Book Review: Dove Keeper by Emily Deibler

Dove Keeper is a gothic horror novel centered on three powerful women who lived in Rennes, France in 1918. The novel is written by Emily Deibler, a dedicated writer, artist, and nerd who explores trauma, grief, abuse, and neurodivergence in her writing. Some of the characters are loosely based off her ancestors who were executioners (which is so cool).

Dove Keeper Summary

Main Themes:
  • Trauma
  • Feminism 
  • LGBT
  • Neurodivergence
The book begins with Rosalie who leads a lonely life of regret and isolation as an executioner's wife. Because of events in her past, Rosalie is overprotective of her daughter Marcy. Marcy, barely allowed to leave the house due to a growing number of missing children, becomes attached to the first girl she meets, Jehanne. What follows is a tale that reveals the dark secrets in a small town and the pain hidden within a family.

Main characters:
  • Rosalie Deibler - Marcy's mother
  • Marcy Deibler - Rosalie's daughter
  • Jehanne - Marcy's friend
  • Andre - Rosalie and Anatole's nephew
  • Anatole Deibler - Rosalie's husband, the executioner

Book Review

Deibler's rich word choice and aching prose set an eerie mood as the novel opens with Rosalie reading about missing children in the newspaper. It's clear from Rosalie's reaction to seeing Andre out the window that he is pretty much a walking symbol of pain for Rosalie. Are Rosalie and her sister estranged? Did she die? Why does the simple part of her nephew's hair cause "the space behind her eyes" to tighten? And why does her daughter Marcy suddenly appear in front of Andre and peck him on the lips? Within a few pages, I had quite a few questions that needed answering which kept me reading.

Dove Keeper By Emily Deibler Book Cover

Rosalie's Grief

As I read Dove Keeper, I related most to Rosalie. The flashbacks and sobering passages of beautiful prose made me feel understood as I remembered the pain from my own past. Rosalie's hard life made her cold and harsh, and... while I don't exactly think my past has made me cold and harsh, I related to her anger and sadness. Rosalie resembles someone I know, and she helped me understand not only myself better but also a family member who hasn't had the easiest life. Rosalie is just trying to protect Marcy and Andre from the pain of being an executioner, from being an executioner's wife, but her words come out cruel. Her words cause deep wounds in her daughter and nephew when she's just trying to help, and it was heartbreaking to read. What was also interesting is that I never even considered how an executioner and his wife would be shunned by society. It never crossed my mind how their town would treat them like pariahs, but it made complete sense.

The American Disease

What came as a surprise was the amount of pain Rosalie has actually had to deal with. When talking with Anatole, Rosalie refers to herself as a "madwoman" and remembers when a doctor "diagnosed her with 'the American disease.'" She was told to rest in bed for months and to sleep alone at night. Deibler writes,

Until she lost everything, Rosalie hadn't realized she'd been happy. She wanted to be normal - like Anatole was desperately normal. She needed to recapture herself, the bright girl who loved cycling and feeling the breeze on her neck more than anything. But that image was like snow on hot fingers, gone as soon as she caught it.

This passage hit home. As someone who so badly wanted to be like everyone else for most of my life but couldn't seem to fit my round self into the square peg that society demands... being different from others, no matter the reason, can be isolating and depressing. Rosalie, with her grief, her "American disease," was only trying to survive in a town that treated her like an outcast. Of course, she wanted to protect Andre and Marcy from the life of an executioner and his wife. It wasn't a miserable life, but it was hard. And who doesn't want to give their children the best life they can?


After everything that happens (Sound vague? Read the book!), Rosalie's role is flipped. She transitions to the caregiver role, and the sensitivity with which she acts is beautiful. Her husband was so kind and patient when she stayed in her bed for months at a time. Now that she is the caregiver, she grapples with how best to help Andre and Marcy. The realism in how the characters suffering from trauma act stood out to me the most. Often, the response to trauma in stories is not realistic, and it almost ruins the story. I was watching a TV show recently where a character's boyfriend died suddenly. She cried once or twice, but within a few weeks, she was dating again. Now, a season later in the show, they never talk about her boyfriend who past away. The show just went on, his death a convenient plot twist. It was so unrealistic that I was shocked.

Deibler's book did the opposite of this show. It approaches death, trauma, and grief with the utmost sensitivity and realism. None of us know how we would act in a life-or-death situation until we are there. Deibler's story was crafted carefully. She took the time to put herself in her character's shoes and consider how real people would have dealt with the situation, and it paid off.

I liked Dove Keeper so much that it has been the first book in The Writers With Mental Illness Book Club!  If you've read it or plan to, make sure to support an emerging indie author by reviewing it on Amazon and Goodreads.

About The Author:

August Blair is the book nerd behind Writers With Mental Illness. She is a freelance lifestyle writer, passionate about writing and psychology. You can find her writing online and in print. Connect with her on Instagram and Goodreads.

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