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Monday, June 20, 2011

Melissa Marr: "Graveminder"

Author: Melissa Marr
Title: Graveminder (Romantic Horror)
Ratings: V4; S3; H2
Publisher: HarperCollins (2011)

     This story takes the Orpheus myth and gives it an inventive twist. Instead of a musician rescuing his wife from the Underworld, we have an undertaker escorting his girlfriend to and from the land of the dead.     

THE PLOT: No one ever really leaves the small town of Claysville. Most folks are born, live, and are buried there, and those who move away nearly always come back before they die. In this creepy (but romantic) horror story, Byron Montgomery and Rebekkah Barrow both left Claysville for a few years, but both felt a compulsion to return. Byron recently came back to help his father in the family undertaking business, and early in the book, Beka comes home for her grandmother's funeral. Beka's grandmother, Maylene, was found dead in her kitchen, seemingly bitten and mauled by an animal, but strangely, the local sheriff doesn't plan to investigate the "accident." Whenever he thinks about it, he gets a migraine headache.  Byron and Beka ask a lot of questions, but get no answers from anyone as more bloody bodies accumulate, and a mysterious, hungry teenage girl roams the town. As it turns out, in Claysville the lands of the living and the dead are closely accessible to one another. Under the town lies a shadowy, dangerous land ruled by the arrogant Mr. D (aka Charles), master of the dead. It is up to Byron and Beka to return some hungry dead to their proper destination and to make peace with their new roles in life.   

THE LEAD CHARACTERS: Beka is the step-daughter of Maylene Barrow's son, so she isn't really Maylene's blood relative, but the two developed a close relationship over the years. Maylene frequently took Beka with her on her regular visits to the town's many cemeteries, where she sprinkled a mysterious liquid on the graves from a silver flask and whispered, "Sleep well, and stay where I put you." If you take that quote and match it up with the book's title, you can figure out what Maylene's role is. Maylene attends every funeral and makes the rounds of all the graves, over and over again. Beka believes that her grandmother does this out of the kindness of her heart, but when Beka returns to Claysville, she learns that Maylene's motivation has always been much more complex. If Maylene didn't mind the dead, they would rise againand be very hungry.

     Beka's relationship with Byron began when he was her sister's boyfriend back in high school. Although Beka and Byron were attracted to one another, he already had established a romantic relationship with Ella, so when Ella committed suicide shortly after she glimpsed Byron kissing Beka, Beka felt, and continues to feel, such a level of guilt that she has never been able form a relationship with Byron, even though they have always loved one another. Byron is determined to be a part of Beka's life, no matter how small that part may be.    

CRITIQUE:  Marr does a good job of building suspense, all the way to the end. She tells a gothic tale of a small town riddled with shocking, long-held secrets. Her lead characters are well developed, if a bit bland and humorless. Beka has so much guilt and angst built up inside her that she is almost painful to watch. At times, we're not sure that Byron will ever break down her walls. I'd love to have read more about Mr. D, particularly his relationship with Alicia, one of the former graveminders. The two of them are a much livelier and amusing pair than Byron and Bekaand kind of scary. 

     There is a rumor that Marr is in the process of writing a sequel, so perhaps we'll get more of the underworld story in the next book. In April, the book was optioned for a TV series. Click HERE to read more information about that from RT Book Reviews.

     Melissa Marr is the author of the WICKED LOVELY series of young adult novels: Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, Fragile Eternity, Radiant Shadows, and Darkest Mercy.

     On her website, Marr has a page entitled "The Graveminders and Their Undertakers," which provides a look into the past. Click HERE to go to that page.

     If you like stories about isolated small towns with serious supernatural problems, check out these two novels. Just click on the titles to go to my reviews:
           American Vampire, by Jennifer Armintrout
          Wild Ride, by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer


  1. Great review hon. I haven't read a book by Melissa Marr yet, but I hear great things about her writing. This sounds good even though romantic horror isn't my forte. But I like sweet and creepy LOL! Great review again, putting on my wishlist. Thank you :)

  2. The Host and Graveminder really showcased the ability of the authors to fluctuate between Teen and Adult. Actually I enjoyed Graveminder more than her Wicked Lovely series because of the content and dark plotline.

    The premise of the book is that there is a town called Claysville. Every citizen born in Claysville stays there, baring accidents and murders, grows to 80 healthily, oh and sometimes the dead come back as the Hungry Dead. It's this last weird trait of the town that causes the need for a Graveminder and an Undertaker. It's also what drives the story forward and is the cause of a great many problems. I won't rehash to plotline, but I will tell you that it is indeed convoluted, twisted and I absolutely love it. This is an adult novel, so you can't expect some of the more straightforward Young Adult/Teen plotlines. In Marr's new novel there are worlds within worlds, the Graveminder is half of the dead, half alive, the intricate ways Charles/Mr. D's own world works, then the shocker at the end that his is a new world and there were many others. I loved that I had to think through the book. I loved how the characters reacted. I really hope that Marr chooses to continue this story line, because frankly I really want to see more of the dead and Rebekkah's own struggle between her desire for life and death.