Alma Katsu’s debut novel tells the story of a young girl, Lanny, who is brought into the hospital of St. Andrew, Maine and this is where she meets Dr. Luke. Dr. Luke is told to keep an eye on her, since she is suspect in a murder case and while Lanny admits to the crime, she pleas Luke to help her escape. In order to get him to help her, she tells him a tale more gripping and captivating than any fairytale.
She tells him about growing up in the town of St. Andrew, Maine in the year 1809, when she was but a young girl who fell in love the Jonathan St. Andrew, the son of the town’s founder. Rich and well-loved, Jonathan is the most beautiful person Lanny has ever seen. An unlikely friendship blooms between them, and then slowly a secret relationship. Lanny is told repeatedly by her parents that nothing will come out of her friendship with him, but Lanny still believes that Jonathan will return the love she has for him. Yet after an unfortunate series of events, Lanny is sent to Boston to get away from Jonathan.
Hungry and friendless, it is on the streets of Boston that she is rescued by a group of well-to-do men and women who take her the home of their master, Adair, who is Hungarian royalty. Before she knows it, Lanny becomes entangled in Adair’s snare and has to struggle to escape with both her life -and her heart- intact.
When I first heard of this book, I found the cover copy a bit vague and not exactly exciting. But when I read my friend Chelsey’s glowing review of it on her blog, I knew I had to read it.
Part historical novel, part supernatural romance, Lanny’s story is interwoven with her and Jonathan in present day. The first chapter was a bit slow-going, but when Lanny started telling her story to Luke, I was captivated. Katsu’s storytelling is beautiful and magical; the story reads like a fairytale and I ate up every bit of detail that Katsu researched and presented.
The world of The Taker was haunting and evocative. Set in Maine in the early 1800s, the setting was an additional character in the story, adding an extra layer of depth to Jonathan and Lanny’s relationship and their expectations of one another. I’m a big fan of historical novels, and this novel was exceptional in the old world that it presented. The particular setting of St. Andrew made me shiver, especially with Katsu’s constant reminders of its desolateness and loneliness.
The supernatural element of the story was unexpected, but was woven in expertly into the story. Part alchemy, part magic, it isn’t really fully explained how Adair and his minions have achieved eternal life, but there’s a dark undercurrent running throughout the story which makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It was creepy, especially to read late at night, but I still couldn’t stop.
Lanny is a complex character. She has sinned and has made certain decisions which continue to haunt her every day of her long life. She is driven by her love for Jonathan and her ultimate desire is to be with him, no matter the price she or he has to pay for it. She is selfish, but you still can’t help feel for her and want her to escape from Adair’s clutches.
And Adair? I don’t think I’ve quite read a character like him before. Adair too has a story for how he became the way he did, and it slowly works to make you sympathise with him, despite his unending cruelty towards Lanny and the rest of his minions. There is a secret to his success and his story, and it comes out of left-field, making you breathless when you realise what exactly has been going on all this time.
And it is then that you root for Lanny wholeheartedly to beat the villain and escape. Such a tale was even more enjoyable by Katsu’s flawless writing, her provocative descriptions of the cruelty and pain that Lanny experiences at the hands of Adair, the haunting setting of both Boston and St. Andrew, as well as the mysterious elements of eternal life, which is both a gift and a curse for those who enjoy it.
While I absolutely loved this book and could not stop reading, no matter how much I tried, it was not without faults. Chelsey, who recommended this book to me, did warn me so I wasn’t completely unprepared for the graphic scenes of rape and sex. But I was shocked at the cruelty and the torture present in these scenes, which made me cringe and wish I could close my eyes, like during a movie. But alas, I couldn’t close my eyes (or else I wouldn’t have been able to read the rest!) but instead gritted my teeth, and pushed through them. I do have to note that, while the sexual scenes were in abundance, there was always a purpose to them, as Chelsey rightly notes, in order to describe the cruelty to the world that Lanny was living in and the high stakes that were involved.
Another thing that niggled at me throughout the story was the relationship between Luke, the doctor who helps Lanny in present day, and Lanny. I know that he is the vehicle through which we get to hear Lanny’s story, but I didn’t enjoy their growing romance and even found it silly at times.
With that being said (whew!), I do highly recommend this book, with the warning that this is an adult book, so be prepared for the graphic aspects of it. Regardless of that, I enjoyed The Taker immensely and can’t wait for the next two in the series.
So for that, 4.5/5.
Thanks for reading.
‘Till next time,