I picked this book up in a random library browse. Sharon Shinn's name rang a bell with me, but at the time I couldn't place why. The cover wasn't striking, but the concept seemed interesting, so I took the book home. (Have I mentioned that I love libraries?)
It turns out that I've read some of Sharon Shinn's adult books and really enjoyed them. Her Samaria novels read like fantasy but have a sci fi explanation in the end (which I won't give away): it's a non-technological society with angels to rule over and protect them. In Archangel, Rachel is chosen to be the bride of Gabriel the archangel, but she's not happy about it. There's reluctant romance, dangerous politics, Old-Testament-like mythology (in case the names didn't give it away), singing, and magic that's really science but everyone's forgotten. A good read, and now I want to go back and read the Samaria novels I missed.
The Safe-Keeper's Secret isn't anything like the Samaria books. Set in a small English-like village in some non-modern time period, it's a quiet story about people with the gifts of keeping secrets, telling the truth, and granting dreams. I love that secret-keeping and truth-telling are magical powers. The story opens with a child being delivered to the village Safe-keeper, the woman who will keep whatever secret she is told, and the child's identity is a secret she keeps for most of the novel. She raises the child with her own as if they were siblings. The story follows Fiona and Reed's coming of age and discovery of who they really are.
I loved this book, and I'm still not sure exactly why. It's not exciting, there's no great peril, no important quest, not a lot of action of any kind, really. For a while I couldn't figure out who the antagonist was. Almost every character is caring and nice, and just about everyone loves Reed and Fiona. I think I liked the book so much because I cared so much about the characters. They were all individuals with their own sorrows and dreams, however small, and I wanted them all to find their place in the world and I cheered when they did. I think, in the end, the antagonist is the secret: the truth about who Fiona and Reed really are that changes everything when it's revealed. But the story is subtle--there isn't burning suspense all the way through. Fiona and Reed don't particularly care that they don't know who their parents are. Except that they do, of course, and that niggling question really does propel the plot as they each struggle to fit where they think they belong.
I feel like I'm not selling this book as strongly as I want to. It's deftly written and a pleasure to read and it deals with all the important parts of life: who we love and what we want to be and telling the truth when the right time comes. There are lovely bits of symbolism woven all through, and it just, well, it just made me happy. It's a little jewel, well worth an afternoon of your time.