Author: Alma Katsu
Series: THE TAKER TRILOGY
Plot Type: Gothic Romantic Horror
Ratings: Violence—4-5; Sensuality—4-5; Humor—1
Publisher and Titles: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)
The Taker (hardcover, CD audio, digital audio, e-book-9/2011; trade paperback-3/2012; mass market paperback-2/2013)
"The Devil's Scribe" (e-story-3/2012)
The Reckoning (hardcover, e-book, digital audio-6/2012; trade paperback-1/2013; mass market paperback-3/2013)
"The Witch Sisters" (e-story-1/2013)
The Descent (trade paperback, e-book, digital audio-1/2014) (FINAL)
Here, in a 2 1/2-page self-absorbed interior monologue, Lannie mulls over her problems with fidelity: "Some would say I should never have returned to Luke if this was how I felt about Adair, that it was wrong of me to go back to him if I had any doubts. But complete fidelity of the heart in a relationship is something that has always eluded me. I have often wondered how these people manage to live such straightforward lives, to keep their emotions so simple and tidy. Do they weed out life's complications as ruthlessly as they would weed a garden? Sometimes a weed turns into a beautiful flower or a helpful herb but you'll never know if you pull it too soon. Do they ever allow themselves regret for the things they've thrown away? I would ask these self-assured people which of us has the luxury of an iron-clad guarantee? Who can be 100 percent sure of one's choices in life? How do you know that your beloved will always remain the same, or that you'll never change your mind?" (p. 227) In other words, Lannie is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too kind of woman, one who keeps all of her options open at all times, no matter who gets hurt. It's as if she believes that she has a constitutional right to be fickle. I kept wanting to tell her to grow up and admit that no matter how she rationalizes it, she cheated on Luke by not committing totally to him. Later in the same scene, Luke confronts Lannie with the truth: "You never loved me the way you loved those two. You can admit it to me now. I won't hold it against you, but I'd rather die knowing the truth. Jonathan and Adair—they were always on your mind. I could tell." Lannie's response: "My cheeks flamed. I couldn't deny it." (p. 233) Later (same scene), she asks him, "Isn't it enough to be one of my great loves?" (p. 235) If this woman owned a cell phone, she'd be posting selfies on her Facebook page all day long, accompanied by whining comments about her (self-imposed) hard-knock life—what a self-centered egotist!
As the novel opens, Luke has died a painful, lingering death from cancer, and Lannie is at loose ends. The other two men in her life—Jonathan and Adair—are gone. Jonathan has been dead for four years by Lannie's own hand (the incident that kicked off the first novel), and Adair has disappeared. When Lannie begins having vivid nightmares about Jonathan being tortured in the Underworld, she tracks down Adair for assistance. Adair is living on a mysterious, isolated Mediterranean island in the company of two attractive young women—his current lovers. (They have connections with The Witch Sisters short story). The women add little to the plot and almost immediately become an annoying distraction from the story line.
Even though Adair has grave misgivings, he eventually agrees to send Lannie to the Underworld to help Jonathan. Lannie's Underworld adventure can be compared to Scrooge's time travel in A Christmas Carol as she steps through a series of doors into scenes from her past and, meeting people who played significant parts in her life. At various times, Lannie is also compared to fairy-tale heroines like Alice in Wonderland and Rapunzel. At one point she muses about her situation: "I'd been drawn into a fairy tale…one of those violent stories told to frighten children and make them behave. I was the prisoner of an evil queen....I had been locked away in an unassailable castle surrounded by a dark, impenetrable wood that was home to evil, ravening spirits." (p. 256)
In each of these scenes, she continues her series of overwrought interior monologues about the true meaning of love, musing about her feelings about each of her past love interests—Luke, Jonathan, and Adair—and wondering if it is possible for her to have loved all three at the same time. This section of the book moves alternately between chapters from Lannie's POV in the Underworld and Adair's POV as he stands guard over her human body in his island fortress. In Adair's chapters, he deals with his two troublesome (and tiresome) house guests and flashes back to his life as a budding young alchemist in 13th century Venice.
In the final two sections—entitled "Descent" and "Ascent"—we get the answers to questions that have remained unanswered throughout the series, primarily questions about Adair's origin and powers. Also answered is the question about which man Lannie will ultimately choose, although by this point, I didn't really care any more. The back-cover blurb attempts to stir up some suspense as to whom Lannie really loves, but from the beginning of this book, there is never any doubt about her choice.
The biggest problem in this book is the unbelievable turn-around in Adair's character. If you read book 1, you will remember Adair as a cruel, manipulative sociopath whose outrageous behavior drove Lannie to imprison him for centuries behind a brick cellar wall. Now, though, Adair behaves like a mellowed-out surfer dude. He lolls around with his two female guests, greets Lannie cordially and affectionately, and muses to himself about the deep feelings of love that he has for her. The total flip-flop in Adair's character from book one to book three is preposterous. He lived for a thousand years in his book-one persona (a wanton profligate). Then, in book two, he began to soften, allowing Lannie to go off with Luke. Now, in this book, he is a mere marshmallow of a man, wallowing in his love for Lannie and allowing himself to be put in dire danger for her sake, even though she is going off to rescue her former lover. I realize that one of Katsu's themes is the exploration of the meaning of love, but having a powerful man like Adair totally abandon a persona and a lifestyle that he has inhabited for 10 centuries for a shallow, fickle woman like Lannie is inconceivable to me.
According to Katsu's discussion questions (listed at the end of the book), one of her themes is the exploration of what happens after we die. Katsu explores this issue through the fates of Adair's former "Companions." Unfortunately, this is a flawed approach because on a sin-severity scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst transgressors), Adair's people are all 10s. That means that Katsu's analysis of the afterlife is slanted towards heavy-duty, long-term sinners, not toward the bulk of the world's population, who might take a wrong step or two (or three or four) but who, for the most part, would probably fall into a sin level of 4-6 (or even lower). Luke's fate is different from the fates of Lannie's other associates, presumably because he was never a part of Adair's group, although he did commit a number of egregious sins (like helping Lannie escape after she murdered Jonathan and abandoning his wife and children so that he could be with Lannie). My conclusion is that Katsu fails in her exploration of the afterlife because she doesn't include sinners who fall in the more populous levels of the scale—a group that comprises most of her readers.
If you have been reading the trilogy, you'll want to read this novel just to see how it all ends. You'll probably be disappointed with the much-publicized story line involving the Queen of the Underworld, who plays only a tiny part in this novel. The books are being marketed as a book-club discussion series, but I can't imagine that an analysis of these selfish, unlikable characters would generate a dialogue of any depth.
The series also follows a small band of immortals, all created and controlled by Count Adair, a mysterious Hungarian hedonist who indulges in over-the-top sexual escapades and controls his minions with alternating kindness and cruelty. Their powers include self-healing, strength, and speed. Although they live among mortals, they keep their powers hidden as they spend their time socializing and hosting orgies that lead to tragic results for any number of innocents.
NOVEL 1: The Taker
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The author uses two points of view in this book, with Lannie telling her story in the first person, and Luke's story and Adair's story in the third person. Verb tense is a bit muddled. Both Lannie's and Adair's stories are told in the past tense, but Luke's is told in the present tense, although when he thinks about past events, it shifts to the past tense. The use of the present tense feels awkward (e.g., Luke wakes...Luke knocks...He leads her...She looks over her shoulder) instead of the usual Luke woke up...Luke knocked...He led her...She looked over her shoulder). The lack of harmony in verb tense adds to the feeling of imbalance caused by the divergence in the story lines.
Lannie grew up in grim circumstances on a small farm in the Puritan settlement of St. Andrew, while Jonathan enjoyed a life of wealth and influence. In addition to being rich, Jonathan was also extremely handsome. Here's how Lannie describes him: "He'd grown tall, straight, and broad shouldered, as majestic as the trees on his property. His skin was as flawless as poured cream. He had straight black hair as glossy as a raven's wing and his eyes were dark and bottomless, like the deepest recess of the Allagash [River]. He was simply beautiful to look upon." (p. 22) When Lannie becomes pregnant with Jonathan's child, her family sends her off to Boston to await the birth, but she slips away and is caught up by Adair's entourage. When Adair forces Lannie to bring Jonathan into his fold, Lannie's blind love for Jonathan and her fears for his safety push her to take actions that change all of their lives forever.
I don't want to tell you much more about the plot for fear of spoiling it for you. Suffice it to say Lannie's enduring, and bewildering, love for the womanizing, thoughtless Jonathan causes her to make many reckless decisions, most of which land her in various levels of difficulty. But she never stops loving him, even though he makes it clear from the very beginning that he will never return her love.
The sex scenes—of which there are many—are not presented in graphic detail, but some involve gang rape, torture, humiliation, and extreme pain. None of them involve love in any way, shape, or form. The sad sex scenes between Lannie and Jonathan are painful to read because she keeps believing that their sexual union means that he loves her while he is obviously just using her as a means of easing his sexual frustrations. Click HERE to read the first chapter.
With the second installment of the series (the e-novella) revolving around Edgar Allan Poe, I guess that the author wants us to see this series as Poe-like, but Poe didn't just mix together a bunch of freaky profligates and let them do their thing. In the first place, Poe wrote short stories, not novels, because he believed that a literary work should be able to be read in a single sitting, and he disdained character development. The plots of his short stories are intricately devised, with all events tied to a single effect. If Poe had ever written a novel, it wouldn't be this one, with its lack of a single-focused plot and its emphasis on the joyless depravity and soulless pleasure-seeking of a group of libertines. This writing is not comparable to Poe in any way.
E-STORY: The Devil's Scribe