Janny Wurts – Keeper Of The Keys

I had quite some problems getting through Keeper Of The Keys (1988), the second novel of The Cycle Of Fire by Janny Wurts. I had the same with the first novel and in this middle book of this fantasy trilogy it was far worse. For one part the problem was that it is the middle book. At the end of the first book the main protagonist had achieved the most imminent goal to be accomplished. The second and rather obvious goal was clear from the start but the main protagonist could not just go for it. The whole story of Keeper Of The Keys is about the process to make the main protagonist develop the right frame of mind to get there. Wurts creates a sequence of obstacles and events that he has to overcome. This is the second part of my problems with the book. Pretty much all the events felt very much contrived. They didn’t feel natural. It felt like the author was putting in the setpieces as there were quite some problems creating the obstacles. Wurts had to provide the antagonists with the necessary information to allow for some of the obstacles to be created. One usually speaks of character-driven or plot-driven stories but this felt too much like author-driven. Wurts was the one making the choices in a number of cases just to be able to have some development for her characters.

The appreciation of the characters was because of this also very low. I had trouble connecting with them in the first book and there was pretty much none of it here. Only the main protagonist had character development but little of it felt realistic. It did not help that the world-building is not very good. Wurts provided some more background information on the world but unfortunately this rather damaged it more than it helped. For me there were, just like in the first novel, several very structural flaws and inconsistencies. As I don’t want to spoil I can’t deliberate on them but they are fairly obvious.

Despite all these apparent issues this is not exactly a bad novel. As I wrote in my review of the first novel, Stormwarden, this series is like a first attempt of her Curse Of The Mistwraith series, a series that I like and the reason why I wanted to try this series. There are many similarities in the worldbuilding and on some level in the characters as well. You see the potential, only if the author can get her plotting and worldbuilding right. Wurts’ prose is good, her style triggers the imagination and she has the right hand for good character development. There are many moments that do captivate the reader, but it is like you are looking at a beautiful painting but the canvas is made of water and the painter is trying to keep everything together forcefully.

This is certainly not the series to start reading the works by Janny Wurts. To all accounts I sadly have to say that it is better avoided as it will give a negative impression while she is so much better in her later works. As the plot and the worldbuilding form essential components in a fantasy novel one cannot save it on other accounts. The only reason why I will probably still try to read the third novel (although not any time soon) is because I am interested in what kind of conclusion the series will have as her long Curse Of The Mistwraith series is not near its end yet and Wurts isn’t producing new novels very quickly.


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