The Taker by Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu’s The Taker has received a number of rave reviews and some unfavorable reviews, and it was recently listed in BookList’s Top 10 Debut books.

Lanore, “Lanny,” shows up in her northern Maine hometown covered in blood, and the police say that she has confessed to killing a man and leaving him in the frozen woods.  ER doctor, Luke Findley, becomes the recipient of a Gothic fairy tale that is more dark and sinister than full of fairy dust, unless that fairy is an evil alchemist and sodomite.

“The stranger had appeared suddenly, at the edge of the gathering that evening.  The first thing Adair noticed about him was that he was very old, practically a shrunken corpse leaning on his walking stick, and as he got closer, he looked older still.  His skin was papery and wrinkled, and dotted with age spots.  His eyes were coated with a milky film but nevertheless had a strange sharpness to them.  He had a thick head of snow white hair, so long that it trailed down his back in a plait.  But most notable were his clothes, which were of Romanian cut and made of costly fabrics.  Whoever he was, he was wealthy and, even though an old man, had no fear of stepping into a gypsy camp alone at night.”  (page 162)

The Taker is a story within a story, within a story, spanning from the dark ages through the present day, and Lanny claims to be immortal, but do not be mistaken into thinking she’s a vampire or werewolf.  She is neither.  Her unrequited love for the town pretty boy, Jonathan St. Andrew, is the main crux of the story and how it brings about her downfall that leads to her life as an immortal.  Katsu spoke recently at Novel Places about the book and revealed that the story of Pinocchio is the backbone of her novel, which is clear in how the desire to grow up and become a woman with her own life separate from her family propels Lanny to be easily led astray.  However, that is where the similarity ends.  Katsu’s novel is ripe with sodomy, rape, kidnapping, murder, and more, which is why it would be a perfectly dark book to read this season as Halloween approaches and is what would once have been considered horror (rather than the popular category of paranormal, which has a “lighter” tone to it).

Lanny tells her story to Luke in the present day, but a more effective approach would have been to have her merely tell her story to the reader.  As many know story framing or using one character as a plot device for another character to tell his/her story is bothersome if the character/plot device is not well developed.  While Luke does have a back story here, it fails to round out the character enough, leaving him flat and boring compared to the characters of Lanny and Adair.  Even Jonathan is little more than a caricature of the pretty boy of the town’s founders, and it would have served to have more of him and Lanny’s interactions in the book at the beginning of their “romance” to demonstrate their affection for one another.  However, being told from Lanny’s point of view, it is incredibly difficult to demonstrate Jonathan’s perspective on their relationship and oftentimes he comes off as a callous womanizer who is incapable of love.

With that said, however, Katsu is adept at time shifts within the story that keep the pace of the novel moving quickly.  Moreover, she creates a deeply atmospheric novel where readers are combing through the mist to grasp the truth of Lanny’s story and to unravel the mystery of her immortality.  Some have said this is a romance; it is not.  Most will debate who is “The Taker,” but there is certainly more than one, and it will depend on your personal perspective as to which you believe is the taker.  They all are takers in their own way — taking what love and affirmation they can, taking the loyalty of others by forcing their hands, and taking pleasure in the act of taking.  Readers who shun violence in books, particularly against women should steer clear.  Katsu’s The Taker is dark and decadent; an excellent debut novel for those looking to tantalize their darker senses with interminable consequences.

Stay tuned for the next two books in this series; I know I will be waiting on the edge of my seat. I’m always on the lookout for horror books, as I’ve grown tired of EMO vamps and werewolves.

For a chance to win my gently used ARC (which has a signed bookplate), please visit this post about Alma Katsu’s reading near me.  If you’re looking for another bonus entry, leave a comment on this review.

Alma Katsu (right) Me & Wiggles

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is a 30-year DC veteran who lives in two worlds: on one hand, she’s a novelist and author of The Taker (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). On the other hand, she was a senior intelligence analyst for CIA and NSA, and former expert in multilateral affairs.  Watch the book trailer or this one.


This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Katsu has worked in Washington, D.C., and now resides in Virginia.



This is my 61st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.


  1. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books says

    How fun that you (and Wiggles!) were able to meet the author. I’m not a huge fan (OK, I’m not a fan) of horror, but your review had me convinced I need to read THE TAKER.

    Alma Katsu will be in our town this weekend for a lit fest, but I’ll be out of town 🙁

    • It was fun. I think you should read it. Its a bummer that you will be out of town when Alma is there — a fellow New Englander by the way.

  2. I really want to try The Taker. I have heard both good and bad things about it and want to try it for myself. It sounds dark and different which appeals to me.

  3. I think I have entered every giveaway for this book! lol. It sounds terrific! Thank-you.

  4. Awwwww, love the picture of you and Wiggles. I’ve got this book to read and it really sounds like something I’m going to love. I’ve got to make some time for it.

    • Dar, I really liked this novel, and the reference to Edgar Allan Poe was wonderful for me, since I just love the darkness of Poe (especially for Halloween)

  5. Loved this book. I didn’t know much about it going in, which was the fun part. With every page I kept saying “what the hell?”. I loved that it was dark. I loved that it was multi-faceted. And the one big baddie scared me half to death. I’m still thinking about him, and worrying about what is going to happen once he is up and running.

    • I have the same thoughts about that “baddie” as you call him. I wonder what will happen to…there’s a bit of Edgar Allan Poe here (The Cask of Amontillado), which I adored!

  6. I’m not sure I want to read this; sounds a bit too dark and violent for me. But I’m glad you enjoyed it for the most part. It does sound like a good book for Halloween, and I must say I’m intrigued by the Pinocchio inspiration.

  7. I have seen the mixed reviews for this book but I still think it sounds thrilling! It does sounds bit dark but the premise has drawn me in. I really want to give this book a try.

  8. After reading your review I see that I’ve been confusing this book with something else. I swear another blogger said it was about werewolves and I immediately got turned off.

  9. I am really looking forward to reading this one! Great pic of the three of you!

  10. I am definitely interested in this book but also a bit skeptical at the same time! I guess I will have to read it for myself 🙂

  11. This is out of my comfort zone, but I love Alma, so I want to give it a try. I’m glad to see you enjoyed it so much!

  12. This is definitely darker than what I usually read, but the story within a story is appealing. It’s interesting that Pinocchio was the inspiration for this.

  13. Sounds like an interesting book! Love the photo! 🙂

  14. Definitely agree that there is more than one “taker” there! Love the photo!

    • There is more than one taker and I don’t really see this book as a romance…there is nothing romantic about it, except maybe lanny’s romantic view of the situation. I do like that it combines historic fiction with horror though…

  15. I didn’t think I’d like this one, but I did. It’s not my usual reading fare but it kept my interest throughout!

  16. This debut sounds terrific Serena. I love the photo of you , Wiggles and the author:

    • Thanks for checking out the review. I really enjoyed this one, but I’m not one for stories that are framed by one character telling their story to another.

  17. Wiggles!!!! (and pretty you!) All right. That’s what I wanted to say. Back to work.