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The Safe-Keeper's Secret    by Sharon Shinn order for
Safe-Keeper's Secret
by Sharon Shinn
Order:  USA  Can
Viking, 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This gentle fantasy opens, 'A truth comes out when it must: / A dream comes true when it will. / Though the world turn to ash and dust, / A secret's a secret still.' It's a somewhat medieval kingdom, with a distant king and nobility, and it's scattered with individuals who have special talents.

Most villages have a 'Safe-Keeper', usually a woman, to whom anyone is free to tell their secrets, as they will never be revealed, no matter how unpleasant. And 'Truth-Tellers' are compelled to always answer a question with the truth. Though these can both be difficult roles, another is far harder. Everyone wants to be close to the Kingdom's single 'Dream-Maker', because the dreams of those around her often come true, but at a high cost, through constant tragedy in her own life.

The story opens as a solitary rider clatters into Tambleham. He leaves a baby and a secret at the home of Safe-Keeper Damiana, whose own child is born that same night. The two children are raised together. Reed can never sit still, while Fiona learns herb lore from a neighbor and wants to be a Safe-Keeper like her mother. She's upset when her mother's friend, Truth-Teller Thomas, tells her this won't happen. Damiana's sister, Safe-Keeper Angeline, visits when she can, as does Dream-Maker Isadora, seeking relief from her cares.

Reed and Fiona are very close as they grow up. Every Wintermoon, family and friends gather at Damiana's home. They weave different branches from the woods into a wreath, and 'add their own magic and memories' to it, tieing on hoarded ribbons and sewing scraps. Each year, they burn a wreath on a bonfire, representing with it their hopes for the future. Life is idyllic, but it can't continue forever. Tragedy strikes, secrets are finally revealed, and in the process many lifelong wishes come true.

Though all was tied up almost too easily at the end, I found The Safe-Keeper's Secret a charming coming of age story, set in a delightful fantasy world. It shows lives balanced in disappointments and joy, tragedy and love, and young people coping well with the challenges of adulthood.

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