Book review: Kei’s Gift
War brings Kei, a gentle healer from an isolated village, into collision with Arman, an embittered, honourable general, a man trapped in a loveless marriage and joylessly wedded to duty. The fate of two nations will rest on these two men–and somehow they must not only learn to overcome their own personal difficulties, but bring peace with honour to their countries. If they fail...many will die.
Initially I was very excited about Kei’s Gift, and ploughed through it at some speed. I liked the two main characters, appreciated the world building of their separate societies, and felt the plot was moving at a good pace. However, as the story progressed and the pace got slower and slower – especially once Kei and Arman started travelling back through Darshian – I found myself becoming more aware of the novel’s flaws.
The moral rightness of the Darshians and the wrongness of the Prij are black and white from the beginning, but Somerville seems determined to hit the reader over the head with it. The Darshians have scientific medicine while the Prij rely on superstition. The Darshians are peaceful farmers and scholars while the Prij are expansionist warmongers. The Darshians are democratic, the Prij monarchical. The Darshians are forgiving, the Prij proud. Darshians liberal, Prij prudes. Darshian’s magical, Prij not.
Not only is it repetitive, but it takes all the tension from the plot. The Darshians will win because they’re the good guys, and they will win in the most peaceful, democratic way possible. Arman and Kei face no real obstacles in their relationship because all of Kei’s Darshian friends and family are lovely, forgiving people who want the best for Kei.
(it also has one of my pet peeves – fantasy names for real life analogues. It’s jarring to have to mentally translate urs to ox and pjin to opiates over and over)
I kept reading because I was still invested enough in the characters to want to find out how the novel ended, but it was slow going. The novel makes thoughtful points about PTSD and how even the best community can’t make healing happen any faster than it would otherwise. Its characters are well fleshed out and realistic (within the black/white morality of the novel) and they have complex relationships with each other. There’s a lot to enjoy about Kei’s Gift, but the pacing and morality of it just weren’t for me.