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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Review: Keturah & Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

You may have already guessed it, considering the way I talked about this book in my January Rewind, or the lovingly, eager way I read it to you, all bedtime story-like, a few days ago, but I sorta kinda loved this book.

It's a book that I know will stay with me for awhile; I found myself thinking about the characters for days after I'd finished reading, and wishing I could spend just a little more time with them. (But at the same time, not, because I think it ended just where it needed to; more would mar it.) A couple of years ago, I did a Book Chat vlog on "best first reads" — those books that you wish you could experience reading again for the first time, because there's something so special about coming to the story with a clean slate, and getting to know the characters and the happenings fresh — and I think if I had read this before I had that Chat, Keturah & Lord Death would have made the list. I can see myself being a little wistful for this book, and for the people who are getting to read it for the first time.

Now, that's not to say it's the most amazing thing I've ever read. It has its flaws, I'm sure (though it's looking pretty rosy in hindsight). It's more that, some books just capture something. Some books have characters or plots of styles that just worm their way right in and sit with you, and that's just the way it is. Keturah & Lord Death was one of those books for me, and whether it was because of its lovely folkloric feel, it's spin on the Scheherazade trope, or its intelligent, kind characters, I couldn't tell you. It's a very trim novel, almost spare, but it packs a lot of atmosphere into those pages. Keturah and Death have big personalities for such quiet people (Well. "People" being a relative term), and they're easy to care for within a matter of pages. There's also a soft but memorable style that permeates those pages, and together, it all works to make something subtly lovely. It's the type of story that shows that simplicity can be just as powerful — sometimes even more so — as anything flashy and gimmicky.

All that said, I don't think it'd be the right fit for everyone. It's sedate, even muted, and a little left of center, and there will always be readers for whom this type of story just doesn't work. It also does't have the type of resolution that every reader's going to want, both in the choices Keturah makes and in the idea of fatedness and self-fulfilling prophecies, and where I find things like that fascinating (if done well), others are often put off by this. Even for those who do sort of want it to come out the way it does, or who like these things as I do, it still is gray enough an outcome (if that makes sense) that some will probably feel conflicted. Where I like things that aren't black and white, and even prize a story that leaves me conflicted, and like I could be both happy and sad, both pleased with the way it ended, and pleased with the way it could have ended, etc., some readers are made uncomfortable and frustrated by those same things. But I have a strong affinity for the bittersweet... Not everyone will connect to Keturah's search for love, the choices she makes or the actions she takes, either — she's forcing things so hard, trying so hard to prove Death wrong so that she can live, that the reader can't help but spend much of the book wondering if she's going to make a terrible mistake.

So for some people, this book simply won't work. But very few unique stories have blanket appeal to all readers. But for those who find themselves drawn to stories like this — simply told, well-constructed, bittersweet — Keturah & Lord Death will probably prove a memorable and enjoyable one.  And it's one I'm positive I'll reread in the years to come.

Keturah & Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
Get It | Add It
Fantasy/Folklore, 216 pages
Published November 1st 2006 by Front Street Press
I will tell you a story of magic and love, of daring and death, and one to comfort your heart. It will be the truest story I have ever told. Now listen, and tell me if it is not so.

Martine Leavitt offers a spellbinding story, interweaving elements of classic fantasy and high romance. Keturah follows a legendary hart into the king's forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near. Little does she know that he is a young, handsome lord, melancholy and stern. Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and thereby gain a reprieve -- but only for twenty-four hours. She must find her one true love within that time, or all is lost. Keturah searches desperately while the village prepares for an unexpected visit from the king, and Keturah is thrust into a prominent role as mysterious happenings alarm her friends and neighbors. Lord Death's presence hovers over all until Keturah confronts him one last time in the harrowing climax.

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  1. I loved this book when I read it years ago, although I hate the new cover. I remember it being much different... :)

  2. Also, I think you should check out Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis.


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