Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and mysticism are the two main ingredients in Natasha Mostert’s Keeper of Light and Dust. The novel centers on two protagonists, Nick Duffy and Mia Lockhart who have known each other since they were children. Mia is a Keeper, almost like a guardian angel who has taken a number of fighters on the London circuit under her ‘protection" who also works as a tattoo artist. Nick is a MMA fighter on the London independent circuit, who as the story begins, is training for a fight that could earn him a championship.
The book didn’t immediately grab me, but just under one third of the way in, I was hooked. Nick’s journey and Mia’s life as tattoo artist/Keeper intertwined very nicely. Their romance definitely fits the mold of its-obvious-to-everyone-else-except-themselves-that-they-should-be-together. When Valentine, a fighter close to both Nick and Mia dies under mysterious circumstances, Nick is discovers a string of similar strange deaths through the online fighting community he owns. A metaphorical message is left by a member of the community in the forums known only as Dragonfly in remembrance of Valentine’s career as a fighter.
Before Nick can act on his true feelings for Mia, the charismatic Adrian "Ash" Ashton enters both of their lives. Ash is a mysterious figure who knows a great deal about training fighters and the mysticism Mia practices. Ash decides to have Mia tattoo him and train Nick for the big fight. From there, Mostert puts a great deal of emotion into Nick and Mia as they discover Ash’s true nature.
The novel has been called a modern vampire tale, with the leeching of life that seems to take place with the dead fighters like Valentine. The vampire is not so much a blood sucker like LeStat or something Buffy or Dresden fights. Rather, this vampire has more in common with the psychic vampires prominently featured in Dan Simmons’s award-winning Carrion Comfort. Mostert explores this vampirism as she reveals the elements that make up a Keeper’s ability to protect fighter’s aura through meditation and out of body experiences. After an encounter with the mystical "vampire," Mia realizes she’s a target and Nick might also be a target.
Mostert’s prose is very engaging, nicely written, and shows a strong and admirable balance between detail and subtlety. It’s clear that she knows the world of MMA fighting, particularly the "minor leagues" of London of which Nick is a part. Early chapters are interspersed with quotes from the book of the Keeper, which I thought added a nice touch of authenticity to the mystical elements of the novel.
While I enjoyed the meat, the middle of the novel, I felt the ending was something of a let down. Mostert built up the conflict between Mia and her antagonist very well – there was dramatic tension, and they never really came face to face until the novel’s conclusion. Also, Mostert built up Nick’s training and his thoughts as his fight drew closer, but the ending was something of a let down as well. I often read two books at the same time, and through the middle section of this book, I had a hard time pulling away from it.
I can recommend the novel with some reservations. Think of this book as a sandwich – the meat, condiments, and what’s between the bread is very tasty, but the bread itself is of a lesser quality. Mostert writes very well, builds a lot great stuff in the middle, but leaves the ending as something of a let down.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford
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