My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

Title: My Soul to Keep
Author: Tananarive Due
Genre: Fiction / fantasy

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Goodreads | Powell’s

This was an absorbing and entertaining read. There was some great tension in there, and some creepy scenes were written to very good effect. It was highly readable. The story was good. Ms. Due is a skilled writer. Given all that, you might think my rating is kind of on the low side, and I agree.

I added it to my list after hearing comparisons to Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. While I think this book is more riveting, possibly even better written, and would probably provide a better experience for many readers, ultimately I did not like it as much. But then, I don’t think they were trying to do the same thing at all, so to compare them like that is probably unfair.

This book could have been amazing. As it is, it was still good. The characters, while fine characters who seemed believable, were not drawn in a compelling way. Not that they aren’t compelling characters, because I think they are (any character can be compelling), but the author didn’t really sell me on that point. I think what she was trying to do was also kind of lost in the rush of plot—after I finished it, I read a couple of reviewers say they appreciated how the author explored how a long life affects your ethics and morality—“ohhh, that’s what she was doing,” I said to myself. Why didn’t I see it before? I don’t know if it’s my shortcoming or hers but I do wish this theme, perhaps the most interesting one in the whole book, had been fleshed out a bit more.

One of the genres this is listed under at Goodreads is “vampires,” and although there are no pointy-fanged vampires in here, it does seem to be a twist on the vampire story. That poses a bit of a problem for me, since I’m not a big fan of vampire stories, especially ones involving romance, which this one does. Dracula, which I recently read, was kind of boring in parts and I would rather reread this book, but as far as “vampire” stories go, Dracula gets an edge because there’s none of that abusive idealized love stuff that makes me roll my eyes. While this book certainly handles that motif better than most, I still had some reservations. [WARNING: spoilers in the rest of this paragraph.] I actually thought that part was going really well right up until the last chapter. Your vampdude kills your child and basically ruins your life all for his selfishness, and after only a couple years, the thought of being bound by a promise to see him again fills your chest with comfort? And this ending, which I didn’t really like, does not square with the idea that a long life affects your ethics, because our female protagonist at this point has not had a long life yet, has not had to adjust to a new way of life after watching her whole family die and seeing even new friends fade away. She’s still completely within her normal lifespan and still young for a human. She hasn’t had centuries to watch people she loves turn to dust and thus come to her own organic understanding of Dawit’s mental frame, so this ready acceptance of the guy who killed your kid and turned you immortal without your consent… is crap, and it doesn’t square with the “long life affects your ethics” line. In order for the story to work for me, the author would have to make the point that this is some creepy twisted love stuff, and while she may have been trying to do that, it wasn’t actually all that clear to me. While it’s certainly not A Discovery of Witches-level of excusing abuse, I still felt like the ending might be heading toward a similar place.

Overall I enjoyed the book but there were some things that bothered me. At this point I have no interest in reading the rest of the series, but I am definitely interested in reading something else by the author. I like the way she writes a story, and I like how she does tension. I guess I just don’t like vampires.

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