My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due has two sequels: The Living Blood and Blood Colony, respectively. The ending isn’t quite a cliffhanger but I wouldn’t call it a complete ending, either, since it is very clear that there is a lot more of the story left to be told. It’s often classified as horror, but I thought it was more contemporary dark fantasy/suspense than horror. Also, I’ve often seen it labeled as a vampire story and it really is not – or if it is, it is a retelling that is drastically different. Although it does contain some humans who achieve immortality through a ritual involving an injection of blood, they are not nocturnal, nor do they have fangs, suck blood, turn into bats, sleep in a coffin or even so much as sparkle in the sunlight like a wussy imitation vampire.
Note: I’m not really sure how to write this review without giving away what may be considered spoilers. The excerpt from the book on Due’s site is actually the part of the book that mentions the part I am worried about, so I don’t think it was supposed to be a shocking revelation, especially since I thought it seemed pretty obvious where this was going from the opening pages. It’s also confirmed so there can be no doubts about 15% of the way in, but just in case, I’m adding a warning.
Jessica couldn’t ask for anything more from her life – she has a doting husband dubbed “Mr. Perfect” by a coworker for his attentiveness, an adorable 5-year-old daughter, and her dream career as a reporter. Her husband stays home with their daughter most of the time, which enables her to work long hours at her job as a journalist. She has been working on an article about poor care in nursing homes, and her friend and coworker Peter obtained a book deal for the two of them based on this story. They are pursuing information on a particularly nasty case involving an 80-year-old woman who was smothered to death one night while most of the staff was out due to a storm. Unfortunately, her husband comes across the files one night when he’s waiting for her at the office with some dinner – and immediately throws them out since they threaten to unveil his secret.
Unknown to Jessica, her husband David is about 500 years old despite the fact that he appears to be no more than 30 years old. He and several other men underwent a ritual in which they died in order to come back to life again – forever. These “Life Brothers” always heal and even come back from the dead if they are killed. They have sworn to protect their origins no matter what the cost and most of them spend their lives studying. However, David ended up falling in love with a mortal woman and is torn between protecting his mysterious identity and his family.
My Soul to Keep had two major strengths: it made me care about Jessica and her family while keeping me on the edge of my seat for almost the entire book. There was a good mixture of character interactions in between suspenseful moments that made me want to find out if Jessica would ever find out her husband’s secret. There are quite a few sections dealing with David’s past from how he became immortal to some time he spent as a slave in the South to his experiences as a musician in the 1920s. Because of this, the reader knows far more about Jessica’s husband and his mysterious life than she does, and there’s a lot of tension that builds up about when/if she finds out and what exactly she discovers, if so.
Yet sometimes one has to wonder how a woman as intelligent as Jessica is portrayed to be seems to be can be so dumb, but in the end, I decided it made sense with her character. They say love is blind and she certainly proves that saying true. She’s been married to David for several years and he has never gotten sick in all that time and he very adamantly refuses to ever go see a doctor. If he’s injured in any way, the wound is always gone by the next morning. In all those years, Jessica doesn’t seem to have seriously questioned these oddities but has always dismissed them. However, it seemed more like this was due to her personality than actual stupidity since it is mentioned in the very first chapter that she has a tendency to ignore problems and hope they will go away.
David himself does not always appear to be as intelligent as one might expect, either, but I felt like he did not have as good a reason for that appearance as Jessica. Sometimes he gives away some information that could very well get him into trouble if his wife were paying enough attention to put two and two together. After approximately 500 years of practice at being secretive, one would think he’d be good enough at it not to make careless mistakes like that (or maybe he just noticed the pattern of his wife ignoring anything that seems the least bit odd or like something she doesn’t want to deal with and figured it didn’t matter). It could be argued that he was trying to open up to his wife and was perhaps a bit less careful than he should be in attempting to do so, but his wife’s failings were far more believable as the classic example of someone ignoring the truth. This is also because sometimes David made mistakes without even realizing how they would affect others – and immortal or not, he really had the types of experiences that should have taught him better than that.
They were both very far apart when it came to morality – Jessica is a Bible-believing Christian who would never harm a soul and David glowers at the pictures of Christ on the few occasions he goes to church with his wife and has far fewer scruples. In fact, David has committed some truly horrific acts and even though he seems cold-hearted at times, it’s also very apparent that he really cares about both Jessica and his daughter Kira. There are usually reasons for his actions, although there are a couple of times where he really has no excuse for being that numb.
The immortality factor was very intriguing, although this book only covers a very small part of what the immortals can do. There are glimpses that there is more to some of them than just healing and living forever, and I hope and suspect that more of this is revealed in the next book.
This novel can be very dark and it certainly contains some content that some may find objectionable. I would not recommend it to anyone who has difficulty reading about violence toward pretty much anyone, including animals and children, for this reason. It has a truly shocking and tragic ending, although Due does foreshadow it so readers are somewhat prepared for what is coming and even puts a little bit of a happy spin to a very devastating event.
There was one minor problem I had with the novel other than some moments of character stupidity, and that was the tendency to tell a lot instead of showing. Sometimes David’s sections would go on and on about what he felt and why more than was necessary. The enjoyment I got from reading it far outweighed any issues I had with it, though, and I mostly ignored them while I was racing through the novel (I had to add mostly after remembering I did yell at David once or twice for being a moron).
Despite some flaws with character believability and too much telling, My Soul to Keep had me glued to the pages from beginning to end wanting to know what became of Jessica and her immortal husband. The end promises even more exciting developments and I am very much looking forward to the next book, which I have already ordered.
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.