The big downside of being a reviewer is that, if you dig too far into a genre, you start judging books for what they could be instead of what they are. And this isn't necessarily a problem - there are books that are such a waste of potential, it's criminal - but for others, it's extremely easy to start nit-picking and before you know it, you're getting hung up over the small stuff and missing a great read.
"Keturah and Lord Death" is a story you need to take as is.
No, really. Stop thinking right now. Go gently - this is a book to be savoured.
Keturah Reeve is 16 years old when she gets lost into the forest. After wandering for three days without finding her way back to the village, she meets her death, and Lord Death is in a gracious mood. After he lets slip that the plague is coming, she strikes a deal with him - if he lets her live for one more day, and she finds and weds her true love in that time, he will let relinquish his claim on her soul. But if Keturah fails, she will come to him willingly and be his bride.
What follows is a beautiful tale of what it means to live and love, accompanied by some of the most gorgeous prose I have had the pleasure of reading in a long, long time.
"We all know Lord Death. Do I see him as you do? No. But it is closeness to him that imbues my stuffs with power. What is a love potion without the breath of him upon it? How can I make a healing drought without sensing from which direction he comes? One day you will understand, Keturah, that he infuses the very air we breathe with magic."
-p 52, Paperback edition
This isn't a very long story. In fact, it's the closest thing to a fairy tale that I have come across that hasn't been written 200 years ago. At only 210 pages (judging from my paperback) it's the kind of story that you can imagine being told around a fire (as the prologue suggests.)
The characters can seem a little flat, what with us meeting so many of them and having quite a few plot threads to wrap up, but there are enough details peppered throughout the narrative that make them just interesting enough - Gretta's pride, and Beatrice's selflessness, the Tailor and the Choirmaster and the young master John, everyone shows character in the scenes they are in, and every last bit of dialogue is meaningful. I'd go as far as saying that more books need to be like this - less faff, more meaning.
And it's not a random stylistic decision, either. Although Keturah manages to extend her extra time for three whole days, she goes about each knowing that it could be her last. The result is her running at a frantic pace, trying to save her village, help her friends and find her one true love, but instead of making the reader feel rushed, the pace just goes to add to the overall feeling of the book. It is literally following someone who knows Death is coming for her and trying to make the most of everything.
That's really the story's main point - it is not the love story (though I find it beautiful) nor is it the action (though there is enough of that) - but rather that we appreciate life most when we understand there is a finite number of days we have. (In the afterword, the author mentions that the book is, in part, a tribute to a loved one, so there is little surprise there.) This doesn't make you cry, but it makes you shiver a little, and afterwards, it is like everything else is a little bit brighter.
Also appears on the Lantern.