I have to start by apologizing to the wonderful people at Simon & Schuster Canada who sent me an advanced reader’s copy of the supernatural, heartbreaking romance, The Taker by Alma Katsu, back in April of this year. I thought for sure I would have it read and reviewed before now and I’ve actually read two books before this one that I still haven’t written reviews for because I’ve been so busy. So while the story is still fresh in my mind, I will share my thoughts with you.
This story begins in the fictional small town of modern day St. Andrew, Maine. A divorced and lonely surgeon named Dr. Luke Findley finds himself captivated by an extraordinary young woman who has been suspected of murdering an otherworldly beautiful young man, leaving his body to freeze in the woods. She pleads with him to help her escape the authorities and after grabbing a scalpel in the hospital and slicing herself open – only to have the wound immediately knit together before Luke’s eyes – he knows he’s seeing something that must remain a secret and feels compelled to protect her at all costs. Later we realize that Luke has nothing to lose.
The Taker is Alma Katsu’s debut novel and while it is certainly a page turner, it is so filled with melancholy that it leaves you feeling that way when you’re finished reading it. The main character has been living for over 200 years and while she is tragically flawed she cannot find any joy in her immortality whatsoever. Throughout the story, Lanore “Lanny” McIlvrae, who is not a vampire, is subjected to almost every kind of pain, suffering and human degradation you can think of and we empathize with her but she is never able to find any pleasure in any of her actions or her sins. I could imagine her voice as being soft, low and monotonous; her visage pretty, but hard and grim.
Lanore’s life is one of eternal unrequited love and betrayal that begins when she is a child in Maine Territory in 1809. While she is on the run with Luke she tells him everything about her life up to the moment when they met so the novel morphs back and forth between history and present day. This format works seamlessly and Katsu’s descriptions of 19th century Maine and Boston are excellent and well-researched.
The love of Lanore’s life is the unforgettably tall, dark and dazzling Jonathan St. Andrew, her best friend, who left almost every female who set eyes on him lovesick with lust and the desire to possess him. As he grew from a boy of twelve to a young man in his 20s, Jonathan became the most gorgeous man anyone in the northeastern US had ever seen. Unfortunately, he was also unable to remain faithful to any woman, not even his wife.
When Lanny, as Jonathan called her, becomes pregnant at 20 with his illegitimate child, her strict, puritanical father sends her away to Boston to have the baby in a convent but she decides before she gets there that she won’t let anyone take the baby away from her and escapes her charge to wander aimlessly through the streets of Boston alone.
It is then that the naïve girl meets part of the evil entourage of Adair, the Count cel Rau from Romania, who take her back to his mansion under the guise of inviting her along to a fancy party where she will have plenty to eat and drink. She’s never seen anything so luxurious before and is overwhelmed by the temptations set before her.
Adair and his immortal minions, Donatello, Tilde, Alejandro and Uzra, live a life of complete debauchery and bacchanalia and that night he drugs and rapes Lanore without realizing that she’s pregnant. This is the beginning of the end of her mortal life and her journey towards redemption.
As I don’t want to give away the specifics of Lanore’s catastrophic adventures with the malevolent Adair, which are as hideously mesmerizing as a train wreck, I’ll simply say that this is a story for adults. This is no Twilight. The Taker borders on historical S&M erotica and horrific scenes are described in graphic detail. Katsu’s writing is exceptionally good and Lanore, Jonathan and Adair are gripping characters who will leave most lovers of paranormal tales enthralled. The secondary characters in Adair’s subplot are also interesting. However, in comparison, Luke seems lackluster even though he serves an important purpose.
After such a tumultuous ride, I was disappointed in the sedate ending of The Taker. However, for a debut novel, this is an above average read, and I would not hesitate to read more from Alma Katsu.