Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Taker by Alma Katsu

~ Review by Jan
book jacketI will begin this review by pointing out that this isn’t the usual genre I like to read but the story called to me on a personal level because of the northern Maine setting.  It comes with a Booklist starred review, and Katsu’s writing has been compared to early Anne Rice---and after finishing The Taker, I will add that she is worthy of all those impressive accolades.   If I had to catogorize this book, I would say it leans toward literary fiction with paranormal/horror elements.  Traditionally, as all of our book group members are aware, I am not usually a literary fiction or horror reader, but there are ALWAYS exceptions, and this book is one of them.  It is a story of obsessive love---but I wouldn't call it a romance.  There are graphic elements with sexual content that are more abusive than sensual---which is why I believe other reviewers have added the horror genre label.  The paranormal elements are alchemy and immortality and shouldn't discourage readers who are not drawn to the fantasy/horror genre.  Personally, I would say it is a story of survival, beautifully written, yet sad and emotionally haunting, with historical aspects of Aroostook County Maine that I will touch on again after a brief description of the story…

The Taker begins in present day Maine, in a fictitious town of St. Andrew (it felt like New Sweden to me, just north of Limestone and Caribou) in the point of view of an emergency room doctor named Luke.  A young woman, Lanny, is brought into the hospital for care, under the guard of authorities for killing a man.  Luke soon learns there is more to Lanny when she cuts herself in a demonstration of her immortality, healing instantly and convincing Luke to help her escape.   During their escape, Lanny tells her sad story of unrequited love for Jonathan, the man she once made immortal and then murdered in an act of mercy.  Her story begins in early 1800’s in the town of St. Andrew as a young girl enamored with the town’s golden son, Jonathan St. Andrew.  Lanny and Jonathan become unlikely friends, a farmer’s daughter and a business owner’s son; most of the townspeople rely on the industry owned by the St. Andrew family.  Jonathan values Lanny’s friendship but never offers her love beyond a physical nature.   Lanny becomes pregnant with his child.  Fearing his father’s response, Jonathan doesn’t offer her marriage.  Instead, on the day she tells him of her pregnancy his engagement is announced to another young girl of his family’s choosing, which Jonathan accepts.  Lanny is sent by her father to a convent in Boston to have her child. 
It is in Boston where she meets the immortals and their leader, Adair.  Adair is a sexually sadistic alchemist.  Using the ancient art of dark alchemy, he creates his pack of immortals to serve his needs; disloyalty is met with sexual punishment or death.   Lanny, starving, alone, pregnant and forsaken by her family and the father or her child, is taken to Adair where she is drugged and raped to the point of death.   Recognizing a fellow survivor as she fights for life, Adair brings Lanny into his troop of immortal servants, where, in his own demented way, he favors her above the others. 
… I will end my story description there as not to give away too many spoilers, only adding that Lanny will be forced to go back for Jonathan at Adair’s request.   Her love for Jonathan will guide her choices and eventually motivate her to disable Adair and his power over the troop of immortals.  The saddest part of this story is that Jonathan never truly returns Lanny’s love, and she is so deserving of it, which is why I will call this a story of human survival, and also why I feel it leans toward literary fiction.  The graphic elements are not overly described, but rather told and left to the reader’s imagination, which many times can lead to worse assumptions of events--or perhaps that's my own dark imagination at work.  The Taker concentrates on human choices and the consequences of those choices on the people we love, which is more realistic than a novel with a predictable happy ending, because humanity is imperfect, and love is rarely a journey without some sadness or emotional pain--- although this one is definitely more brutal than most.              
I cannot end this review without touching on the historical Maine elements of The Taker and Katsu’s writing style, because while her story is quite dark and sad, it is also well written, which is probably why she is getting comparisons to Anne Rice, though I need to add that Katsu has her own very unique voice.  A majority of the story is set in Aroostook County Maine, both in present time and in the early 1800’s.  When in present time, the author writes in present tense, and while retelling Lanny’s story in the 1800’s, she writes in past tense; it is a very powerful writing style that fully immersed me into Lanny’s perspective. 
Finally, I just want to add that this author reached out to me in an email { read her email } suggesting her book for our group, totally unaware that I grew up on a farm in Aroostook County Maine on the border of Canada.  It was a unique gift to read a work of paranormal fiction of this high caliber, built on an environment I am personally familiar with.  There were scenes, simple sentences scattered throughout, describing a brush of snow in the air, or church gatherings, or a cluster of trees in a field, or winter confinement that literally gave me remembrance goose bumps.    Her historical recreation of northern Maine was eerie in its believability, and strengthened the paranormal elements of her story.  
This was not a light read, but deeply thought provoking.  Again, there are graphic elements--- but we are an “edgy and uncensored” book group and I think our ladies can handle it.  If chosen, it would make an interesting book group discussion.  The Taker has been added to our online vote once again, which should be ready to go on Monday, and purchased for our red Nooks.
As always, hope to see you in our library someday soon,


  1. Jan, Thank you for the wonderful, wonderful review. It was especially gratifying to hear that the Aroostook County of Lanny's childhood stands up to the real thing. I've been worried that the book might not set right with the folks from the area where the fictional town is set, so your validation takes a huge load off my mind.

  2. You're very welcome. I finished The Taker a few days ago and I'm still thinking about your characters. I hope Lanny revisits her past in Maine in your next installment but I have a feeling she might be running from an unearthed Adair in exotic places around the world! :0)

  3. Anonymous NYOBG MemberMarch 8, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    What an excellent review, Jan! I know this book isn't in your typical "style", so it's great to see that you gave it a try and liked it so much. Although the story isn't the same, your analysis of it seemed to parallel A Taste of Blood Wine, and you know how I feel about that book.

    The Taker concentrates on human choices and the consequences of those choices on the people we love, which is more realistic than a novel with a predictable happy ending, because humanity is imperfect, and love is rarely a journey without some sadness or emotional pain

    Exactly! Perfectly said, and that's what piques my interest. I have one of the red Nooks, so I'm going to give this a look after I finish this month's reading.

  4. We so have to get you your own log-in, Ms. Anonymous NYOBG, because you always have such awesome comments! Aren't you proud of me for not reviewing another romance?? :o)

    The Taker is darker than A Taste of Blood Wine, but the writing is of the same caliber. For readers who like Freda Warrington I would not hesitate to recommend this author. However, this book is not for the easily offended reader, or one who wants that typical romance genre perfect hero. This story is about the heroine and her survival, and it's addicting. The historical Maine elements were so interesting to read. I can't wait for the next installment.

    On the red Nooks, and what I'm now lovingly referring to as "The Red Team"---there's been a few donations. Sue B. donated the rest of the Hunger Games trilogy, while I donated The French Gardener and Shades of Milk and Honey, a victorian fantasy reviewed on Kristen's Fantasy Book Cafe blog.

    I'm in the middle of The French Gardener, another out-of-my-happy-endings box read, and I'm really enjoying it! If you haven't done this already, go where there's a wireless internet connection---find "settings"--- then "wireless"---and wait for it to connect. The new donations should show up in your Nook library!

    See you next Thursday! :o)

  5. Anonymous NYOBG MemberMarch 10, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    Jan, I'm indeed very proud of you for expanding beyond your romance repertoire. And I'm looking forward to your full review of The French Gardener.

    Big thanks to you and Sue for your wonderful donations! I just got them, along with our April book picks, in "my" Nook library. It was tremendously exciting to see a batch of covers with the "New" banner waiting there. Even though they're not actually mine, I can't help feeling like I got a bunch of presents. It's just terrific.

    See you Thursday!
    --A happy Red Team member

  6. If you are quick (it closes on March 19th) you can enter a draw to receive a free copy of The Taker at Goodreads:

  7. Thanks, Sue, I will check that out!

  8. A blogger I follow has just published this review of The Taker: