglers in exchange for an honest review.

I first found out about Keeper of the Dawn on twitter, where it was advertised as an asexual-spectrum f/f fantasy. Obviously, my response was “SIGN ME THE HELL UP!”

Like many others who read this novella, I thought that it could have easily been a full length novel and been equally as enjoyable, or even more so.

I wanted to learn more about each of the cultures that Lai interacts with. What were the big differences between her home culture and that of the mountain people? Why did no one know that this tribe existed? I think Gunn could have done a lot more in world building here specifically, and maybe there is a second novella planned.

The world is very tied up in some binaries, though, which I thought Gunn could have done much better on. Both societies that Lai lives in are very tied into the gender binary, which is not ideal for anyone and left nonbinary people out entirely.

The other binary that this book played into is that all of the people that attack Lai are described as having dark curly hair and tanned skin, while Lai and everyone she cares for are described as pale and blonde. It’s also fairly unrealistic that someone from a wandering desert tribe would be white and blonde, now that I’m thinking about it. There’s a fat, greedy, lustful merchant that can also play into the same antisemitic tropes, and he is the main antagonist of the story.

I liked the ace representation for the most part. Lai’s love interest did make a comment about what “normal people” do in bed, which can rub people the wrong way, but never tries to coerce Lai into doing anything sexual, which is great.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but wanted more explanation and world building. If there were a second novella in this series, or another novel, I would read it. However, there are things in here that could upset people, so be careful, please. With those issues, I’m rating this three stars. You can pick up a copy on Amazon!

three stars

Disclaimer: All links to Indiebound and Amazon are affiliate links, which means that if you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money off of it.

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