Monday, January 20, 2014

A girl's death-defying feats of courage

Keturah and Lord Death
I put Keturah and Lord Death on my Amazon wish list in 2007.  Every once in a while, I'd go through and clean up my wish list, but I never removed this book from it.  Maybe because of the beautiful title?  The very eye-catching cover?  The inference that the story just could not end well but would be a truly heart-rending, wonderful story nonetheless?  I'm not sure.

But today, I came across it on the library bookshelf.  And I read it in approximately two hours, straight through.  It took over six years for me to finally get around to it, but I'm glad I did.  While the book had some flaws in continuity and character development, those are petty standard for fairy tales and I enjoyed the lovely language Martine Leavitt used to share her story.

The story is a medieval Europe combination of folk tale and Arabian Nights.  Keturah is a beautiful teenager who gets lost in the woods one night.  Death come for her, but she pleads with him for one more day so that she can find her true love and warn her village of imminent danger.  She tells him a story, leaving him with a cliffhanger ending, promising to finish the story the next day.  He agrees.  She leaves and sets to her tasks.  The next night, he finds her and she again asks for another day as she has not yet found her love and the village is still in danger.  She continues the story, and leaves him with another cliffhanger.  He agrees to extend her life by one more day.  And so she goes home again, frantically looking for the love of her life and hoping to make life better for her friends.

I think it's pretty obvious how this story ends, given the title and the picture on the cover and the whole "give me time to find my one true love" thing.  It's annoying that it's not obvious to Keturah, especially as she seems so prescient in knowing where her friends' hearts belong but such is the way with such stories. 

What I really enjoyed about this book was the language.  The book is only about 200 pages long, so there is not a lot of extraneous anything.  I enjoyed the way Leavitt weaved in the Arabian Nights conceit of not quite ending a story and keeping the reader wanting more.  I also think the whole allegory of accepting Death and what it brings was quite lovely.  There are some wonderful conversations in this book, meditating on death and how it effects us, and about the sacrifices we must make in life.

I also am just in love with fairy tales and folk tales and I thoroughly enjoyed reading a book that was steeped in that tradition.  But with that tradition comes some difficulties - generally, flat characters who are described only as "beautiful" or "brave."  And that was certainly the case here.  Keturah is constantly described as being beautiful and we know that she is kind based on how she acts with her friends, but we don't know much else about her.  It's also a bit confusing as to how the prologue fits into the story, but I can't really get into that without spoilers.

Overall, I found this an enjoyable and engrossing read, though the characters were a bit flat.  It was a good book for a cold winter evening.

6 comments:

  1. I will add this to my wish list and one day might even read it. :)

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    1. Well, if it takes you six years to get around to it, I won't judge you ;-)

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  3. Grr. I wrote a nice long comment and my computer putzed out on the login process and I lost it. So, to recap...

    I loved this book! Okay, it had annoying bits which you might expect from any debut (that prologue was an epilogue! and seriously? the invention of lemon meringue pie?), but all in all I loved it. Especially in an age where every other YA book is about escaping death, getting resurrected, or turning into a god, coming across a book like this was awesome. I'm so glad you enjoyed it too!

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  4. I'll have to have a look for this, especially as it's short (it's caught my interest for now but I've a lot to read so 200 pages sounds good). As much as epic fairytales are nice sometimes it's good to read a predictable easy-going one.

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  5. That's my problem with a lot of fairytale retellings too. I want more from those characters!

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