Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: The Keep

I guess I must have been hard up for some constructive conversations about all things fantasy and science fiction last month because not only did I partake in the SFF World SF book of the month Blackout, but I also sunk my teeth into the fantasy book club book of the month, F. Paul Wilson's The Keep.  (If you are interested, you can check out the discussion here, but I warn you it is slightly spoiler-ific.) 

At first blush, and certainly through the first stretch of The Keep, this novel  appears to be anything but your standard fantasy fare.  Set during World War II, the story initially follows a group of German soldiers who are stationed in a small castle in the Romanian Alps.  Aside from hundreds upon hundreds of unique looking crosses set into the walls, the keep seems benign.  That is, until the German soldiers start dying, one per night.  There is nothing natural about their deaths either, which prompts their captain to send a desperate message to command simply stating that "something is killing my men". 

The Nazi command decides to send in an up and coming SS Lieutenant and his extermination squad to solve this little problem. However, when they are met with similar results, and a rising tide of fear and panic, they decide to enlist the help of an expert on local folklore and history...a man who also just happens to be Jewish. 

I was pretty well taken with the opening chapters of this story.  There were a handful of elements that you don't often see in fantasy.  For one, I found the traditional bad-guys, the Nazi's, in a somewhat sympathetic position, which is a likely a tall task for most any writer. There is also a strong, smart woman at the center of the narrative, and she immediately stood out as a remarkable and very interesting character.  I was also quite intrigued by the mystery element of the novel.  Something not someone was killing the men, and I really wanted to know more.  Also, adding the Jewish historian, and his daughter, into the mix made the plot thicken up nicely with some strong promise.

Unfortunately, the second half of the story failed to live up to the opening pages.  I fear spoiling too much so I'll say that what started out as a very interesting and engaging non-standard contemporary fantasy story ended up devolving into a very standard and mostly disappointing well-worn fantasy cliche.

I do want to add a bit of an aside to that critique though....The Keep is a pretty solid fantasy novel.  It is stylistically well written throughout, and features some engaging characters.  What made this novel disappointing for me is the fact that the second half didn't live up to what I saw as the potentially great story it could have been given the circumstances of the opening pages. 

Even though I wasn't a fan of The Keep, I can still see it as a book that would please many readers.  Those who are a fan of ancient evil, and the struggle between good and evil, will feel right at home in the pages of this novel. However, if you are like me and hope for something a little more from your fantasy, something that feels new and fresh, then you'll likely be disappointed, though moderately entertained, like I was. 

Grade: C-


Donna said...

Thanks for your very honest review. I am a new follower and look forward to reading more of your reviews. Please take a moment to pop in at blog when you have a moment. I would love a follow back. Donna

Stacey Donaldson said...

I have read several books that open strong and then leave you feeling like something is missing toward the end. I do appreciate the fact that you remained objective in your review though, because it didn't discourage my interest in the book at all. Great review.

Following from Book Blogs. Nice to meet you :-)

Anonymous said...

I have experienced that dilemma before, where you don't really enjoy the plot of the story personally, but you can appreciate the talent of the author and the general appeal it will hold to someone else. Good review! -Rae
Best O' Books

Ryan said...

@Donna- Glad you like the review. Hope I can give you plenty of reason to keep coming back!

@Stacey- Nice to meet you too! Thanks for your response. I think that though the book didn't work for me, someone else might dig it. If you do decide to give it a go, let me know what you think!

@Best o' Books- Thanks for your reply. Wilson started out strong, but in the end this one had too much of a paint by numbers feel to it. If he could carry out the skill he showed early on for a full book, he'd be one of the best in the business!