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Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansen

I loved Erika Johansen’s Tearling trilogy. I thought Kelsea’s growth from unencumbered teen to the protector of her people was as fascinating as it was entertaining. In Beneath the Keep, Ms. Johansen once again brings readers back to the world of the Tearling. This time, however, we find ourselves at a point before Kelsea’s birth, so that we may understand the politics at play behind her hiding as well as the chance to obtain the backstories of certain key players in Kelsea’s future.

As much as I enjoyed the original series, I will admit to the fact that it took me quite a while to remember all the characters and their later significance to the story. In fact, if it were not for some rudimentary wiki fan pages, Beneath the Keep would be nothing more than an entertaining but very dark story that precedes Kelsea’s own. Because I was able to identify the connections, however, I find that the prequel helps in one’s understanding of the trilogy.

Not only does it clarify any lingering questions one might have about the Tearling society and its government, but it also includes character development for key major characters who did not need any such development to fuel Kelsea’s story. For instance, we learn Mace’s origin story and get greater insight into his unique abilities. More importantly, we get front row seats to Arlen Thorne’s rise to power. We get to see other familiar faces as well. All of which makes it rather a fun sort of revisit.

However, Beneath the Keep is not easy or light-hearted in the least. Mace’s story, in particular, is as brutal as it is triggering, and anyone uncomfortable with any form of child abuse or pedophilia should stay far away. For me, it simply highlights that nurture does not always win out in the fight between nature and nurture, and it makes Mace that much more impressive a person. It is not this way for everyone though, as Ms. Johansen does not fail to show humanity at its worst as well as at its best.

Beneath the Keep is a welcome return to the world of the Tearling. While I initially struggled to remember characters and the history Kelsea learns in the original trilogy, by the time I finished with the novel I was more than ready to dive back into the trilogy to read it with my new-found knowledge. I haven’t done so as of yet, but as Ms. Johansen promises more of Kelsea’s story is on the horizon, I will be doing so sooner rather than later.

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