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.”
-Graveminder front flap
Graveminder is the first adult novel from Melissa Marr, author of the extremely popular YA series Wicked Lovely. I haven’t read any of Ms. Marr’s YA work, trust that I’m admonished for this by friends, but you can be assured that I have moved her YA books up on my disgustingly long “to be read list.”
When the novel opens, we are introduced to Maylene Barrow, the current Graveminder for the town of Claysville. Claysville isn’t like other towns and we are shown a glimpse of how it differs within the first chapter. Marr’s writing is haunting. She slowly, yet artistically, reveals the special qualities of this unique little village and its inhabitants. There is a long history of “minding the dead” by Barrow women and as the story progresses, in third person with dual narratives, you begin to to learn the how and why such a duty was bestowed upon them.
The book focuses around Rebekkah Barrow. Rebekkah wasn’t born a Barrow woman, but is loved like one by her step-grandmother, Maylene. Tragedy has driven Bek from Claysville, she only returns for short visits to see the one constant in her life, her grandmother. As Bek wanders the world, never staying put anywhere for long, she’s called back to Claysville by yet another tragedy, Maylene’s death (not a spoiler, promise). Coming home to Claysville will be very different for Bek this time.
I don’t want to delve too deep into the specific duties of the Graveminder, as Marr reveals them to the reader slowly and the mystery of it all is wrapped up in the plot, but the new Graveminder has a very important job to do. Someone has died and they weren’t “tended to” and has become what we would know as a zombie, they just aren’t called that in this book. They are knowns as “Hungry Dead,” but yeah, they are zombiesque with a few extra little tricks thrown in. Marr has made her woken dead more interesting and capable than just lurching about and sucking out brains. I like what she’s done, it’s creative and makes for good reading. So, it’s Bek’s responsibility to get those who have come back where they need to go (you will discover more about this too – it’s another very creative twist and one I’m looking forward to seeing when Graveminder hits the small screen as a TV series) and figure out why someone was allowed to rise. It’s a great mystery and a big job, one that can’t be done alone. Luckily the Graveminder has a partner, the Undertaker.
In Bek’s case the Undertaker is someone she has a very complicated past with, Byron Montgomery. Like the Barrow women, the Montgomery men have been fulfilling this unique role for generations. Byron Montgomery knew Bek in high school, where they shared a kiss that led to the messy history they have in common. Byron drives a Triumph motorcycle. He likes to drive it fast. Why so hot, Byron Montgomery? I admit I swooned when I learned this little bit of information. Hey, Graveminder is a paranormal romance. It’s good to have a swoon guy involved in a PNR, right?
Byron is very much in love with Bek, but Bek isn’t the easiest woman to love. Becoming her Undertaker throws some additional issues at them, but he is ready and willing to do what he has to do. I really liked Byron. He is a great character and acts as an anchor for Bek, who, in all honesty, has some crap to work out. He’s patient and kind, but also doesn’t put up with a lot and calls Bek, and others, on the carpet for their actions. He says and thinks a lot of things that the reader will. I’m so glad that Marr wrote him the way she did. There are a lot of oddities about Claysville that will have you questioning, but through it all there is Byron’s voice letting you know that it’s okay to wonder about them. You’ll get your answers, when she’s ready for you, and her characters, to have them.
I believe that Graveminder will be a series of books, Marr has created a solid cast of supporting characters that will lend wonderfully to future stories. I won’t tell you who, or how, one character plays into the plot, but I will say we meet someone who is connected to Bek with one hell of a secret and backstory that I really, really want to know more about. Also the underworld, and its illustrious leader, she’s created is so fascinating. Just know that Marr has built in intriguing plot twists that allow her a lot of room in future books. Books that I hope continue building upon the future of Bek and Byron, as they figure out their new lives, as well as digging into the plethora of buried secrets from the past. If you enjoy character-driven PNR with creative world building and a good mystery, I think you’ll enjoy Graveminder as much as I did.