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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alma Katsu has a BA in Writing from Brandeis University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins Writing Program. The Taker is her debut novel.
PLOT SUMMARY: On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting another quiet evening of frostbite and the occasional domestic dispute. But the minute Lanore McIlvrae—Lanny—walks into his ER, she changes his life forever. A mysterious woman with a past and plenty of dark secrets, Lanny is unlike anyone Luke has ever met. He is inexplicably drawn to her . . . despite the fact that she is a murder suspect with a police escort. And as she begins to tell her story, a story of enduring love and consummate betrayal that transcends time and mortality, Luke finds himself utterly captivated.
Her impassioned account begins at the turn of the nineteenth century in the same small town of St. Andrew, Maine, back when it was a Puritan settlement. Consumed as a child by her love for the son of the town's founder, Lanny will do anything to be with him forever. But the price she pays is steep—an immortal bond that chains her to a terrible fate for all eternity. And now, two centuries later, the key to her healing and her salvation lies with Dr. Luke Findley.
Part historical novel, part supernatural page-turner, The Taker is an unforgettable tale about the power of unrequited love not only to elevate and sustain, but also to blind and ultimately destroy, and how each of us is responsible for finding our own path to redemption...
FORMAT/INFO: The Taker is 448 pages long divided over four Parts and fifty chapters. Narration switches between Luke Findley’s third-person POV set in the present day, and Lanore McIlvrae’s first-person story which is set in the past and comprises most of the novel. From chapter nineteen through the end of chapter twenty-four, the book features a third-person narrative from Adair. The Taker is largely self-contained, coming to a satisfying conclusion that wraps up the novel’s major plotlines, but two sequels have been contracted. September 6, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Taker via Gallery. The UK edition (see below) was published on April 14, 2011 via Century / Random House UK.
The Taker opens in the present day with Dr. Luke Findley—a divorced father of two girls—asked to examine a young woman accused of murder. This woman, Lanore McIlvrae, reveals her secret to Luke in hopes of convincing the doctor to help her escape. Intrigued by the woman, Luke agrees to hear her story, thus establishing the novel’s central premise. As far as opening chapters go, The Taker’s is not very compelling. Luke is a dull, unsympathetic character; his third-person narrative is dry and awkward; and Lanore’s ‘secret’ is hardly a surprise since it is already revealed in the cover blurb. Because of these factors, The Taker completely failed to capture my interest. However, I decided to press on a little further and was rewarded for my perseverance.
After the opening chapter, The Taker switches to a first-person narrative as Lanore begins relating her extraordinary tale to Luke. This tale commences in the year 1809, introducing readers to Jonathan St. Andrew—Lanore’s one true love and the man she is accused of killing. From here, The Taker continues switching between Lanore’s first-person story set in the past, and Luke’s third-person narrative which occurs in the present day as the two of them try to escape from the law. Thankfully, despite the parallel storylines, the novel is mainly comprised of Lanore’s tale. Compared to Luke’s third-person narration, Lanore’s narrative is much more compelling. In fact, it almost seemed like two different people had written the book. Where the third-person narrative is dry and awkward, the chapters told in the first-person are elegant, accessible, and strikingly heartfelt:
“You might ask if I loved Jonathan for his beauty, and I would answer: that is a pointless question, for his great, uncommon beauty was an irreducible part of the whole. It gave him his quiet confidence—which some might have called aloof arrogance—and his easy, disarming way with the fairer sex. And if his beauty drew my eye from the first, I’ll not apologize for it, nor will I apologize for my desire to claim Jonathan for my own. To behold such beauty is to wish to possess it; it’s desire that drives every collector. And I was hardly alone. Nearly every person who came to know Jonathan tried to possess him. This was his curse, and the curse of every person who loved him. But it was like being in love with the sun: brilliant and intoxicating to be near, but impossible to keep to oneself. It was hopeless to love him and yet it was hopeless not to.”
Once I got past the novel’s opening chapter, The Taker became hard to put down. Lanore’s powerful love for Jonathan and the relationship that develops between them; Jonathan’s sexual escapades; the authentic portrayal of Puritan life with all of its propriety, religious beliefs and restrictions against women; and the heartbreaking events surrounding Lanore’s fall from grace . . . it’s very compelling stuff. Unfortunately, after Lanore was exiled to Boston in the year 1817, I became bored with the novel and almost gave up on The Taker a second time. Part of what attracted me to The Taker in the first place was the novel’s claim to be part “supernatural page-turner”. Yet, with over a third of the novel finished, where were all of the supernatural elements? After taking a break to read a different book, I decided to give The Taker one more chance. Once again, I was rewarded.
Shortly after the 150-page mark, Lanore undergoes her ‘change’ at the hands of Adair, a mysterious European noble she fell in with upon her arrival in Boston. Following this event, readers are graced with Adair’s story, which is nearly sixty pages long and narrated in the third-person. Taking place in the 1300s (A.D.) in Hungarian/Romanian territory, Adair’s tale is a fascinating one, chronicling the former peasant’s years as an apprentice to Ivor cel Rau, a physic/alchemist of noble Romanian birth. This includes the rape and abuse suffered at the physic’s hands, uncovering Ivor cel Rau’s dark secrets, and executing a devious plan to free Adair from the physic’s grasp.
At the story’s conclusion, Lanore’s narrative takes over with Lanore adjusting to her new abilities and her new life in Boston as a member of Adair’s court. A life quite different from her days as a Puritan, full of luxury, decadence and seduction, which reminded me a little bit of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel novels. From here, the action shifts back to St. Andrew where Lanore tries to convince Jonathan to become like ‘her’, and then back to Boston where the endgame between Lanore and Adair plays out. Completing Lanore’s tale are the recent events between her and Jonathan, which directly lead to Lanore’s current predicament with Luke. The outcome between Lanore and Jonathan—and between Luke and Lanore—is never in question, but reaching these outcomes is a fascinating journey all the same.
Even though The Taker can be a bit predictable at times, the novel boasts a couple of very nice surprises, especially regarding the book’s supernatural elements. Because of comparisons to such novels as Interview with the Vampire, The Passage and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, a reader might assume there are vampires in The Taker. I know I did. That’s not the case however. Adair, Lanore, and the others may possess abilities similar to vampirism, but the differences are unique enough to be refreshing:
“We sleep and wake, eat and drink, go through our day like any other human being. The only difference is that another person might ponder, from time to time, which day will be his last. But you and I, our days will never end. We go on, bearing witness to everything around us.”
Negatively, I already mentioned the problems I had with the opening chapter and the supernatural elements taking too long before making their presence felt. In addition to these drawbacks, I also had issues with the shallow characterization of anyone not named Lanore, Jonathan or Adair; failing to flesh out the unique bond that Adair maintains with those of his court; and 160 years of Lanore’s life reduced to a few paragraphs. Fortunately, Alma Katsu is contracted for at least two sequels to The Taker, so it’s very possible that these issues with Lanore’s history and unexplained abilities will get resolved, although I’m not quite sure how the sequels will work without Jonathan in them.
CONCLUSION: Starting out, I had a difficult time with Alma Katsu’s The Taker, nearly giving up on the book at two separate occasions. Fortunately, once I got past the opening chapter and the supernatural elements kicked in, The Taker became nearly impossible to put down. It’s easy to see why. Take away the novel’s negative issues and what is left? How about a beautifully written, heartfelt narrative; compelling, unforgettable characters; and a mesmerizing blend of history, romance, and the supernatural. In the end, even with its flaws, The Taker is a captivating novel and one of the better debuts of the year...