Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Graveminder by Melissa Marr
Published: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011
The Book:
“Three sips to mind the dead . . .

Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the attention her grandmother Maylene bestowed upon the dead of Claysville, the small town where Bek spent her adolescence. There wasn't a funeral that Maylene didn't attend, and at each one Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual: She took three sips from a silver flask and spoke the words "Sleep well, and stay where I put you."

Now Maylene is dead, and Bek must go back to the place she left a decade earlier. She soon discovers that Claysville is not just the sleepy town she remembers, and that Maylene had good reason for her odd traditions. It turns out that in Claysville the worlds of the living and the dead are dangerously connected; beneath the town lies a shadowy, lawless land ruled by the enigmatic Charles, aka Mr. D. If the dead are not properly cared for, they will come back to satiate themselves with food, drink, and stories from the land of the living. Only the Graveminder, by tradition a Barrow woman, and her Undertaker—in this case Byron Montgomery, with whom Bek shares a complicated past—can set things right once the dead begin to walk.

Although she is still grieving for Maylene, Rebekkah will soon find that she has more than a funeral to attend to in Claysville, and that what awaits her may be far worse: dark secrets, a centuries-old bargain, a romance that still haunts her, and a frightening new responsibility—to stop a monster and put the dead to rest where they belong.”

I read Graveminder for the Alphabet Soup Challenge at the Calico Reaction blog.  I’d never read any Melissa Marr before picking up Graveminder.
My Thoughts:
The world of Graveminder had some creative elements to enjoy.  I liked the idea of the ‘Hungry Dead’, which were kind of a combination of a zombie and a ghost.   The contract connecting the worlds of the living and the dead and the mysterious Mr. D raised a lot of tantalizing questions.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the world-building was thorough enough.  There were all sorts of things that were either left unexplained, or which never made much sense.  I got the impression that this might have been intended to kick off a new series, and that many things were left very vague so that they could be explored in later installments.  In general, the idea of Claysville was intriguing, but I didn’t feel like the novel adequately explored the causes and effects of the situation.
 The characters, also, never really felt sufficiently developed to me.  There were way too many characters, alive and dead, with too little to distinguish them from one another beyond their names and employment. Many of these minor characters seemed to be entirely irrelevant to the main story of the novel.  I can think of several characters who were introduced with a few paragraphs of exposition, existed for a few pages of conversation, and then were never mentioned again.  I wished the novel would have either worked with a tighter cast, or developed the minor characters enough that they did not feel like a list of names.
Marr also constantly switched the narrative point-of-view among these minor characters, often for no obvious purpose.  It was sometimes difficult to tell which character was the viewpoint character, as the voice did not change significantly. Of course, the glut of extraneous characters could make sense if this was intended to be the first novel of a series.  Then it could be seen as introducing people who would matter in later installments, making this something of an exposition novel.  All the same, the shallow characterization and the constant head-hopping really damaged my ability to care about any of the residents of Claysville.
While the novel’s description might sound like a horror story, Graveminder is really more of a paranormal romance.  I’m rarely a fan of romance, and I found this one a little difficult to take.  Byron is your typical unconditionally-loving man, who has never wanted a relationship with anyone but the heroine, Rebekkah.  Rebekkah, though, is dreadfully emotionally immature, and insists on treating Byron poorly while she constantly denies her obvious love for him.  It never felt like the end result of the romance was in question, so I grew tired of their constant angsting about it.  I was more interested in the ‘Hungry Dead’ plotline, and I wish that would have been given more attention than the romance.
Some of the predictability of the romance came from supernatural interference, and that interference also affected many other aspects of the story. I disliked the way in which the setting of the story constrained the townspeople, Byron, and Rebekkah to act in unnatural ways. I think that the use of supernatural force to control characters’ thoughts and actions could be used as an interesting source of conflict.  However, in Graveminder it serves as more of a way to artificially resolve natural sources of conflict.  For instance, none of the residents of Claysville questioned any of the odd goings-on—because they literally couldn’t.  Anyone who tried would be plagued by migraines until they forgot all about it.  I found it really frustrating how easily all the characters just accepted the supernatural control of their thoughts, feelings, and actions.
My Rating: 2/5
Graveminder had a neat premise, but it did not follow through.  The world-building was interesting, as far as it went, but it was not thorough enough to really support my suspension of disbelief.  There were too many characters, many which seemed irrelevant to the plot, and none of them were particularly complex.  The romance between Byron and Rebekkah was fairly obvious, and took far too long to resolve. I got the impression that it was intended to be the first novel of a series, but I still don’t think it stands well enough on its own merits.

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