I would have loved this when I was fourteen, as I voraciously read my way through Pern and Witch World. Keplian follows the standard story of the young woman marginalized by society because of her differences. The plot hinges on her discovering those differences give her access into a new world/power. In Pern, it was Lessa and dragons, Menolly and fire-lizards; in this homage to Witch World, it’s a Native-American girl and horses. But not just any horse; this is a fully cognizant animal that has been hunted for it’s role in carrying off humans to their doom, kelpie-style.
Both Pern and Witch World were some of the first ‘grown up’ serial fantasies I remember reading, and the first written by women (a huge relief after abandoning the Thomas Covenant Chronicles). Stylistically, Norton was often short on the details of world-building I enjoy, but had an interesting focus on gender dynamics and sorcerous power. Norton didn’t hold hands; like her characters, the reader was often thrown into Witch World and left to build impressions through experience. This book, with co-author credits given to Lyn McConchie, contains more detail than I expected, and contains a nicely succinct history of the Witch World.
Fortunately for me (but less fortunately for my enjoyment of the book), I am no longer fourteen. The beginning lacks sophistication and comes straight out of most Navajo stereotypes any not-completely-ignorant person would have about the culture. Granted, is generally admiring and attempts to show the reader the horrible way the half-Navajo girl was treated. However, it always makes me nervous when people of not a given heritage appropriate another for their own uses. I can’t speak to either authors’ background, but it is something I’m wary of, particularly as McConchie hails from New Zealand. Thankfully, this section was relatively brief, so the plot and characterization became less about ethnicity and more about Eleeri’s personal characteristics.
Characterization was fine, if somewhat starry-eyed. Eleeri’s survival skills, somewhat suspect in modern America, enable comfortable survival new world, especially when she ends up meeting a surrogate grandfather. The transition from Earth to Witch World is very easy for her, and has none of the normal disorientation, confusion and violence of Norton’s world–it’s Witch World for young adult, if you will. From there, it settles into learning about the world and making her way to discover her powers, and is more general enjoyable fare. Young woman and kelpian learn to challenge their assumptions about the other. The last bit is a confrontation between her many new found allies and a Great Evil. And a happily ever after, of course.
Two and a half starry-eyed stars.