The Gatekeeper’s Descendants, by Johanna Frank
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Today, I’m excited to be reviewing The Gatekeeper’s Descendants, a meaningful Urban Fantasy novel by Johana Frank. So, if you’ve got your favourite drink to hand and are all settled in, let’s begin.
The Gatekeeper’s Descendants follows the life of young Matthew Mackenzie, who doesn’t feel understood and just wants to be normal. The story is told through third person close narration, switching between several points of view, chiefly Matthew’s and his mother Marnie’s, although occasionally accompanied by perspectives of those from the ethereal realms.
After a savage beating which lands Matthew in critical condition in hospital, his spirit is led away from his body by a stranger named Kasartha, who promises to show him the universe. After a brief ethereal excursion, Matt returns to his body and starts to recuperate from home, where he tries to forget about his unusual dream. However, a surprise re-appearance from Kasartha leads Matt to believe his otherworldly adventure was real. Now, Kasartha seeks Matt’s help to retrieve his own life stone, but Matt is set on one thing, finding his father in the afterlife.
Meanwhile, in The Kingdom, (the equivalent to Heaven) Head Gatekeeper Megalos worries about Matthew’s progress on his earthly tour. As Matthew is part of his adopted ancestral line, he is drawing the attention of the rebels, beings from the other ethereal realm where darkness lurks. It is now up to Megalos’ dear friend Pipiera to teach Matthew about The Kingdom, in an attempt to help him embrace The King and all that he stands for.
Will Matthew finally embrace The Kingdom, or will he succumb to the darkness of the rebels?
Throughout the story, five key characters stood out from the rest.
First, there was Megalos, head gatekeeper of The Kingdom, who plays an important guardian-like role in the story. Both cautious and wise, he takes his role as head gatekeeper seriously and does all he can to safely get new arrivals through The Kingdom’s gates. Megalos struck me as a character with a difficult past, one which allowed him to transcend negative emotions such as grief and hatred. He proved to be an interesting character that did all he could to protect the people closest to him, living by the very principles that make The Kingdom so grand and forgiving.
Second was Pipiera, a young girl who sees Megalos as a grandfatherly figure, has a treasured relationship with the old gatekeeper. From first meeting, Pipiera seems reluctant to embrace change of any kind in her life. A bubbly and spirited individual, she also has a more shadowy side, filled with self-doubt and a lack of purpose, which makes her feel inferior to others. The burden of her feelings of worthlessness continues to weigh on her, so much that despite having avoided risk all her ethereal life, she finally seeks to travel to Earth, to aid Matthew in his life tour. Pipiera went through a satisfying character transformation, from feeling worthless and being unable to forgive herself, to accepting herself as she is and finding a new sense of worth in the afterlife.
Next, we have Matthew, the lead protagonist, a thirteen year old boy (soon to turn fourteen) who lost his father five years prior to the start of the story. Matthew lives in Havensight and wants desperately to be normal, not to be considered a lovechild, and to finally enjoy life on his own terms. Matthew is in some ways your typical teenage boy, full of angst and feeling as though nobody understands him. However, as he embarks upon multiple ethereal journeys, Matt begins to see his world from the perspectives of those close to him and learns to forgive others, a true sign that he has accepted The King into his heart. His journey is one of daring courage and at times the stupidity and impulsiveness that adolescence naturally brings. Overall, I found that I liked Matt more as he progressed through his journey. I got to see him wrestle with the inner struggle we all experience at some point; whether to turn toward our darker side, or to stay true to a lighter path.
Fourth was Marnie, Matthew’s mother, who felt like a frazzled hurricane of a woman. Raising two kids and having a job is no easy feat and I imagine it was only more difficult back in the seventies when the story is set. Marnie rarely sleeps and is the worried type of parent, who despite leading a busy life, wants to do the best for her children at every turn. She seemed strong and resilient, considering all she had been through: losing her first husband, remarrying and divorcing her second, and coping with two children by herself. The way her community treats her could only add insult to injury, which made her even stronger in my eyes. Like Pipiera, believing she is inadequate is Marnie’s greatest flaw, one which causes her to push people away, amongst other actions which do her no good. It was refreshing to her own inner-struggle paralleled alongside Matthew’s, to see how each dealt with the numerous problems which came their way.
Finally, we come to Kasartha, an ethereal being from the dark side of the rebels. Kasartha has been watching Matt for years, helping to shape Matt in various ways by planting dark thoughts and suggestions in his subconscious. To me, Kasartha represented the darker side of human nature and the worst qualities living within Matthew. I never warmed to Kasartha as a character as I never knew whether I could trust him. He seemed deceptive and selfish, only ever looking out for himself so he could curry favour with his uncle, Lord of the darker ethereal realm. Toward the story’s end however, I was torn over how I felt about him. I finally came to understand his plight and so felt some measure of compassion for him, however, I still couldn’t bring myself to trust him as a reader.
There were many positive aspects to The Gatekeeper’s Descendants, some of which I have listed below.
- The idea of The Kingdom (so much like the Christian depiction of Heaven) and its earthly tours was fascinating. The ethereal world and its accompanying rules and traditions were fleshed out well and made for a fascinating read.
- I particularly liked how the character’s beliefs and emotions (linking to their pasts) were explored at depth, focusing on their personal psychological issues. Seeing how they each grew over the course of the story was satisfying in itself.
- Third person point of view was used well to convey a broader message, switching between multiple lead character’s perspectives. The lead story’s narrator is a member of the Desk of Interventions team in The Kingdom, so it was interesting to view the story through their eyes as well.
Throughout my reading, I came across four specific quotes which spoke to the story’s message as a whole.
1) ‘Change what you acknowledge inside.’
2) ‘You don’t have to be trapped, no matter your circumstances.’
3) ‘We get scratched up from time to time- Those nicks, well, they hurt, but that’s when we have the chance to deal with some of our rough edges.’
4) ‘Sometimes it’s plain and simple- we learn the most in the dark- That’s when we figure out what to let go and whom to seek.’
These four quotes speak volumes about how our life journeys revolve around our inner growth as individuals. What we focus on in life greatly affects the path we will take; will we focus on the negative- the hatred and sorrow and guilt within, or will we focus on the positive- the love, joy, and gratefulness for what we have?
Although we all experience dark moments in our lives when giving up feels like the only option, it is our courage as human beings that will keep us going, enduring all that may befall us in our lives. As we encounter more obstacles, we are given more opportunities to grow and develop into the people we someday wish to be. In essence, it is the darkest points in our lives, where we struggle the most, that teach us how to grow and expand into something new.
Overall, The Gatekeeper’s Descendants proved to be a fantastic and imaginative story of inner-transformation as two supernatural forces battle it out to influence the earth tour of a teenage boy. This was a story about freeing oneself from past pain and accepting the love and light of The Kingdom into one’s heart.
My Rating: 5 stars.
Recommended to: Urban Fantasy lovers, who enjoy a spiritual / supernatural component to their fictional reads.
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