The Key of the Keplian by Andre Norton
Series: Secrets of the Witch World, Witch World
Published by Grand Central Publishing on July 1995
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For more than 30 years, Andre Norton's fabulous Witch World saga has thrilled millions. Now comes a new trilogy that reveals long hidden secrets of the mysterious Witch World.
For time beyond memory, the fire-eyed Keplian horses have lured riders to their death, sating the blood lust of the Dark Tower. All Witch World knows that the hunted, hated beasts serve Evil -- all except one young woman.
Fleeing her home after her beloved grandfather dies, the orphaned Navajo-Comanche girl Eleeri follows an ancient and magical trail to Witch World. When she discovers the Keplian mare Tharna and her newborn colt in the hands of men eager to destroy them, Eleeri fights for their freedom. Running for their lives, psychic Eleeri and telepathic Tharna bond. And in a hidden canyon, they discover the awesome truth:
The Keplians were created to serve Light, and to ride with humans.
Publishing Note: The Key of the Keplian was originally published by Aspect which was a division of Time Warner Books. Time Warner Books was consumed by Hachette Book Group which merged Aspect into Grand Central Publishing. The Key of the Keplian is no longer in print but can be purchased in digital format.
The Key of the Keplian is currently one of my favorite Witch World stories. As with all my favorites, this review will be special, lol.
Reading the Witch World series is…very different than most other series out there. Andre Norton uses a very…formal/affected way of writing (especially dialog) that reads dated on some occasions. Andre Norton’s style of writing offers an additional barrier to entry: she rarely summarizes her series so new readers have a large knowledge curve. The Key of the Keplian is one of the few stories that tries to give the audience historic information.
The Key of the Keplian is the story of Eleeri, a Native American (part Comanche, part Navaho) girl who enters a gate to the Witch World, finding her fortune by unlocking long lost secrets of Witch World power and lore.
Eleeri was orphaned at a young age, left to be raised by her aunt and uncle. Eleeri’s aunt and uncle hated her Native American heritage, thus mistreating her badly. Eventually Eleeri’s great-grandfather, Far Traveler, takes custody of her but he is very old – so old that opening lines are about his death.
The old man was dying. Once, she had thought he would live forever. Now she was older and knew that all things died in their time. This was his. His eyes met hers calmly and she knew then that we would tell her what to do.
– pg 1
Eleeri is 16 when her grandfather dies – young enough to be forced back into the home of her abusive relations. Instead of passively going back to be abused, Eleeri takes a special pack Far Traveler made for her and runs, chased by Social Services. Inside the pack Eleeri finds a map showing her a location of a path of “the gone-before ones” (ancestors who also traveled gates). Eleeri travels through this gate and finds herself in an non-populated part of Karsten. She travels for a time before she meets an elderly Lord of a destroyed Old Blood Karsten hold, Cynan. Cynan (as a character) serves the same basic purpose as Far Traveler: an elderly male teacher/mentor. Being close to death, Far Traveler and Cynan have no need or ability (plot wise) to stand in the way of a younger Eleeri traveling swiftly and exploring widely; being male allows Far Traveler and Cynan both to teach Eleeri necessary weapons and warrior training. Eleeri stays with Cynan for only the length of time necessary to learn the language, sword work and better control of her powers.
I find this idea of the “gone before ones” intriguing. Witch World – with the exception of the powerful Old Ones – was ever populated by newcomers through gates. The Key of the Keplian says that Eleeri looks remarkably like the descendants of those with the Old Blood:
“Eleeri, be careful who you approach in this land. The memory of what was done to us lies heavily of Karsten still.”
The girl raised eyebrows. “What has that to do with me?”
“Your looks,” the old man said bluntly. “You may be no witch, you say you have no power, but you look like one of the race. Gray eyes, black hair.” He ticked the points off on his fingers. “Your cheekbones are high and your chin more pointed than blunt. You are slender, as we tend to be.” He nodded. “I know you are not of our blood, but from the outside and to one who may have only heard a description, you appear to be of Estcarp. Be very wary. Karsten blames the witches for what happened to their land.”
This so interesting – could it be that Native Americans were the original people who are now mostly living in Estcarp and Escore (the Old Blood descendants)? They would all fit the physical appearance and almost all people who arrive in the Witch World via a gate have power.
When Eleeri leaves Cynan, she feels compelled to travel towards Escore. Upon arriving in Escore, Eleeri comes upon a small Hold that has managed to capture a Keplian mare and her newly birthed colt. As Keplians are thought to be of the Dark, the Holdspeople felt justified in torturing the Keplians. Eleeri sees this and bargains for the Keplians’s freedom. This singular act changes everything.
Eleeri and the mare, Tharna, bond with each other. Their needs for a safe place to live changes the Witch World forever. Eleeri learns that the Keplian were created to serve the Light. This is an amazing fact – the Keplian had been known to be of the Dark for time out of mind. The hardcore Witch World fan received a small hint of this when reading Songsmith in which appeared a half-breed Keplian who was of the Light.
The Key of the Keplian is a wonderful tale that really fits well in Witch World Universe. I highly suggest this book and series!