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April 3, 2023

The Keep Within by J. L. Worrad ~ a Review

by MK French

Sir Harrance ‘Harry’ Larksdale is the bastard brother of the king. Falling a young man from the mountains sends him headfirst into court intrigue and murderous folk tales. Rumors of coups are spreading, and the Third-Queen is plotting against the First-Queen Carmotta Il’Lunadella and her unborn child. While this is going on, hidden within Becken Keep is the keep-within. Talking about that evil place guarantees a bizarre and agonizing demise within nine days, and the people whisper about Red Marie, a bloodied demon with rusted nails for teeth and swinging scythes who preys on the innocent.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of fantasy novel The Keep Within by JL Worrad
March 2023; Titan Books; 978-1803362977
ebook, print (496 pages); fantasy

The Keep Within
is the same world as Pennyblade (my review here), but you don't have to have read that book for this to make sense. This takes place in the world of men, with the term pennyblade clearly meaning mercenary for hire, and commrach the term for elf. They're not respected, for all that they know more about secrets and healthcare than men do, with their own kingdoms and political aspirations that have nothing to do with this book. The focus here is on First-Queen Carmotta and the Third-Queen Emmabelle, both jockeying for power; the Second-Queen long since retired because she thinks she's a hedgehog. (You don't find that out for a while, but it doesn't spoil anything and if you're like me, you wonder what happened to her.) The keep within is hidden due to its awful nature, which the Explainer is trying to study. Larksdale only wants to be the Master of Plays, but he's easy to manipulate by others scheming to be king. This is all happening on top of the desire to get the crown, which must be taken far away from the inner keep, or else it will become a key to releasing its evils. The young man and the Mother from the mountains had been trying to take it away, but the folktale of Red Marie is being used by a creature raised to murder and raise havoc in the hopes of opening the keep as well.

At first, the different characters seem unlikely to meet, but Larksdale and Carmotta know each other through the royalty. Red Marie shows up early to make sure Mother Fwych can't use her powers of persuasion, and the boy runs into Larksdale and is roped into acting as a page. They're all in the keep soon enough, and the crown is too close to where it should never be. We the reader know that even as the characters don't, adding to the rising tension in the novel. The scheming of the nobles rises as the days pass, the body count rising as well. The commoners aren't always considered, especially by royalty, and they forget the poorest of the poor. This allows Fwych to go about unnoticed, and even Larksdale at one point. I wasn't sure how all of the characters would come together at the end of the book, or who would survive it. That concern only grew as even more characters died or were maimed, and it happened with increasing regularity right up to the very end. I laughed at the solution because it is fitting yet had never been considered before. It's a fascinating story, one that I really enjoyed reading. 

Buy The Keep Within at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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