Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Taker by Alma Katsu

Title: The Taker
Author: Alma Katsu

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Maine / Historical / 19th century / Paranormal)
Publisher/Publication Date: Gallery (9/2011)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: One woman, two hundred sordid years, and one unending love.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril

Do I like the cover?: Yes, although I vastly prefer the UK cover. While neither exactly capture the novel's feel (to me), the UK version is sort of reminiscent of the tattoos some of the 'chosen' have.

I'm reminded of...: Karen Essex, Anne Rice, Cate Tiernan

First line: Goddamned freezing cold.

Do... I love the freebies the author offers on her website?: YES. Signed bookplates and bookmarks, plus a chance to Skype with her if you read this for a book club.

Did... I love reading about historical Maine and Boston?: YES. I'm a sucker for New England historicals!

Am... I going to get the second book in this series?: YES, I think so. The book's ending is a bit unsatisfactory, and I'm curious to see what Katsu decides to do next.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for post-summer fluff read relief.

Why did I get this book?: Supernatural + historical = win!

Review: This uneven first novel promises the start of an entertaining series for those who enjoy supernatural/paranormal historicals. Big, dramatic, and lurid, this novel tells the story of Lanny McIlvrae, a woman born in 19th century rural Maine, who still walks the Earth some two centuries later, tortured by her past. Alternating between now -- when she convinces the ER doctor to help her escape to Canada and then Paris -- and recounting her past -- how she ended up immortal -- the story features sex, violence, a hint of supernatural elements, and unrequited love.

This book felt very familiar to me in tone and plot (most notably Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and Cate Tiernan's Balefire books), especially with the story-within-a-story style Katsu employs. According to her website, she was particularly inspired by the Pinnochio story which can be seen in Lanny's developmental arc; but unfortunately, to me, the story just seemed a bit tired and 'done': the excesses and immoral decadence of the immortals, the fascination with beautiful people being immortalized, the desire to atone for one's centuries-long sins. Which is a shame because Katsu's writing is good and her heroine Lanny had promise. I greatly enjoyed the historical sections, following Lanny's adolescence in her repressive, small village, where she nurtured a one-side love for the town's rich, beautiful playboy. Her devotion to him leads to her downfall, of course, the slow eroding of her soul as she does what she can to remain his, in whatever form.

The contemporary portions of the novel rang most awkward and unrealistic; in a novel this size, I would have liked more time developing why this small town doc would give up everything to help Lanny. He's a flimsy foil for Lanny to tell her story; I'd much rather this have been her diaries or a letter although I suppose the doctor will feature in the next book.

I've seen a lot of reviews that describe this book as 'sexy' which I find baffling: certainly, there's a ton of sex in it, but it's often violent and/or non-consensual, which isn't my idea of hot. It is, however, dramatic and titillating and grotesque and entertaining, over-the-top escapism for the autumn, a beach read when it's too chilly for the beach.


  1. "a beach read when it is too chilly for the beach"

    What a great description! Enjoyed reading your review. Seems like you gave it a really fair assessment. I'm with you in that I wouldn't describe that kind of sex as "sexy". I think I'd be a little worried about the reviewer who thought so. LOL!

    Not sure if you plan on continuing the series, but if so I hope the story telling improves with the next one.

    Don't forget, if you haven't already done so, to link your R.I.P. reviews to the review website so other participants have a chance to stop by:


  2. Carl: thank you -- and thank you for stopping by for the personal welcome to the RIP challenge -- I appreciate it!

    I think I'll pick up the second book when it comes out -- and I might even reread this one in anticipation as I like to have things fresh in mind. This is a perfect autumn read and an excellent book for the challenge -- engrossing but not exhausting!

  3. Wow, just today and yesterday alone I've read such varied opinions about this book! I almost want to read it just to see where I fall on that spectrum, but some of the elements of this book aren't typical for me so I'm not sure I would really like it in the end.

  4. @Jenny: You might enjoy it then if you haven't read a lot of books like this as maybe the elements will seem more surprising and fresh. I just was disappointed because I so wanted to love this one!

  5. It is nice to have non-exhausting books to read. I don't mind something with complexity, but don't want to feel that I am working when reading for entertainment.

  6. @Carl: Exactly! It really seems the perfect transition book from summer to autumn and lots of bloggers really enjoyed it (more than I did, at least).

  7. I agree with your assessment of the modern storyline. It seemed sort of flat to me. I also felt that there was a lot going on in this book, and really enjoyed the historical sections the best. I don't think I found it sexy, but it was sexualized and titillating, which I found interesting and sometimes weird. I liked that aspect of it because of it's darkness. I was unhappy with the end because it felt sort of unsatisfying, but I will be reading the next installment!

  8. I'm one of those who didn't like this book! It certainly has inspired some polar views! I did meet the author at BEA and she was very very nice!

  9. I don't think I've seen this before but it sure sounds good. And I'm curious since it reminds you of Anne Rice.
    Have to put this on my wishlist.

  10. What, violent and non-consensual sex hot? What were those others thinking? Dunno if this book is for me

  11. I've heard some interesting things about this one, but I didn't realize it was the first in a series. Knowing the ending is unsatisfying and it's only the beginning makes me want to shy away from this one. Thanks!

  12. I think your review is great and this book sounds intriguing. I'm a total sucker for the New England setting, Maine, Boston etc, in historical fiction (or any fiction!). I'll admit that I'm not a fan of Ann Rice so that trips me up a bit. But you're the second book blogger whose taste in books I totally trust so I'm putting this one on my tbr list!

  13. Oh my goodness, that first line is awesome!

  14. I agree with carl. Great description about "beach read".
    THis book was talked about the first blogger convention and then finally got my copy this year at BEA. Looking forward to reading it.

  15. I agree with carl. Great description about "beach read".
    THis book was talked about the first blogger convention and then finally got my copy this year at BEA. Looking forward to reading it.

  16. I have only recently started hearing about this book and I can't tell if it is for me or not... Will have to see... Thanks for the review!

  17. I'm so bummed that my library doesn't have this one! I immediately wanted to read it after reading your post.