11.25.2010

Keturah and Lord Death

My stumbled-upon discovery of Keturah and Lord Death is a prime example of why I appreciate online sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing. Without the suggestion that somehow worked its way into my line of sight, I might never have heard of this gem... and given its title, I certainly wouldn't have picked it up. The first thing you need to do is get over the title, which is dreadful, but once you get to the story itself, you'll be enchanted. Keturah and Lord Death is, essentially, a fairy tale. Written by Martine Leavitt, it opens with a narrator being begged to tell a fireside story that meets all manner of requirements... and so she tells them this, the truest story she's ever told.

Keturah is sixteen years old when she wanders into the woods near her town, following the white hart that the lord of the manor has hunted for many years. It was only curiosity the drove her on, until she realized she was hopelessly lost. After three days without food, water, or sleep, Keturah waits for Lord Death to come to her. He offers her the chance to trade another's life for her own, but she refuses, even when he insists it will hardly matter, as plague will soon decimate her town. Knowing she must somehow save her people, Keturah tells Lord Death a story... a story of a love so pure that it conquers even death. She refuses to tell him the ending unless he lets her live for another day. He agrees and goes one step further -- if during the course of the following day she can discover her true love, a love like that in the story, then he will not claim her life.

The story feels as though it was conjured directly from Grimm's Fairy Tales, where everything has a slightly spooky and yet fascinating air. The added romance element tugs at your heart-strings, yet Leavitt still manages to make this a story about true love where there is still an element of choice. There's also the acknowledgment that one person's happy ending might leave some very broken hearts in its wake. Keturah is a strong heroine, struggling to learn her own desires and help decipher the wishes of those around her while she still has time to help them with their own futures and dreams. Her focus might be on saving the town from the potential plague, but she occasionally trips up in her desire to save herself... terribly human qualities that show she is not some infallible creature, but only one who means well and perhaps has a greater perception of what it means to have life.

The thing that keeps me from giving this book five stars is the fact that I wish Keturah had been able to do a little more on her own when it came to dealing with Lord Death, whether that was manifested in wit beyond her one trick of delaying a story's end, or determining a way to trick Death out of giving up one more thing through a bet or chance. Keturah relied heavily on asking Death for things to add in to their bargains and it would have been nice for there to be a bit more agency on her behalf. She managed to speak up and revitalize the town, but in the end, everything had to bow to Death. The story was suffused with a light eerie quality (so those who dislike spooky stories need not fear this one) and I appreciated the ending, which doesn't tie things with a neat ribbon and yet still leaves one quite satisfied. Keturah and Lord Death is an incredibly fast read, and yet I am immensely grateful that this lovely tale crossed my path.

3 comments:

Paroma said...

It's probably wrong of me, but having read the synopsis and reviews, I really want to rush and get hold of the book with only one thing holding me back- does it at least have some thing of a happy ending? Somehow, I can't seem to make myself pick it up unless I know that I have a good ending to look forward to. So, will you tell me? Please?

scatteredpaper said...

Just to satisfy your need to know -- yes, there is a good ending. Sort of. Let's just say it's a very fitting ending and it ends well, even if that definition of "well" isn't necessarily traditional.

Paroma said...

Ah, well. (sighing)
But at least now I can read the book! Yea! (grinning)