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The Taker

Book One of the Taker Trilogy


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About The Book

From the author of The Hunger—hailed by Stephen King as “deeply, deeply disturbing, hard to put down”—comes a hauntingly atmospheric tale filled with alchemy, lust, and betrayal.

True love can last an eternity…but immortality comes at a price.

On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting another quiet evening of frostbite and the occasional domestic dispute. But the minute Lanore McIlvrae—Lanny—enters his ER, she changes his life forever. A mysterious woman with plenty of dark secrets, Lanny is unlike anyone Luke has ever met. He is inexplicably drawn to her…despite the fact that she is a murder suspect with a police escort. As she begins to tell her story, Luke finds himself utterly captivated.

Her impassioned account begins at the turn of the 19th century in the same small town of St. Andrew, Maine, back when it was a Puritan settlement. Consumed as a child by her love for the founder’s son, Jonathan, Lanny will do anything to be with him. But the price she pays is steep—an immortal bond that chains her to a terrible fate for all eternity. And now, two centuries later, the key to her healing and her salvation lies with Dr. Luke Findley.

Part historical novel, part supernatural page-turner, The Taker is a “mesmerizing” (Booklist, starred review) story about the power of unrequited love not only to elevate and sustain, but also to blind and ultimately destroy.


The Taker ONE

Goddamned freezing cold. Luke Findley’s breath hangs in the air, nearly a solid thing shaped like a frozen wasp’s nest, wrung of all its oxygen. His hands are heavy on the steering wheel; he is groggy, having woken just in time to make the drive to the hospital for the night shift. The snow-covered fields to either side of the road are ghostly sweeps of blue in the moonlight, the blue of lips about to go numb from hypothermia. The snow is so deep it covers all traces of the stumps of stalks and brambles that normally choke the fields, and gives the land a deceptively calm appearance. He often wonders why his neighbors remain in this northernmost corner of Maine. It’s lonely and frigid, a tough place to farm. Winter reigns half the year, snow piles to the windowsills, and a serious biting cold whips over the empty potato fields.

Occasionally, someone does freeze solid, and because Luke is one of the few doctors in the area, he’s seen a number of them. A drunk (and there is no shortage of them in St. Andrew) falls asleep against a snowbank and by morning has become a human Popsicle. A boy, skating on the Allagash River, plunges through a weak spot in the ice. Sometimes the body is discovered halfway to Canada, at the junction where the Allagash meets up with the St. John. A hunter goes snow blind and can’t make his way out of the Great North Woods, his body found sitting with its back against a stump, shotgun lying uselessly across his lap.

That weren’t no accident, Joe Duchesne, the sheriff, told Luke in disgust when the hunter’s body was brought to the hospital. Old Ollie Ostergaard, he wanted to die. That’s just his way of committing suicide. But Luke suspects if this were true, Ostergaard would have shot himself in the head. Hypothermia is a slow way to go, plenty of time to think better of it.

Luke eases his truck into an empty parking space at the Aroostook County Hospital, cuts the engine, and promises himself, again, that he is going to get out of St. Andrew. He just has to sell his parents’ farm and then he is going to move, even if he’s not sure where. Luke sighs from habit, yanks the keys out of the ignition, and heads to the entrance to the emergency room.

The duty nurse nods as Luke walks in, pulling off his gloves. He hangs up his parka in the tiny doctors’ lounge and returns to the admitting area. Judy says, “Joe called. He’s bringing in a disorderly he wants you to look at. Should be here any minute.”

“Trucker?” When there is trouble, usually it involves one of the drivers for the logging companies. They are notorious for getting drunk and picking fights at the Blue Moon.

“No.” Judy is absorbed in something she’s doing on the computer. Light from the monitor glints off her bifocals.

Luke clears his throat for her attention. “Who is it then? Someone local?” Luke is tired of patching up his neighbors. It seems only fighters, drinkers, and misfits can tolerate the hard-bitten town.

Judy looks up from the monitor, fist planted on her hip. “No. A woman. And not from around here, either.”

That is unusual. Women are rarely brought in by the police except when they’re the victim. Occasionally a local wife will be brought in after a brawl with her husband, or in the summer, a female tourist may get out of hand at the Blue Moon. But this time of year, there’s not a tourist to be found.

Something different to look forward to tonight. He picks up a chart. “Okay. What else we got?” He half-listens as Judy runs down the activity from the previous shift. It was a fairly busy evening but right now, ten P.M., it’s quiet. Luke goes back to the lounge to wait for the sheriff. He can’t endure another update of Judy’s daughter’s impending wedding, an endless lecture on the cost of bridal gowns, caterers, florists. Tell her to elope, Luke said to Judy once, and she looked at him as though he’d professed to being a member of a terrorist organization. A girl’s wedding is the most important day of her life, Judy scoffed in reply. You don’t have a romantic bone in your body. No wonder Tricia divorced you. He has stopped retorting, Tricia didn’t divorce me, I divorced her, because nobody listens anymore.

Luke sits on the battered couch in the lounge and tries to distract himself with a Sudoku puzzle. He thinks instead of the drive to the hospital that evening, the houses he passed on the lonely roads, solitary lights burning into the night. What do people do, stuck inside their houses for long hours during the winter evenings? As the town doctor, there are no secrets kept from Luke. He knows all the vices: who beats his wife; who gets heavy-handed with his children; who drinks and ends up putting his truck into a snowbank; who is chronically depressed from another bad year for the crops and no prospects on the horizon. The woods of St. Andrew are thick and dark with secrets. It reminds Luke of why he wants to get away from this town; he’s tired of knowing their secrets and of them knowing his.

Then there is the other thing, the thing he thinks about every time he steps into the hospital lately. It hasn’t been so long since his mother died and he recalls vividly the night they moved her to the ward euphemistically called “the hospice,” the rooms for patients whose ends are too close to warrant moving them to the rehab center in Fort Kent. Her heart function had dropped below 10 percent and she fought for every breath, even wearing an oxygen mask. He sat with her that night, alone, because it was late and her other visitors had gone home. When she went into arrest for the last time, he was holding her hand. She was exhausted by then and stirred only a little, then her grip went slack and she slipped away as quietly as sunset falling into dusk. The patient monitor sounded its alarm at nearly the same time the duty nurse rushed in, but Luke hit the switch and waved off the nurse without even thinking. He took the stethoscope from around his neck and checked her pulse and breathing. She was gone.

The duty nurse asked if he wanted a minute alone and he said yes. Most of the week had been spent in intensive care with his mother, and it seemed inconceivable that he could just walk away now. So he sat at her bedside and stared at nothing, certainly not at the body, and tried to think of what he had to do next. Call the relatives; they were all farmers living in the southern part of the county … Call Father Lymon over at the Catholic church Luke couldn’t bring himself to attend … Pick out a coffin … So many details required his attention. He knew what needed to be done because he’d been through it all just seven months earlier when his father died, but the thought of going through this again was just exhausting. It was at times like these that he most missed his ex-wife. Tricia, a nurse, had been good to have around during difficult times. She wasn’t one to lose her head, practical even in the face of grief.

This was no time to wish things were different. He was alone now and would have to manage by himself. He blushed with embarrassment, knowing how his mother had wanted him and Tricia to stay together, how she lectured him for letting her go. He glanced at the dead woman, a guilty reflex.

Her eyes were open. They had been closed a minute ago. He felt his chest squeeze with hope even though he knew it meant nothing. Just an electrical impulse running through nerves as her synapses stopped firing, like a car sputtering as the last fumes of gas passed through the engine. He reached up and lowered her eyelids.

They opened a second time, naturally, as though his mother was waking up. Luke almost jumped backward but managed to control his fright. No, not fright—surprise. Instead, he slipped on his stethoscope and leaned over her, pressing the diaphragm to her chest. Silent, no sluicing of blood through veins, no rasp of breath. He picked up her wrist. No pulse. He checked his watch: fifteen minutes had passed since he had pronounced his mother dead. He lowered her cold hand, unable to stop watching her. He swore she was looking back at him, her eyes trained on him.

And then her hand lifted from the bedsheet and reached for him. Stretched toward him, palm up, beckoning him to take it. He did, calling her by name, but as soon as he grasped her hand, he dropped it. It was cold and lifeless. Luke took five paces away from the bed, rubbing his forehead, wondering if he was hallucinating. When he turned around, her eyes were closed and her body was still. He could scarcely breathe for his heart thumping in his throat.

It took three days before he could bring himself to talk to another doctor about what had happened. He chose old John Mueller, a pragmatic GP who was known for delivering calves for his rancher neighbor. Mueller had given him a skeptical look, as though he suspected Luke might have been drinking. Twitching of fingers and toes, yeah that happens, he’d said, but fifteen minutes later? Musculoskeletal movement? Mueller eyed Luke again, as though the fact that they were even talking about it was shameful. You think you saw it because you wanted to. You didn’t want her to be gone.

Luke knew that wasn’t it. But he wouldn’t raise it again, not among doctors.

Besides, Mueller had wanted to know, what difference does it make? So the body may have moved a little—you think she was trying to tell you something? You believe in that life-after-death stuff?

Thinking about it now, four months later, still gives Luke a slight chill, running down both arms. He puts the Sudoku book on the side table and works his fingers over his skull, trying to massage out the confusion. The door to the lounge pushes back a crack: it’s Judy. “Joe’s pulling in up front.”

Luke goes outside without his parka so the cold will slap him awake. He watches Duchesne pull up to the curb in a big SUV painted black and white, a decal of the Maine state seal on the front doors and a low-profile light bar strapped to the roof. Luke has known Duchesne since they were boys. They were not in the same grade but they overlapped at school, so he’s seen Duchesne’s narrow, ferretlike face with the beady eyes and the slightly sinister nose for more than twenty years.

Hands tucked into his armpits for warmth, Luke watches Duchesne open the back door and reach for the prisoner’s arm. He’s curious to see the disorderly. He’s expecting a big, mannish biker woman, red-faced and with a split lip, and is surprised to see that the woman is small and young. She could be a teenager. Slender and boyish except for the pretty face and mass of yellow corkscrew curls, a cherub’s hair.

Looking at the woman (girl?), Luke feels a strange tingle, a buzz behind his eyes. His pulse picks up with something almost like—recognition. I know you, he thinks. Not her name, perhaps, but something more fundamental. What is it? Luke squints, studying her more closely. Have I seen her somewhere before? No, he realizes he’s mistaken.

As Duchesne pulls the woman along by the elbow, her hands tied together with a flexicuff, a second police vehicle pulls up and a deputy, Clay Henderson, gets out and takes over escorting the prisoner into the emergency ward. As they pass, Luke sees the prisoner’s shirt is wet, stained black, and she smells of a familiar blend of iron and salt, the smell of blood.

Duchesne steps close to Luke, nodding in the pair’s direction. “We found her like that walking along the logging road to Fort Kent.”

“No coat?” Coatless in this weather? She couldn’t have been out for long.

“Nope. Listen, I need you to tell me if she’s hurt, or if I can take her back to the station and lock her up.”

As far as law enforcement officers went, Luke’s always suspected Duchesne of being heavy-handed; he’s seen too many drunks brought in with lumps on their skulls or facial bruising. This girl, she’s only a kid—what in the world could she have done? “Why is she in custody? For not wearing a coat in this weather?”

Duchesne gives Luke a sharp look, unaccustomed to being mocked. “That girl is a killer. She told us she stabbed a man to death and left his body out in the woods.”

Luke goes through the motions of examining the prisoner, but he can barely think for the strange pulsing in his head. He shines a penlight into her eyes—they are the palest blue eyes he’s ever seen, like two shards of compressed ice—to see if her pupils are dilated. Her skin is clammy to the touch, her pulse low and her breathing ragged.

“She’s very pale,” he says to Duchesne as they step away from the gurney to which the prisoner has been strapped at the wrists. “That could mean she’s going cyanotic. Going into shock.”

“Does that mean she’s injured?” Duchesne asks, skeptical.

“Not necessarily. She could be in psychological trauma. Could be from an argument. Maybe from fighting with this man she says she killed. How do you know it’s not self-defense?”

Duchesne, hands on hips, stares at the prisoner on the gurney as though he can discern the truth just by looking at her. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “We don’t know anything … she hasn’t said much. Can’t you tell if she’s wounded? ’Cause if she’s not hurt I’ll just take her in …”

“I have to get that shirt off, clean off the blood …”

“Get to it. I can’t stay here all night. I left Boucher in the woods, looking for that body.”

Even with the full moon, the woods are dark and vast, and Luke knows the deputy, Boucher, has little chance of finding a body by himself.

Luke picks at the edge of his latex glove. “So go help Boucher while I do the examination …”

“I can’t leave the prisoner here.”

“For Chrissakes,” Luke says, jerking his head in the slight young woman’s direction. “She’s hardly going to overpower me and escape. If you’re that worried about it, have Henderson stay.” They both glance at Henderson tentatively. The big deputy leans against a counter, leafing through an old Sports Illustrated left in the waiting room, a cup of vending machine coffee in his hand. He’s shaped like a cartoon bear and is, appropriately, amicably dim. “He won’t be of much help to you in the woods … Nothing is going to happen,” Luke says impatiently, turning away from the sheriff as though the matter is already settled. He feels Duchesne’s stare bore into his back, unsure if he should argue with Luke.

And then the sheriff lurches away, heading for the double set of sliding doors. “Stay here with the prisoner,” he yells at Henderson as he jams the heavy, fur-lined hat onto his head. “I’m going back to help Boucher. Idiot couldn’t find his own ass with both hands and a map.”

Luke and the nurse attend to the woman strapped to the gurney. He hefts a pair of scissors. “I’m going to have to cut your shirt away,” he warns her.

“You might as well. It’s ruined,” she says in a soft voice with an accent Luke can’t place. The shirt is obviously expensive. It’s the kind of clothing you see in fashion magazines and that you would never find someone wearing in St. Andrew.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” Luke says, small talk to loosen her up.

She studies his face, evaluating whether to trust him—or so Luke assumes. “I was born here, actually. That was a long time ago.”

Luke snorts. “A long time ago for you, maybe. If you were born here, I’d know you. I’ve lived in this area almost my entire life. What’s your name?”

She doesn’t fall for his little trick. “You don’t know me,” she says flatly.

For a few minutes there’s only the sound of wet fabric being cut and it is hard going, the scissors’ tiny beak moving sluggishly through the sodden material. After it’s done, Luke stands back to let Judy swab the girl with gauze soaked in warm water. The bloody red streaks dissolve, revealing a pale, thin chest without a scratch on it. The nurse drops the forceps holding the gauze into a metal pan noisily and hustles out of the examination room as though she knew all along that they’d find nothing, and yet again, Luke has proven his incompetence.

He averts his eyes as he drapes a paper sheet over the girl’s naked torso.

“I’d have told you I wasn’t hurt if you’d asked,” she says to Luke in a low whisper.

“You didn’t tell the sheriff, though,” Luke says, reaching for a stool.

“No. But I’d have told you.” She nods at the doctor. “Do you have a cigarette? I’m dying for a smoke.”

“I’m sorry. Don’t have any. I don’t smoke,” Luke replies.

The girl looks at him, those ice blue eyes scanning his face. “You gave them up a while ago, but you started again. Not that I blame you, given everything you’ve been through lately. But you have a couple of cigarettes in your lab coat, if I’m not mistaken.”

His hand goes to the pocket, out of instinct, and he feels the papery touch of the cigarettes right where he had left them. Was that a lucky guess, or did she see them in his pocket?

And what did she mean by given everything you’ve been through lately? She’s just pretending to read his mind, trying to get inside his head like any clever girl who finds herself in a fix would do. He has been wearing his troubles on his face lately. He just hasn’t seen a way to fix his life yet; his problems are interconnected, all stacked up. He’d have to know how to fix all of them to take care of even one.

“There’s no smoking in the building, and in case you’ve forgotten, you’re strapped to a gurney.” Luke clicks the top of his pen and reaches for a clipboard. “We’re a little shorthanded tonight, so I’m going to need to get some information from you for the hospital records. Name?”

She regards the clipboard warily. “I’d rather not say.”

“Why? Are you a runaway? Is that why you don’t want to give me your name?” He studies her: she’s tense, guarded, but under control. He’s been around patients involved in accidental deaths and they’re usually hysterical—crying, shaking, screaming. This young woman is trembling slightly under the paper sheet and she jiggles her legs nervously, but by her face Luke can tell she’s in shock.

He feels, too, that she is warming toward him; he senses a chemistry between them, as though she is willing him to ask her about the terrible thing that happened in the forest. “Do you want to tell me what went on tonight?” he asks, rolling closer to the gurney. “Were you hitchhiking? Maybe you got picked up by someone, the guy in the woods … He attacks you, you defend yourself?”

She sighs and presses back into the pillow, staring at the ceiling. “It was nothing like that. We knew each other. We came to town together. He”—she stops, choking on the words—“he asked me to help him die.”

“Euthanasia? Was he already dying? Cancer?” Luke is skeptical. The ones looking to kill themselves usually pick something quiet and surefire: poison, pills, an idling car engine and a length of garden hose. They don’t ask to be stabbed to death. If this friend really wanted to die, he could have just sat under the stars all night until he froze.

He glances at the woman, trembling under the paper sheet. “Let me get a hospital gown and a blanket for you. You must be cold.”

“Thank you,” she says, dropping her gaze.

He comes back with a much-laundered flannel gown edged in pink and a pilling acrylic blanket, baby blue. Maternity colors. He looks down at her hands, bound to the gurney with nylon strap restraints. “Here, we’ll do this one hand at a time,” Luke says, undoing the restraint on the hand closest to the side table where the examination tools are laid out: forceps, bloodied scissors, scalpel.

Quick as a rabbit, she lunges for the scalpel, her slender hand closing around it. She points it at him, wild eyed, her nostrils pink and flaring.

“Take it easy,” Luke says, stepping backward off the stool, out of her arm’s reach. “There’s a deputy just down the hall. If I call for him, it’s over, you know? You can’t get both of us with that little knife. So why don’t you put down the scalpel—”

“Don’t call him,” she says, but her arm is still outstretched. “I need you to listen to me.”

“I’m listening.” The gurney is between Luke and the door. She can cut her other hand free in the time it takes him to make it across the room.

“I need your help. I can’t let him arrest me. You have to help me escape.”

“Escape?” Suddenly, Luke isn’t worried that the young woman with the scalpel will hurt him. He’s feeling embarrassed for having let his guard down, allowing her to get the drop on him. “Are you out of your mind? I’m not going to help you escape.”

“Listen to me—”

“You killed someone tonight. You said so yourself.”

“It wasn’t murder. He wanted to die, I told you that.”

“And he came here to die because he grew up here, too?”

“Yes,” she says, a little relieved.

“Then tell me who he is. Maybe I know him …”

She shakes her head. “I told you—you don’t know us. Nobody here knows us.”

“You don’t know that for sure. Maybe some of your relatives …” Luke’s obstinacy comes out when he gets angry.

“My family hasn’t lived in St. Andrews for a long, long time.” She sounds tired. Then she snaps, “You think you know, do you? Okay—my name is McIlvrae. Do you know that name? And the man in the woods? His name is St. Andrew.”

“St. Andrew, like the town?” Luke asks.

“Exactly, like the town,” she replies almost smugly.

Luke feels funny bubbles percolating behind his eyes. Not recognition, exactly … where has he seen that name, McIlvrae? He knows he has seen it or heard it somewhere, but that knowledge is just out of reach.

“There hasn’t been a St. Andrew in this town for, oh, at least a hundred years,” Luke says, matter-of-fact, stung at being upbraided by a girl pretending to have been born here, lying about a meaningless fact that won’t do her a bit of good. “Since the Civil War. Or so I’ve been told.”

She jabs the scalpel at him to get his attention. “Look—it’s not like I’m dangerous. If you help me get away, I’m not going to hurt anyone else.” She speaks to him as though he’s the one being unreasonable. “Let me show you something.”

Then, with no warning, she points the scalpel at herself and cuts into her chest. A long, broad line that catches her left breast and runs all the way to the rib area under her right breast. Luke is frozen in place for a moment as the line blooms red across her white skin. Blood oozes from the cut, pulpy red tissue starting to peep from the opening.

“Oh my god!” he says. What the hell is wrong with this girl—is she crazy? Does she have some kind of death wish? He snaps out of his baffled inertia and starts toward the gurney.

“Stay back!” she says, jabbing the scalpel at him again. “Just watch. Look.”

She lifts her chest, arms outstretched, as though to give him a better view, but Luke can see fine, only he can’t believe what he is seeing. The two sides of the cut are creeping toward each other like the tendrils of a plant, rejoining, knitting together. The cut has stopped bleeding and is starting to heal. Through it, the girl’s breathing is rough but she betrays no sign of pain.

Luke can’t be sure his feet are on the floor. He is watching the impossible—the impossible! What is he supposed to think? Has he gone crazy, or is he dreaming, asleep on the couch in the doctors’ lounge? Whatever he’s seen, his mind refuses to accept it and starts to shut down.

“What the hell—,” he says, barely a whisper. Now he is breathing again, his chest heaving up and down, his face flushing. He feels like he is going to vomit.

“Don’t call for the policeman. I’ll explain it to you, I swear, just don’t yell for help. Okay?”

As Luke sways on his feet, it strikes him that the ER has fallen silent. Is there even anyone around to hear him if he did call out? Where is Judy, where is the deputy? It’s as if Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmother drifted into the ward and cast a spell, putting everyone to sleep. Outside the door to the examination room, it’s dark, lights dimmed as usual for the night shift. The habitual noises—the far-off laugh track of a television program, the metallic ticking from inside the soda vending machine—have disappeared. There is no whir from a floor buffer wending its way laboriously down the empty halls. It’s just Luke and his patient and the muffled sound of the wind beating against the side of the hospital, trying to get in.

“What was that? How did you do that?” Luke asks, unable to keep the horror from his voice. He slides back onto the stool to keep from dropping to the floor. “What are you?”

The last question seems to hit her like a punch to the sternum. She hangs her head, flossy blond curls covering her face. “That—that’s the one thing I can’t tell you. I don’t know what I am anymore. I have no idea.”

This is impossible. Things like this don’t happen. There is no explanation—what, is she a mutant? Made of synthetic self-healing materials? Is she some kind of monster?

And yet she looks normal, the doctor thinks, as his heart rate picks up again and blood pounds in his ears. The linoleum tiles start to sway underfoot.

“We came back—he and I—because we missed the place. We knew everything here would be different—everyone would be gone—but we missed what we once had,” the young woman says wistfully, staring past the doctor, speaking to no one in particular.

The feeling he had when he first saw her this evening—the tingle, the buzz—arcs between them, thin and electric. He wants to know. “Okay,” he says, shakily, hands on his knees. “This is crazy—but go ahead. I’m listening.”

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes momentarily, like she is about to dive underwater. And then she begins.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for  The Taker includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Alma Katsu. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


This hauntingly atmospheric love story opens in the northernmost corner of Maine, when a distraught young woman is brought into the emergency room, and treated by a doctor who is strangely drawn to her—even though she has just admitted to killing a man and leaving him in the frozen North woods. The woman has an enchanting story to tell—the sweeping story of a love affair from 200 years before. Full of immortality, alchemy, sensuality, and betrayal, The Taker is a tale of love across time that will not soon be forgotten.


  1. Why does Luke leave his home to follow Lanny? Is his willingness to leave his life behind a sign of strength or of weakness? What would you have done if you were in Luke’s position?

  2. Do you think it was fair of Jonathan to ask Lanore to end his suffering? Did Lanore owe it to him?  Do her actions in Maine absolve her of her long life of transgressions?

  3. What separated Lanore from the other immortal members of Adair’s court?  Consider Alejandro, Tilde, Dona, Uzra, and their various stories of origin.

  4. Discuss the evolution of Lanny’s character, from a coy, young girl from the backwoods of Maine to a world-traveled, immortal hedonist.  Is Luke destined to be just another fling, or is there something deeper to their budding love?

  5. Do you believe that Lanny ever loved Adair?  Why do you think she was so drawn to a scheming madman?

  6. How did you react to the violent tendencies of the members of Adair’s household?  Consider Lanny’s first night in the mansion, the abductions of the local Bostonians, and the bizarre sexual proclivities of the immortal house-goers. Do you believe there might have been a secret society of hedonists living in Boston during this period?

  7. The traveling priest, later revealed to be a member of Adair’s flock, recognizes a spiritual unease and some inherent wildness deep within Lanore’s soul. Do you think he was right? Was Lanny, to some extent, wicked?  How do you explain her actions in the chambers in Boston, or her initial involvement in Sophia’s death? Are her choices that of someone trying to take control of her life or someone losing control of herself?

  8. On her return trip to St. Andrew, Lanore encounters Magda, the town whore.  Magda warns Lanore, “…don’t fall in love with your gentleman.  We women make our worst decisions when we are in love.”  Do you believe this to be true?  Could Lanore have been saved from her complicated fate if she wasn’t so in love with Jonathan?  Why do you think Lanore was drawn to Magda in the first place?

  9. Do you think Luke made the right decision in leaving St. Andrew behind for a life with Lanny in Paris? What of his obligations to his family?  Do you agree with his decision regarding the fabled vial?

  10. Were you surprised by Adair’s true identity?  Do you believe Lanny’s plan to trap the physic worked?
  11. After everything Lanny had told Luke about the fantastical and magical, do you think there was some greater significance to the vision of his mother momentarily rising from the dead?

  12. The story’s narrative unfolds in three different time periods, following three distinct characters. Which of the three was your favorite to read, and why?  Who did you feel the most sympathy for?

  13. Why do you think the author chose to title this book, The Taker? Are there multiple “takers” in the story? If so, who are they? What does Lanny take from Adair, Jonathan, and Luke? What does she give them?

  14. Did Jonathan ever truly love Lanore?  Did he have such a capacity? How would you characterize Lanny’s feelings for Jonathan? Is it love or obsession?

  15. At the heart of The Taker is a fairytale about a woman coming into her own. As Lanny eventually explains, alchemy is an effort to transform the person into something more pure, self-assured, and strong.  Compare Lanny’s story to other well-known fables, like Pinocchio, Snow White, Cinderella, or any of Aesop’s valued lessons. What similarities do you see?  What sort of classic temptations are placed before Lanore, and what is it that she ultimately takes away from her endless trial of self?


  1. List and discuss the things that you would see or accomplish if you were granted immortal life. Would endless time eventually wear on you, as it did Lanny and Jonathan, or is it something that would provide endless stimulation and inspiration?

  2. Visit to learn more about the author, and read of her colonial American influences, her ancestry, the origin of her name, and more about her upcoming book, The Taker.

  3. Adair sketches his immortal followers, creating stunning images of Uzra and an incomplete portrait of Jonathan. Try your hand at drawing during your next book club meeting. As a group, select an object, an image, or even someone from your book club to sketch!

  4. There is a cinematic quality to The Taker, as the narrative spans states, continents, and centuries. Discuss with your book club who you would cast for Adair, Jonathan, and Lanny in a film version of the story.


Where did you find the inspiration for The Taker?  In its own way, The Taker is an alchemy of genres—mixing romance, the paranormal, colonial drama, with a touch of post-modernism.  Did you draw from many sources for the book?

It wasn’t until after I’d written The Taker that I realized it combined many influences on my life. I never thought I was that big a fan of the American Colonial period, but when you grow up near Concord, Massachusetts you’re steeped in it. For instance, I think it might actually be a law that schoolchildren must watch the movie Johnny Tremaine every year until high school. I think the paranormal influence goes back to childhood, too. Maybe it was that we lived in ancient houses that creaked with every passing breeze or the fact that there were five cemeteries in my tiny hometown (two funeral homes within a block from my home!), but as a child I seemed predisposed to believe in the spooky and supernatural. And of course, that’s what children do, indulge in magical thinking as a way of coping with their inherent powerlessness.

Science, religion, and magic seem to be at odds throughout the story, with Lanny’s transformation never fully explained or understood.  Was this your intention?  Where do you stand on the confluence of science, magic, and faith?

That Lanny’s changed circumstances are not fully explained is intentional, although it is revealed in the third book. Hopefully, readers will be surprised and delighted by what is revealed. Also, though, the mystery was meant to mirror what we experience in real life: We think we know the answer to a question, but it later turns out that we don’t. At one time we believed the Earth was the center of the cosmos, with all the heavenly bodies revolving around it. It was touted as a fact (a matter of science, to stretch a point) but was also part of theologians’ explanation of God’s universe, so it was a matter of religion, too. So when this was disproved, did it mean religion was “wrong”? Is “bad” religion nothing more than superstition, or magic? Magic, faith, and science seem to me to be part of a continuum of understanding—different ways of looking at the same thing. And you can be blindly faithful to your point of view from any of these three perspectives.

You grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, near the historic town of Concord. How did your background play a role in writing The Taker?

I find things from my childhood, small and large, have crept in throughout The Taker. The crypt in which Sophia’s body is stored is taken from one of the five cemeteries in my hometown, a strange vault covered with sod and grass, with padlocked iron gates barring the doors. (How could you not, as a child, think those gates were there to keep the dead from getting out at night?) The description of the attic space in which Uzra hides from Adair is a ringer for the unfinished attic in my childhood home. There was not, however, a boy like Jonathan for whom all the girls pined.

What would you hope to accomplish with an endless eternity of life?

I’m in the camp that would not wish for eternity, I’m afraid. It is the knowledge that we will die that defines our lives. That’s why Lanny and the others are at a loss. They don’t know what to make of life, and partly because they’re ne’er-do-wells, it doesn’t occur to them to apply themselves to something useful. Jonathan figures this out, redeems himself, and because of this, Lanny can’t refuse him his wish.

Do you believe that Lanny has a soul mate?  Is Luke her chance for redemption, or just another bump in a very, very long road?

Life is a mystery to Lanny, as it is for many of us when we’re young. We want to grow up, we’re in a hurry to grow up, but we’re not really sure what that means. We have our parents’ examples, the example of some of our friends or siblings, but what if none of them are satisfactory? What if you want more out of life but not only are you not sure how to get it, you’re not even sure what it is you want, exactly? What she wanted was experience, and she got more than she expected. She makes bad choices, but let’s not fool ourselves: Many people make bad choices in their youth. They divorce, remarry, change career fields, move to a new continent—or do none of these things, and remain in a state of desperation. No one is born with the answers and we have only this one life to find fulfillment, or happiness.

Oh dear, I really got on a soapbox there. To address the part about Luke, that very question is answered in book two. It is Lanny’s dilemma, a major test on her way to becoming a thoughtful, caring person deserving of being truly, completely loved.

How did you handle writing the different perspectives and time periods?  Did you create them individually, or weave in and out of telling each story as the book is presented?

The book underwent many revisions, but from the very beginning it had the present day story threaded through what is essentially Lanny’s life story. The story-within-a-story—Adair telling his tale—came afterwards. I had originally pictured an entire book devoted to Adair, so that big chunk was carved out of that book. All those difficult structural elements—the shifts in time, POV, even verb tense—are what made writing the book so challenging. It’s sort of a case study of what not to do when writing your first novel.

The immortals of Adair’s court are all deeply flawed in their own way. Is there something to be said about the type of people that are given such magical gifts?  Were you at all tempted to tell a story about incredibly decent and altruistic immortals? Is that what Jonathan ultimately represents to you, especially with his dedication to his tribes as a bush doctor?

You’re coming close to the answer to the mystery, which is explained at the end of the series. Redemption is at the heart of the story. We all make mistakes in youth, behave foolishly, selfishly, do things we regret deeply as adults, so in that way, I think the story will resonate (to a degree) with most people.

I see the “magical gifts” a bit differently. The gift these flawed people are given is immortality, but it must be spent in servitude to Adair, with his hellish disposition. He is their jailer, and they have little hope of pardon. It is a kind of inescapable hell on earth. They have no choice but to accept it.

The long arc of time established in the story, and the hints of Adair’s released minions speak to an entire world and slew of characters that we have yet to meet.  Do you have plans to continue to tell stories in this established world, possibly as a series?

Absolutely. Readers will meet new minions from Adair’s past in the next book, tentatively titled The Reckoning. You’ll see them contrasted with the ones you know, Tilde, Alejandro, Dona, and struggle with this question of redemption. Some of them will earn redemption at great personal cost.

Who do you see yourself in the most?  Lanny, Luke, or Adair?

I didn’t think so but writing is a journey of self-discovery, as cliché as that might sound. Your characters behave a certain way and you, the author, struggle to understand why, and in the process of figuring it out you come to see it’s a recurring problem in your own life, one you haven’t solved. I came to see parts of myself in Lanny. In understanding Jonathan, I realized that he was drawn from maddeningly aloof and emotionally detached men I have known. I think most women have known a Jonathan or two in their lives!

Who are your literary influences?

I have so many it will sound a bit crowded. What comes through most strongly to me, in this book, is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Fanny Hill by John Cleland. As you noted, there’s probably the influence of the post-modernists in there, too, as I was mad for them for a spell, most notably John Barth, Vladimir Nabokov. I think The Taker owes a lot to fairy tales, too. It puts the reader in the funny spot, where on one hand, you’re close to stories from childhood—there’s magical thinking, and the bloody-mindedness of old fairy tales. One interesting thing about fairy tales is that the morality of an individual’s behavior is clear-cut enough so that children are comfortable with their judgments: It’s fairly easy to tell who is right and who is wrong. I think in The Taker, there are some characters about whom you can make these distinctions easily, but with others—Lanny in particular—the story is a bit more complicated. The story is about redemption, but the whole question of what is a transgression is left up to the reader.

Are you working on another novel?  If so, will it be in the same style as The Taker, mixing romantic realism and fantastic supernaturalism?

I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters in The Taker, and luckily Gallery Books is fairly smitten with them, too, so I get to continue their story in the next two books. If all goes to plan, the next book will be slightly different from The Taker in that it’s a bit more plot-driven, and the third book is different again in that it’s more fantastical. Hopefully the trio will make for an enjoyable story that never gets stale and always takes the reader to new places.

About The Author

© Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu was born in Alaska and raised near Concord, Massachusetts. She has a BA in writing from Brandeis University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins Writing Program. She is the author of The Taker Trilogy (The TakerThe Reckoning, and The Descent) as well as The Hunger and The Deep. The Hunger was a finalist for the Bram Stoker and Locus magazine award and was selected as one of NPR’s 100 favorite horror stories. She lives with her husband in Virginia. Visit her on Twitter @AlmaKatsu.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (May 11, 2021)
  • Length: 464 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982165697

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