The Keeper by S.L. Armstrong, K. Piet
Generation after generation, an unattached male is plucked from the same family line and sent to the home of the man they only know as Dhakir. It is a duty all men in the line are brought up knowing, but none can know which male will be called or when.
Twenty-six-year-old Hadi Rahal is plucked from his fast-paced life among the brilliant lights and shallow vanity of Milan’s fashion world when he is told his uncle has passed on and he is the next Keeper. Knowing only vague legend, Hadi travels to Sétif, Algeria where his heritage waits in the form of an ancient name and sorrowful eyes he cannot turn from, even as he prays to God for the fortitude to resist.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Keeper is a very different and unique take on immortality with heavy religious themes. The writing is solid and the story itself is rather interesting, engaging the readers’ attention, although the serious religious elements may not be to all tastes. The story begins with young Hadi, living a full and busy life as a detailer in the fashion world of Italy. When he’s called to take care of a mysterious charge in Algeria, he balks. Hadi has no desire to leave his happy life to move to some strange land and take care of an elderly person he’s never known. However since the family honor is at stake, he reluctantly agrees. Yet when Hadi meets his charge, life and his new job are not what they seem.
The story takes on the idea of Jesus and the apostles but instead focuses on Judas, the betrayer. This clever and rather eye catching twist offers that Judas is immortal, suffering from a curse (he believes) that forces him to live forever. He sustains on the blood of his keeper, a family that is descendant from Jesus. There are numerous parallels to the Christian faith, most are blatant and obviously stated but there are a few subtle themes as well. Judas survives by drinking the sacrifice of Christ’s descendants, yet his sin was doing as Christ had asked.
The religious themes are somewhat heavy and definitely a main focus of the story, yet the introduction of the young Hadi, who cares little for religion and faith, helps alleviate the otherwise dark overtones. Hadi breathes life into the story and literally Judas as a young man not content to waste away his life in a foreign land. Hadi wants a full life and when his attraction to Judas slowly turns deeper, he’s not afraid to explore that. Judas of course with centuries of grief, loss, and new beginnings from keeper to keeper is reluctant to give his heart yet again to someone who will leave him.
The back and forth between the two men is slow, yet builds the tension and sensuality. Hadi once mentions that using hands and mouths is more intimate and intense for him as it builds the passion slowly and carefully to a more satisfying finish. This describes the story actually incredibly well as the two dance around each other in a careful, intricate choreography of love, fear, yearning, and hope. When they finally give into their feelings, there is a happy ending of sorts but as Hadi will eventually die, there is also the knowledge that their love is worth the later price. Perhaps Judas will choose to end his existence as well but the focus is on the present, not the past or the future.
The story is interesting to read and incorporates the themes very well. It feels slightly heavy and slow to read due to the more serious nature of the characters and the isolated venue. The two are the only characters of any substance and the others only have incredibly brief, forgettable mentions. The sole focus on their connection and the slow path to love creates a similar slow pace to the story. It’s not bad but I was glad the story was only novella length as I could feel my attention starting to wander near the end. The build of tension and sensuality is nice and combined with the themes of the story, offers something entirely new and refreshing. Also the cover art is wonderful.