Book Review: Keturah and Lord Death (or, When Death Gives You Lemons…)

I simultaneously felt bewitched and disturbed by this beautiful, dark fairytale. There is something there, some undercurrent in Keturah’s words and acceptance at the end, that stings a little. I cried reading the resolution, and though I knew where it was going — we usually know where fairytales will end — I was satisfied and devastated and happy-sad.

Like the lemons that become so central to the story, this book is bittersweet.

This is a the story of a girl who tells her own stories, lovely spellbinding stories that her village loves to hear. They crowd around the fire as she spins her yarns. Her face is as lovely as her tales, but she’s unaware of the effect she has on the men of the town. All Keturah wants from life is the kind of love her grandparents shared:

“When her grandparents sat together and Grabdmother was not spinning, the couple held hands. They talked together of all the big and small things of life and rarely disagreed. When they did, it became a thing of laughter. Sometimes they shared sadness, especially when they thought of their daughter, who had not lived to hold her own child.

They danced together at village dances; they prayed together at night before they slept, and then slept close…They drew the girl into their circle of uncommon love and established in her forever a desire to have such a thing for herself someday.”

Keturah’s mother died giving birth to her, and so little-d death has been her companion all her life. Little does she know, Lord Death the man has been there, too. He stood around the fire and heard her stories. He was in the room when her mother died, and by the bedsides of women her midwife grandmother could not save. Some part of Keturah has always known and perceived him, and Lord Death has followed her through her trials, seen her in ways no one else has.
So when Keturah finds herself lost in the forest and on the cusp of death, she knows on some level that she had the power to stay its Lord’s hand, for a little while.

Keturah bargains with Lord Death, like that old song: “O, Death, won’t you tide me over for another year?” But Keturah just wants enough time to fix some things, save some people, give some gifts, and say goodbye. Just a few days. She spins Death a yarn, and like so many times before, she captivates him. He grants her stay, and so the story begins.

The plot does just enough differently with the Death-and-the-maiden story, the writing is lyrical, the main character is nuanced and complicated but admirable, and even though the secondary characters are more familiar, one-dimensional caricatures, the story is short enough that this isn’t bothersome. This book takes place over a very short span of time, and is only just over 200 pages.

Keturah and Lord Death is a beautiful book, and I think it has really poignant themes about womanhood, life, death, friendship, and love. It is not a standard or simple romantic fantasy. I found it to be beautiful but I’m not sure I thought it was truly romantic in the light-hearted way some more traditional fairytales are. Love here is coupled with loss, and life is about compromise. I think there is a message about our love-dreams, and impossible expectations.

I recommend it to anyone who likes an original spin on the fairytale formula, and to anyone who values a story that reveals deep truths about life, its beauty and its brevity.

“At last I laid down my sadness, laid it on the forest floor, never to have it again.”

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