This book came out when I was twelve and I remember seeing it in bookstores as well as the library for years after. Since then, it has been on my TBR. However, due to the fact that I have avoided like wildfire most teen books since I hit college, I did not read it. Until now. And wow…just wow…
Release date: November 28th, 2006
Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Keturah has always been a storyteller, weaving elaborate tales for her fellow villagers. But her life changes when she follows an infamous hart into the forest, only to get lost and await death. However, when he shows up, Lord Death is a handsome young man. Keturah begins to tell him a tale of true love, stopping the tale before the end. He agrees to let her live another day if she will tell him the rest of the tale the next day. So begins a dangerous game as Keturah treads the delicate line between life and death.
This book was not what I was expecting at all. I was expecting a shallow fantasy teen romance. Thus, my expectations were set realistically low. But let me just say that this book, while filled with elements of romance, was much of a philosophical examination of what is love and should we fear death. Let me explain.
In the beginning, we meet Keturah. She is beautiful and intelligent, but much more she is good. This is something I see lacking in a lot of modern teen books. The characters are usually truly horrible people. But we see very early on how Keturah strives for good, even if she fails sometimes. When Lord Death offers to let her live if she will pick one person in her village to die, she is horrified and refuses. When he tells her it will not matter because most people will be dying soon of plague, she attempts to stop the plague from rampaging through her town. She is the type of protagonist you can really get behind and support.
Lord Death himself is a fascinating character. He is an enigma within this book and we learn very little about him. Is he the only Death out there, or are there multiple Deaths around the world? Was he born or is he a ghost? He claims to want to take Keturah back to live with him, but where does he live? What are his powers? He seems to have almost godlike abilities, not just to collect souls but also to decide who lives and dies. In this sense, we learn very little about Lord Death.
However, and this is the main thing that I noticed throughout this book, the story could very well be taken literally as well as metaphorically. There are powerful themes that death always walks beside us. Is Lord Death real, or is he simply the personification of what we often fear most, which is death? I loved that this book had a double message in that.
While in essence it is a fairytale, like all good fairytales, it also has strong themes for the real world. How life is beautiful and should not be taken for granted, as it could be taken away any moment. Also, love is about sacrifice. It is made clear that love is not simply a feeling. Keturah loves everyone in the village and is willing to sacrifice her life for them.
So far, my review has been pretty glowing, though I will say I had a couple complaints (more of which I’ll cover in the spoiler section. The first and foremost is how little concrete information we learn about this world. I understand this is a fairytale, and most fairytales do not go into reasons for everything—things are simply there. However, this book was so vague at times that I felt frustrated. I talked briefly about Lord Death himself, but I also had a million questions about the rest of the world. Why can Keturah see Lord Death when no one else can? What happens to Keturah after the end? Etc.
But let’s get into the spoiler section before I give too much away about the ending.
For the record, concerning the ending, I knew she was going to die from the beginning of the book. But that did not help when I actually read the ending (I will admit I shed a tear or two). For those who have no plan to read this book, it ends with Keturah realizing she has always loved Lord Death and agreeing to marry him, thus leaving behind her mortal body. However, she does successfully save her entire town from the plague due to her pleading with Lord Death and the background characters end up happy.
The biggest question I had was what happens to Keturah now? She’s dead, so where does she go? The underworld? Hell? Not sure.
Also, this was one of the most confusing things to me. The book starts with a brief prologue in which Keturah is telling the villagers a story. That story turns out to be her own story with Lord Death. So how is she telling that story to them if she is already dead and gone from the village? In fact, the prologue makes no sense by the end.
But perhaps I am the type of reader that likes to know everything and I should just learn to suspend disbelief.
This book is extremely reminiscent to many books I loved during my pre-teen years. The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine. The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle. The Trouble With Kings by Sherwood Smith.
Because of its similarity, I couldn’t help but love this book. It would certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was mine. A very bitter, black tea, but still my cup of tea.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes in this book, said by Lord Death himself, “If untimely death came only to those who deserved that fate, Keturah, where would choice be? No one would do good for its own sake, but only to avoid an early demise. No one would speak out against evil because of his own courageous soul, but only to live another day. The right to choose is man’s great gift, but one thing is not his to choose—the time and means of death.”
Have you guys read this book? Does it sound interesting? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,