Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

This is the cover I have

I will tell you a story of magic and love, of daring and death, and one to comfort your heart. It will be the truest story I have ever told. Now listen, and tell me if it is not so.
Keturah follows a legendary hart deep into the forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near--and learns then that death is a young lord, melancholy and stern. Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and gain a reprieve--but he grants her only a day, and within that day she must find true love. Martine Leavitt offers a spellbinding story, interweaving elements of classic fantasy and romance.

When two authors, renowned for their world-building and mad storytelling skills tell you over cocktails: "You have to read this book, it is gorgeous" you sort of have to listen.

I did.  The two authors in question who spoke eloquently and beautifully about the magic contained in Keturah and Lord Death are Kaz Mahoney and Tessa Gratton.  Now these are two writers whose work I enjoy reading, whose careers are built on solid storytelling and research.  So I trusted them when they told me these things about this book I've never heard anything of.  And I wasn't disappointed.

Buying in Keturah and Lord Death I was struck by the beautiful cover - a bit Goth, a bit fantasy, a bit...everything I like basically.  I was told it would read like a fairy tale, or a fable, and that it would seem like an older story, retold, but it's not. It is all the hand-crafted wordsmithing by Marine Leavitt.

And the girls were right.  The story held strains of something...I couldn't quite put my finger on.  There was a European-ness to the story that's not something I get to read very often, not unless I'm reading Cat Valente's books. And to be fair, the story does hold faint echoes of Scheherazade putting off her execution by telling cliff-hanger endings to each story which is what Keturah does too, to Lord Death to prevent him from taking her that first night.

As her own death grows eminent, Keturah looks around her small village and realises how much humanity and beauty there is contained within the hearts and souls of her friends and neighbours.  Not all of them are lovely, some are quite sharp and odd towards her as the story progresses but we know come to know why and it's told beautifully.  She does everything within her power to keep them safe, even if it means being seen as a peculiar young woman, a witch, an undesirable person.

In an attempt to stave off becoming Death's bride, Keturah desperately tries to find her one true love but in her quest, she becomes a catalyst for bigger things within the village which in turn has larger repercussions in the grander scheme of things. 

The story is told from Keturah's point of view and it is wonderfully written using beautiful haunting language that has echoes of melancholy fraying the edges of the story.

We know how the story ends, but it's how Keturah makes her decision ultimately, that is the story here, what drives her to do what she does and how her friends and villagers react and how she makes peace within herself - a genuinely strong piece of character driven development which had me in tears.

It's rare to find a novel aimed at the YA market that, when you look at it, is very self-contained, set within it's own world so completely, that you are only peripherally aware of the greater world outside of it that's alluded to.

The author's writing reminded me of Malinda Lo's in Huntress (also Ash, but more in Huntress) and Cat Valente's beautiful prose in her The Orphan's Tales novels and also Deathless.  This is a book you pick and read for the atmosphere and sadness and heartache and beauty - it took me a few days to pull away from it, and it haunts me still, several weeks after I've read it.  Like Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey,  Keturah and Lord Death will stay with you, for a long time after you've put it down.

This is another cover - still lovely but not as lovely as mine. 
As Ms. Leavitt doesn't have an active website at the moment, I'm instead linking to a great interview Cynthia Leitich Smith did with her over at her blog about her writing etc.

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