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Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

This one has been getting lots of good press and was a National Book Award Finalist for 2006. Keturah and Lord Death is a sort of Scheherezade meets Beauty and the Beast meets the Persephone myth, in which a young woman is forced to spin a new tale each night to keep her captor from killing her. In this version, her captor is, in fact, Death himself (hence the Persephone connection), and he actually lets her go on the condition that she will return the following night with the end of the tale. Should she be able to find her true love in that time, he will release her from her promise and Death will no longer stalk young Keturah.

The story is set in the rather charmingly vague village of Tide-by-Rood, located at the far edge of the country of Angleland. The setting exuded a sort of Canterbury Tales feel, while the townspeople reminded me of the denizens of a Hawthorne novel, everyone suspicious of everyone else and nobody with the guts to question the status quo or talk about the things that need talking about. In the course of trying to save herself from Lord Death and her village from the plague, Keturah steps up and speaks out in order to unite the villagers under a common cause. I liked the setting, the names, and the people. The world Martine Leavitt set up is full of dark shadows and possibilities.

It was about 100 pages when things started to pick up for me. It felt like Leavitt sort of found her stride at that point. The writing felt a little deeper, the pace a little more controlled. The thing is, the book is only 216 pages long and the halfway mark proved a little to late to really suck me in. I felt like I was reading the abridged version of a full-length work. It needed to be either 100 pages shorter or 200 pages longer. As is, it felt too abbreviated. I never could get a handle on Keturah or Lord Death. Neither one felt fully formed. They were both shadowy compositions and every time I tried to glimpse them clearly, they slipped behind a tree and out of sight. I really did want to get to know them better but never got the chance because the book was over, she'd made her choice, and I was left with just a taste of something that could have been delicious but now I'll never know.

Links
Bookshelves of Doom Review
Las Risas Review
New York Times Book Review
Reader Rabbit Review
Semicolon Review

Comments

  1. Keturah and Lord Death is a sort of Scheherezade meets Beauty and the Beast meets the Persephone myth, in which a young woman is forced to spin a new tale each night to keep her captor from killing her.

    This sounds wonderful and like a book I would love to read! But then...how disappointing that the rest of it couldn't quite deliver. I've seen this book around but I think I'll have to pass now. Thanks for the review!

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  2. You bet, Thea. I felt kind of glum upon finishing because the whole idea was so promising. I wanted to be captivated and I just wasn't. But, as always, your mileage may vary.

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  3. What a shame. I really loved this book. The distance you seem to be describing felt to me like a sort of "fairy tale" tone where you're always kept at arms' length from the characters. I found the language and the cadence mesmerizing. Also, I *really* liked Lord Death.

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  4. I know...I feel bad for not loving it. And Lord Death should have been right up my alley. Something just didn't click. *Sigh*

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  5. I picked this book up from the library a year or so ago, and I agree pretty closely with you. I enjoyed the novel, but it was missing something. It never quite grabbed me the way it should, despite the fabulous premise.

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  6. Hey, Liviana. Yes, I guess I feel like if it's going to be a novel length fairy tale, then I want to feel close to the characters by the time it's over.

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  7. I know you posted this nearly a month ago, but I just finished the book and I have to say I agree with you. I needed 200 more pages (or even 100!) to get me more attached to the characters. I loved the idea of the story, it just didn't pull me in like I wanted it to.

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  8. Great review!  I linked to it from mine.

    I disagree, though. I actually loved this book. I thought the writing was fantastic, and I was completely pulled in from page one. The ending threw me off a bit. I would never choose death. But as a fable, I think it works.

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