After losing her family in the uprising against William the Conqueror’s conquest of England several years earlier, Heather decided to keep to herself and live a quiet life with her adopted family, minding a windmill that the invading Norman, native English (Anglo-Saxon), and tribal Vasfian factions alike could all use. Everything changes in Kyrie Wang’s ENEMY’S KEEPER: Forbidden Ties when Heather’s childhood sweetheart mysteriously drops a young Norman noble girl on her doorstep and vanishes. Now alone, Heather is pulled into a dizzying world of violence and political intrigue. Caught in the middle of a war she didn’t want any part of, Heather must focus on her own survival by forming an unlikely alliance with the enemy rebel leader’s son Toby, whose kindness catches her off guard.
Author Wang excels at whisking readers from one action-packed scene to the next, starting from the moment Toby and his English soldiers enter Heather’s windmill in the first chapter. Heather barely has time to catch her breath until the final chapters of the book, giving the story a thrilling pace that will keep adventure fans on the edge of their seats. Wang also deftly weaves historical information throughout, effectively sharing enough information to give a clear sense of the stakes without letting the exposition overpower the narrative. She includes both a prelude and author’s note that offer additional context on the setting, which may help readers get their bearings. The decade following Normandy’s invasion of England in 1066 was filled with complex allegiances; the amount of research that went into this book, and thought that went into distilling those concepts into an entertaining narrative, is quite impressive. ENEMY’S KEEPER also touches on classism, racism, and sexism in medieval England, particularly in the soldiers’ attitude towards Heather and in the portrayal of the redheaded Vasfai—a fictional race with a tribal culture based on the British Celts.
Wang creates a compelling mystery by incorporating quiet moments for Heather to ruminate on the snippets of information she has gleaned, as she must untangle which side to give her loyalty to. Learning that her childhood friend and sweetheart has been embroiled in this war motivates Heather to get involved, though the circumstances surrounding his situation remain cryptic. Like Heather, he is natively English but largely raised under the Norman regime, which may lead the reader to question why they remain loyal to their colonizers instead of siding with their fellow English. Heather’s ethical dilemma in the face of a situation she doesn’t fully understand leads her to instead focus on individuals, caring for and supporting people on both sides who are kind to her. This choice gradually alienates her potential allies but makes sense, as she has little stake in the overall outcome of the war beyond interest in her own survival.
Many other characters diverge from the first impressions they make, like the brash Norman noble who deserts his army to come back for Heather and the English rebel leader’s son who is consistently kind and selfless, yet responsible for much violence. Heather’s chemistry with both of these characters creates a subtle, slow-burning romance with potential for a love triangle in future books. The final chapters, in which political intrigue overtakes the action, set up an exciting premise that is sure to have young adult readers itching for the sequel. Overall, ENEMY’S KEEPER offers a fun and fast-paced read that will appeal to fans across many genres. Wang has a gift for telling stories from the viewpoint of a sympathetic, multifaceted protagonist who is navigating a complex geopolitical conflict with limited information.
ENEMY’S KEEPER: Forbidden Ties (book one in the Enemy’s Keeper series), shares detailed information about a tumultuous medieval period from a peasant girl’s perspective. Author Kyrie Wang presents historical YA fiction interwoven with nonstop action, nuanced characters, and hints of romance in this riveting series starter.
~Cameron Gillespie for IndieReader