Rating: 5 out of 5
Tananarive Due’s My Soul to Keep (African Immortals series, 1) is almost a vampire book, but not quite. There’s no blood-drinking, but there is an immortality that can be passed on to others through blood. Jessica, her husband David, and their daughter Kira just lost their Great Dane, Princess, and it seems to be hitting David particularly hard. We learn very early on that David has lived for about 500 years so far, and he’s worried that a group called “the Searchers” has caught up to him and that he’ll have to leave his family–again, because this has happened to him before. The Searchers are a part of a brotherhood formed of people like David and the apparent first of their kind, who said he was made immortal by Christ’s blood. David is deemed to be cleaving too close to humans, thus risking discovery, and the Searchers have come to take him back to Africa. This time, however, he’s determined not to give up his wife and daughter–even if it means killing a few people who could conceivably be a threat to them.
There are some fascinating themes in here. Jessica is a religious woman, while David has gradually become an atheist. Her faith is important to her, and definitely impacts how she handles the things she deals with in this story. She’s coming face-to-face with something that should be impossible, something she’s likely to see as a miracle from God, when the man who is embodying this miracle doesn’t believe in God. Her inner (and outer!) conflict is very well-handled.
David is a living memory of slavery. He ended up in America during the time of slavery, and died several times then. He was also witness to a great deal of horrifying violence against Black people, and that has scarred him as well. These past issues, plus his desire to have a family when he’s supposed to be living apart from humanity, set him apart from his fellows and risk the very people he loves.
There seem to be a few ghosts to add to the paranormal side of things. The ghost of Jessica’s grandfather seems to speak to both her and Kira, although it’s hard to know for sure. Ghosts and visions play a low-key part in the story, and they’re woven in so naturally.
There are misunderstandings between people that make things much harder on everyone, but I never felt like these were the stereotypical kind of fictional misunderstandings where if people just communicated halfway decently they wouldn’t even be an issue. The characters have so much depth, and are so different from one another, that they never seemed to act out of character in any way. We get to see things from both Jessica’s and David’s point of view, and it really brings everything home.
This is an emotional rollercoaster of a ride set within a gorgeous paranormal context. I look forward to reading the sequel!
Content note for explicit sex, child death, animal illness and death, depiction of slavery and the slurs and violence that go with it, animal murder.