Ursula LeGuin’s Tehanu was an attempt at writing a domestic fantasy, one that wasn’t about quests and battles, but was instead about a family and a household; Sharon Shinn’s The Safe-Keeper’s Secret is doing much the same thing, but far more successfully.

The book starts with the standard fantasy cliché: A mysterious man rides into a village bearing a significant baby, which he hands off to a villager before going off to die. That’s about the last standard trope you’ll see, though, as the rest of the story happens when the baby is a teenager, and is an extremely well-done coming of age novel. But lest that give you the wrong idea, this isn’t the sort of coming of age that means accepting your destiny as the wielder of the magic sword and savior of humanity; this is the kind that means learning to deal with old family friends as an adult, finding a profession and purpose, and coming to terms with change.

If a small character-oriented book sounds interesting to you, give this a go; it’s charming and well-done. The Safe-Keeper’s Secret is marketed as YA, and I suppose in a sense it is; but it’s also a mature book that lacks the cheap superficiality of most YA stuff. I’m reading more and more good YA fantasy these days; ironically, the legacy of Harry Potter might be to actually put some quality stuff on the YA bookshelves just by virtue of luring any plausibly-YA book over there.


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