By Alma Katsu
Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books
The Taker appeared on my book radar a few months back and I won’t be shy in saying that I jumped at the chance to review this one. From what I read, it was creepy, indulgent, and worth a weekend spent huddled on the couch. I have to agree, Katsu tells one intriguing tale.
Lanore (Lanny) McIlvrae was born to poor farmers in the small town of St. Andrew in the farthest reaches of Maine. The love of her life, Jonathan, is the son of the town’s founder, Charles St. Andrew, and he stands to not only inherit his father’s place of honor but all the town’s burdens as well. Not thrilled with the prospect but refusing to turn from it, Jonathan — an extremely beautiful and desired person — copes by taking advantage of almost every woman in town, single and married. Lanny, while a good friend also longs to be on the receiving end of his love. She gets her wish and soon finds herself pregnant while desperately trying to keep her world from falling apart. On the day Lanny tells Jonathan she’s pregnant, he tells her he can’t be with her. Minutes later, Jonathan’s father announces his engagement breaking her heart twice in the same hour.
Knowing she cannot remain silent, Lanny tells her family. She’s promptly sent off to a convent in Boston to have the baby and redeem her soul. Wanting to keep the only tie she has left to her beloved Jonathan, she leaves the boat before the nuns can pick her up from the dock. On a dark residential street, lost and overwhelmed, she meets three individuals who offer her shelter and a warm meal while she figures out what to do. Drugged and used, she realizes soon there is no escape. Unfortunately, the world she fell into only grows more mysterious as time goes on. The longer she stays, the worse it gets. Lanny eventually becomes the courtesan of a man named Adair who shares a secret with her — he’s immortal and so is she now. What he wants in return for saving her and giving her eternal life is her beloved Jonathan.
The story alternates between Lanny’s past and the present while she tells, Luke, the emergency room doctor, what happened to her. Even though he doesn’t necessarily believe her story, the last thing her wants is for her to stop talking. When she convinces him to help her escape, you think it’s the worst move he can make but he sees it as the only way out of St. Andrews — away from his sad life, and a reason to live which he hasn’t been able to summon for some time. While the snippets of the present break the spell of Lanny’s tale, they’re a necessary part of the story not only serving to bring us back to reality but also Luke. The two cling to each other while running from small town cops. What they’re going through seems improbable and sometimes even stupid but it’s no match for the story Lanny tells. You want her to keep talking just as much as Luke does.
Lanny isn’t a character you feel sorry for even though what she’s been through is emotionally and physically tortuous. The reason you don’t feel sympathy is because you’re too caught up in the story. There’s something entrancing about her even if she doesn’t believe it to be true. She’s learned how to be manipulative; she had to in order to survive. But this stops you from feeling the same way Luke does for her. I like that. It isn’t something many authors can carry off — creating an alluring main character without making her completely likable. For a first time author, it’s a great feat and while not everyone will agree on how likable Lanny is, honestly it’s all personal preference here, she’s hardly innocent of anything and even she reminds you of that.
Enjoyable though the story is, you have to be comfortable with scant details about how Lanny came to be what she is and her explanation for exactly what she is. She’s immortal, but not a vampire. She’s strong and recovers quickly when injured but can die. I wanted more information here and Katsu does do a little distracting with the story itself by letting Lanny leave out some significant details from her tale. But since she’s telling her life story, you go with it. I did wonder why Luke didn’t press for details — it made me wonder what other powers Lanny conveniently left out of her story.
With one book, Katsu is now an author I will be waiting on. She tells a daring, harsh, and unapologetic tale with a main character that has you wrapped around her little finger until the very last word.