In Alma Katsu’s The Taker, Luke Findley is a doctor working the emergency room in a hospital at the northernmost tip of Maine. More than anything he is hiding out from the world, trying to negotiate life in a small town, after the deaths of his father and (more recently) mother, failed marriage and the newly complicated relationships he now holds with his ex-wife and children. When Lanore McIlvrae, Lanny, enters the ER in police custody, a self-confessed murderess, Luke approaches treating her with caution. When she asks him to help her escape, he is entranced by the strange and haunting story she tells him concerning immortality, the beautiful man she loved, and the man who offers to bind them forever. Determined to hear the entirety of Lanny’s terrible tale, Luke finds he is willing to make many sacrifices to stay close to the diminutive Ms. McIlvrae.
As most readers can attest, it is near impossible to read a book in a vacuum. Books suffer (or sometimes amaze) in comparison to how much a reader enjoyed the book that came before it, the strength or lack thereof in the writing, and the reader’s mood. When I read The Taker, I was in a stage where I was a pretty finicky reader and definitely looking for some escapist literature. The Taker fit the bill, but definitely in ways that I didn’t imagine. Touted in some circles as a paranormal romance, The Taker is page-turning exploration of the darkest sides of love, offering themes of jealousy, obsession, revenge and the devastating consequences wrought by a huge and unrequited love. The fantastical elements in The Taker are strongly grounded in the reality of people, and how they behave when threatened, hurt, in love, rejected, or tempted by what they most want in life. What happens when the thing you want most in the world, the very thing you find impossible to deny yourself, comes at a terrible price? I was hooked.
Needless to say, The Taker is a dark and absorbing tale, with all the accompanying tenderness and violence of love where the stakes are very high. Lanny, Adair, Jonathan and the rest of their crew are the very definition of flawed and troubled beings, uniquely bestowed with enough time to really, really make a mess of things. Katsu’s lush writing brings these characters to life and makes them a fascinating lot to experience, though none of them are people I’d want to know personally. The rich history of Colonial-era Massachusetts is also faithfully rendered and readers, like me, who enjoy getting to know the intimate details of life in another time period, will enjoy the glimpse into the religious, political and economic factors that play such a crucial role in shaping Lanny’s environment and ultimately her choices. The Taker is an exciting and refreshing debut novel (and first in trilogy!) that lingers long after the last page has been eagerly turned. Highly Recommended.