The Reckoning by Alma Katsu

Book Review
Title: The Reckoning
Author: Alma Katsu
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Release: June 2012
Pages: 352 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-4516-5180-5
Stars: 4.0

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu picks up where the first book in her supernatural, gothic trilogy, The Taker, ends.  Katsu describes The Taker as “a story about desire, obsession and the dark things we sometimes do for love.”  It’s also about the curse of immortality and the price paid by its victims.

I didn’t realize that The Taker was part of a trilogy when I read and reviewed it for Simon & Schuster Canada, but now that I’ve read the second book, I can’t wait for the final piece of this extraordinarily compelling puzzle which is currently known as The Descent.  This trilogy is a Twilight for adults (R-rated) although its main characters are not vampires.  While I found The Taker to be quite melancholy because of its focus on an unrequited love story, The Reckoning, is more visceral and suspenseful in the way it expresses Lanny’s terror in being reunited with her maker, Adair, which is her worst nightmare made manifest.

The Reckoning opens with main character, Lanore “Lanny” McIlvrae, a 200 year old immortal, living with her latest human lover, Dr. Luke Findley in London, England.  Lanny has just donated a collection of lost 19th century artifacts to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the featured treasure being a fan autographed to her by the poet, Lord Byron that had been given to her by the love her life: the astonishingly beautiful Jonathan St. Andrew.  We learn more about why Jonathan begged Lanny to release him from the chains of immortality, why she agreed, and the ultimate price she has to pay for her actions.

Near the end of The Taker, we discover that Lanny and Jonathan have sealed their maker, Adair (the Count cel Rau from Romania), in the walls of his Boston home, but two centuries later, the house is demolished and Adair is free to seek revenge on his imprisoners.  Only Lanny knows the horrors that Adair is capable of inflicting and she realizes that she can’t allow Luke to stay with her and continue to live as a fugitive when it’s only a matter of time before Adair catches up with them and unleashes his vengeance.  The narrative unfolds primarily between London and Boston with pit stops in ancient Venice, Casablanca, Marquette, Michigan, Maine, Barcelona, Pisa, Aspen, Colorado and Lake Garda, Italy as Lanny tries to keep as much distance as possible between herself and Adair.

Adair’s minions, the greedy Jude, the fiendish Tilde (who is exquisitely demonic!) and the deceptive Alejandro are back in this volume, and we meet two other immortals bound to Adair: the long-suffering Savva and his newest convert, Pendleton.  These secondary characters are integral to the story and are tremendously entertaining, but it is Adair who you will never forget.  He’s a 21st century Lestat, only far less charming and much more vicious.

The Reckoning is Adair’s story and it’s the tale of an immortal man who has existed for almost 1,000 years in a body that doesn’t belong to him. He’s a man who is so morally bankrupt and inherently evil that everyone who knows him fears him for the monster that he is.  What makes him truly captivating is that although Adair essentially still possesses a human soul, his is a soul who might just be the only soul in all creation who has never been loved.  This is the story of a soul whose battle is against his desire to change and his inability to overcome his intrinsic nature.

Could a person like that change?  I didn’t want to be uncharitable; I wanted to believe everyone is capable of change, of acting selflessly, of becoming a better person.  The longer we live, the more we understand and develop empathy for our fellow man, and are moved to change our selfish ways.  I would hate to meet the person who was forever inured to the misery of others.

Adair, who is well-practiced in the art of alchemy, is so powerful that not only is he capable of astral travel and lighting fires with his mind, but he can raise the dead.  And he just might have to spend all of eternity engaged in penitence for his sins.  Even though he’s a rapist and a murderer, Katsu writes him with such complexity and compassion that we can find empathy for him as he endures his own torture.

By the end of The Reckoning, we realize that Lanny, who on the outside appears as a kidnapping victim suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, is bound to Adair for eternity, no matter where she goes, what she does, or who she loves, and therein lies her fate.

I love a good paranormal mystery/romance and this trilogy by Alma Katsu will fit perfectly between my collection of Anne Rice, Clive Barker and Stephenie Meyer novels.  I see movies of these books being made and envision Rufus Sewell as Adair and Mia Wasilkowska as Lanny, but I can’t yet imagine what actor could be considered beautiful enough to play Jonathan.  Johnny Depp is unfortunately now too old for the part.

I feel privileged to have been able to read an advanced reader’s edition of The Reckoning and will be a die-hard fan of Katsu’s for as long as she continues to write.

The Taker by Alma Katsu

Book Review
Title: The Taker
Author: Alma Katsu
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Release: September 6, 2011
Pages: 440 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-9705-9
Stars: 3.5

I have to start by apologizing to the wonderful people at Simon & Schuster Canada who sent me an advanced reader’s copy of the supernatural, heartbreaking romance, The Taker by Alma Katsu, back in April of this year.  I thought for sure I would have it read and reviewed before now and I’ve actually read two books before this one that I still haven’t written reviews for because I’ve been so busy.  So while the story is still fresh in my mind, I will share my thoughts with you.

This story begins in the fictional small town of modern day St. Andrew, Maine.  A divorced and lonely surgeon named Dr. Luke Findley finds himself captivated by an extraordinary young woman who has been suspected of murdering an otherworldly beautiful young man, leaving his body to freeze in the woods.  She pleads with him to help her escape the authorities and after grabbing a scalpel in the hospital and slicing herself open – only to have the wound immediately knit together before Luke’s eyes – he knows he’s seeing something that must remain a secret and feels compelled to protect her at all costs.  Later we realize that Luke has nothing to lose.

The Taker is Alma Katsu’s debut novel and while it is certainly a page turner, it is so filled with melancholy that it leaves you feeling that way when you’re finished reading it.  The main character has been living for over 200 years and while she is tragically flawed she cannot find any joy in her immortality whatsoever. Throughout the story, Lanore “Lanny” McIlvrae, who is not a vampire, is subjected to almost every kind of pain, suffering and human degradation you can think of and we empathize with her but she is never able to find any pleasure in any of her actions or her sins.  I could imagine her voice as being soft, low and monotonous; her visage pretty, but hard and grim.

Lanore’s life is one of eternal unrequited love and betrayal that begins when she is a child in Maine Territory in 1809.  While she is on the run with Luke she tells him everything about her life up to the moment when they met so the novel morphs back and forth between history and present day.  This format works seamlessly and Katsu’s descriptions of 19th century Maine and Boston are excellent and well-researched.

The love of Lanore’s life is the unforgettably tall, dark and dazzling Jonathan St. Andrew, her best friend, who left almost every female who set eyes on him lovesick with lust and the desire to possess him.  As he grew from a boy of twelve to a young man in his 20s, Jonathan became the most gorgeous man anyone in the northeastern US had ever seen.  Unfortunately, he was also unable to remain faithful to any woman, not even his wife.

When Lanny, as Jonathan called her, becomes pregnant at 20 with his illegitimate child, her strict, puritanical father sends her away to Boston to have the baby in a convent but she decides before she gets there that she won’t let anyone take the baby away from her and escapes her charge to wander aimlessly through the streets of Boston alone.

It is then that the naïve girl meets part of the evil entourage of Adair, the Count cel Rau from Romania, who take her back to his mansion under the guise of inviting her along to a fancy party where she will have plenty to eat and drink.  She’s never seen anything so luxurious before and is overwhelmed by the temptations set before her.

Adair and his immortal minions, Donatello, Tilde, Alejandro and Uzra, live a life of complete debauchery and bacchanalia and that night he drugs and rapes Lanore without realizing that she’s pregnant.  This is the beginning of the end of her mortal life and her journey towards redemption.

As I don’t want to give away the specifics of Lanore’s catastrophic adventures with the malevolent Adair, which are as hideously mesmerizing as a train wreck, I’ll simply say that this is a story for adults.  This is no TwilightThe Taker borders on historical S&M erotica and horrific scenes are described in graphic detail.  Katsu’s writing is exceptionally good and Lanore, Jonathan and Adair are gripping characters who will leave most lovers of paranormal tales enthralled.  The secondary characters in Adair’s subplot are also interesting.  However, in comparison, Luke seems lackluster even though he serves an important purpose.

After such a tumultuous ride, I was disappointed in the sedate ending of The Taker.  However, for a debut novel, this is an above average read, and I would not hesitate to read more from Alma Katsu.

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

Breaking Dawn

Book Review
Title: Breaking Dawn
Author:  Stephenie Meyers
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Released: August 2, 2008
Pages: 768
ISBN 10 – 031606792X
ISBN 13 – 978-0316067928
Stars:  4.0

I read Stephenie Meyer’s mega-bestselling Twilight and New Moon last year, and then like millions of others, went to see the movie Twilight upon its release. It’s embarrassing to admit as a 45-year-old woman, but Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of Edward Cullen jammed my radar for days! He truly is supernaturally beautiful as Edward and Kristen Stewart’s uncomfortable, awkward, worried, and accident-prone but beautiful Isabella Swan is an equally perfect depiction of Meyer’s “Bella.”

The Twilight saga is a worldwide phenomenon (as of February 2009, over 28 million copies had been sold!) that made author Stephenie Meyer a superstar in her own right, and she deserves every bit of her success, as did J. K. Rowling before her. They have both created unforgettable characters that we care about so much that they feel like family, and their stories are set against the most magical backdrops imaginable. They transport us out of our dreary, mundane, mortal lives to a place where absolutely ANYTHING can happen and remind us why we have an imagination.

I completely understand the appeal of the Twilight series. A contemporary story (inspired by a dream) in which the writing flows effortlessly, the character development is superb, and the characters bring to life every human emotion imaginable; in particular, young love and its all-encompassing allure. This is not a vampire/horror novel in the archetypal sense (Meyer’s main vampire characters don’t feed on human blood and live in peace among the humans of Forks, Washington), it’s a romance inspired by classics like Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights. Anyone who is a fan of true love cannot help but be completely mesmerized by Bella and Edward’s story.

My favourites of Meyer’s books are Twilight and Breaking Dawn because I am more interested in Bella and Edward than I am in Jacob. New Moon just didn’t have enough Edward in it for my taste. I found the relationship turmoil between Jacob and Bella in Eclipse to be a bit overblown at times, and some of the dialogue between them was almost nauseating (I thought if Bella apologizes one more time, I’m going to scream!), but I understood its importance in the grand scheme of things. I just finished reading Eclipse and while I enjoyed it thoroughly, I couldn’t wait for what I was sure to discover in Breaking Dawn, and I picked it up right away and continued reading.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an hour-long discussion with my best friend’s 12-year-old son, Jacob, who is a huge fan of the books. Jacob is an exceptional child (whose favourite character is Jacob Black), and he had read all four books within a week! I was amazed that he could remember the story in vivid detail and quote the last line of Breaking Dawn word for word! I didn’t mind in the least that he confirmed the outcome for me before I read it. He told me that Breaking Dawn has at least six major surprises in it, and it does—even though I’d already guessed most of them, there was a big surprise I hadn’t considered! The book made me sigh heavily more than once. This is the epitome of fairy tales!

“A very, very small part of my head considered the interesting conundrum presented in this situation. I was never going to get tired, and neither was he. We didn’t have to catch our breath or rest or eat or even use the bathroom; we had no more mundane human needs. He had the most beautiful, perfect body in the world, and I had him all to myself, and it didn’t feel like I was ever going to find a point where I would think, Now I’ve had enough for one day. I was always going to want more. And the day was never going to end. So, in such a situation, how did we ever stop?

It didn’t bother me at all that I had no answer.”

See what I mean?

I languished over and savoured every chapter of Breaking Dawn, stretching it out for as long as I could. As an adult, I was quite disappointed with the scene in which Bella and Edward finally physically consummate their love as it translated to something you’d see on network television—a passionate kiss, followed by a fade to black, and the next morning the couple are in bed together with their clothes on and everything that happened between them is assumed. (I wasn’t surprised to discover that Meyer comes from a Mormon family.) However, the last few chapters were incredibly intense, suspenseful, and had me hanging onto every word. I won’t give away the story or its surprises, but I will say that its elemental themes are love (in all its forms) family, loyalty, and living in peace with tolerance for those who are different. If you’re a fan of vampire or werewolf/shapeshifter stories or simply a great, adventurous romance with a huge heart, this series is definitely for you.

Most members of the Cullen family are an integral part of the story: Carlisle, Rosalie, Jasper and particularly, Alice, who is my favourite character after Edward and Bella. Although Esme and Emmett didn’t play quite as large a part, you cannot imagine the Cullen family without them. Jacob’s steadfast loyalty, as well as the collective allegiance of his wolf pack (Seth is the most obvious), is equally important. The addition of many different vampire covens from all over the world in Breaking Dawn added to the intrigue of the tale, and the fear of their confrontation with the Volturi ancients was palpable.

There is plenty of room for more vampire and werewolf stories when this one concludes, and I know I will read every book that Stephenie Meyer writes. I didn’t want Breaking Dawn to end. Meyer says it’s the last book of the Twilight saga written from Bella’s perspective. She was working on Midnight Sun, which was to be Twilight from Edward’s perspective, but due to an unfortunate leak of a draft copy on the Internet, it remains to be seen whether the book will ever see the light of day. [Note: the book was published in 2020 and is available on Amazon.]

No matter what Stephenie Meyer chooses to write for her next book, it will undoubtedly be another bestseller. Although she admits she’s still an amateur writer in her mind, she should have a very long career in which to evolve into an expert.