Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Keepers' Tattoo by Gill Arbuthnott

 The Keepers' Tattoo by Gill Arbuthnot

Pink Owl Rating: 3/5 Hoots

Synopsis from

Ten years ago, Alaric, leader of the Shadowmen, killed most of the Keepers—teachers of ancient knowledge that threatened his barbaric rule. Young Kit was captured, but his twin sister, Nyssa, escaped. Only later will she learn that both she and her lost brother bear the secret words of their people: three lines each of strange, unintelligible writing tattooed on their scalps. Now the Shadowmen are on the attack again, determined to quell a growing rebellion. Nyssa must find her brother, and together they must unlock the meaning—the power—behind the mysterious words.

My thoughts:

Overall, I think The Keepers' Tattoo is an enjoyable read. The book has an exciting beginning- Nyssa is torn from her comfortable but monotonous life as the adopted daughter of an inn keeper in a small village, and must go on the run with a man she has just discovered is actually her uncle. Alaric, the tyrannical ruler of the Archipelago has his Shadowmen after her, and if he finds her it won't be just her own life at stake but the fate of all the islands. We discover right from the beginning that Nyssa is no damsel in distress- she is a strong, stubborn young woman who does not let her emotions get the best of her. She is also fiercely loyal to her family and friends. I admired these characteristics in Nyssa and enjoyed reading about an independent and non-stereotypical female main character. Additionally, there are many other women in positions of power in the novel (other than evil tyrant Alaric) such as the Priestesses of Rushiadh and village matriarch Bethoc.

Nyssa's long lost twin brother, Kit, is another interesting character. After living a life of torment and abuse at the hands of Alaric, he is emotionally and physically scarred as well as selectively mute. He uses self-mutilation to cope with the horrors of his past. It was a switch to see a male character as the vulnerable one in need of rescue and protection. I appreciated that although he was hurting and haunted, he was  never portrayed as weak and he experienced a lot of growth over the course of the book as he learned to trust people again and even eventually love and nurture his family.

I liked the backstory and mythology of the Keepers. I also liked the island setting and the unique details such as the prevalence of tattoos as family markings etc.

There were a couple of drawbacks to the book that kept me from giving it a higher rating. The point of view seemed to mainly focus on Nyssa, but she often felt distant. While I admired Nyssa, I never felt quite connected to her. Along the same lines, sometimes the perspective would change from one character to another within a chapter, which was confusing at times. The other aspect of the book that was a bit disappointing to me was that the climax was somewhat anti-climactic.

***Spoiler Warning***
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I felt that Alaric being crushed by the statue was somewhat convenient and not as satisfying as if the twins had taken him out themselves, but I suppose it goes along with the idea that they summoned the Earth Goddess to defeat him.

I would recommend this book to readers looking for strong female characters and adventure in a unique setting. I think it would pair well with Esther Friesner's Nobody's Princess and Nobody's Prize.

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