It's not often that I read (or listen to) a book that is more than 400 pages. In fact, it has been two years since I last did both - Wildwood by Colin Meloy, 560 pages, which I read, and Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, 512 pages, which I listened to. At 544 pages, The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly written by Ted Sanders and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno was a challenge for me, but well worth the effort, especially since it reminded me what a gifted writer can do with that many pages.
One thing I (but not everyone) often find missing in fast paced fantasy novels (like Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid, which is 500+ pages) is the lack of character development and attention to the time when the hero discovers that she/he has special powers and is headed down a challenging, dangerous path. While reading, I find myself wondering what I would think and feel and do if I suddenly had this break with reality as I know it and discovered I was a wizard, demigod, time traveler, etc. Then noticing how the main character doesn't seem to be as shocked or stunned or frightened as you might expect. In The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly, Sanders enters the magical world he has created slowly, generously giving his main character Horace F. Andrews (and readers) one hundred pages to explore his new found gifts and ease into a new kind of normal.
Set in Chicago, twelve-year-old Horace is taking the bus home from school one day when something strange catches his eye - a storefront sign that reads HORACE F. ANDREWS. Stunned and disbelieving, Horace gets off before his stop and tries to make his way to the store, but is distracted by an impossibly tall man who is skeletally thin. Eventually Horace finds his way to the strange store where he must sign a guest book and make his way through a corridor that is wall-to-wall birdcages and return a second time before he makes a find in one of the many, curiously labeled bins filled with artifacts that fill the warehouse that is known as the House of Answers (not the Horace F. Andrews store.)
What Horace finds is the box as seen on the cover and he spends another 50 or so pages figuring out what the box - which he has been told not to keep anything in - does. What he discovers is both exciting and a little mundane - anything put into the box disappears, reappearing exactly 24 hours later in the same spot. And, if Horace looks through it, he can see 24 hours into the future, mostly. Horace meets Chloe, a girl with a similar item from the House of Answers, a dragonfly necklace that allows her to "go thin" and pass through walls. Together, they dodge the tall, thin man, Dr. Jericho, and return to the House of Answers to get answers.
Horace and Chloe learn, though a slew of new (invented) vocabulary that they possess "Tan'ji," magical items that bond with the Keeper, a being who, alone, possesses the ability to use the item. Chloe and Horace both exhibit great skill when using their items and they learn that they, along with a handful of other Keepers, are now needed to battle the dark forces out to capture them and use their powers. Sanders creates a darkly detailed underworld where much of the action takes place. There are tunnels, sewers, cloisters, crucibles and strange, semi-human cab drivers named Beck. Sanders does a magnificent job creating a world beneath our world filled with curious elements and interesting characters. Above ground, Horace has everyday struggles like being a loner and losing his house key, but he also has a very sweet, strong bond with his mother that proves all the more special as the novel comes to an end. Sanders's attention to detail and thoughtful, curious main character Horace make The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly a truly delicious 5 course meal that you will want to linger over and savor while you wait for the sequel.
The UK edition of The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly, with cover art by my favorite, Chris Riddell!
Source: Review Copy