Worldbuilding doesn’t have to be on the same grand scale that Tolkien achieved in The Lord of the Rings. Sometimes, the most effective worldbuilding exists in a smaller setting that’s been well utilized. Melissa Marr’s Graveminder is one of those novels, making exquisite use of the small town mentality and dynamic to help create a unique setting.
Rebekkah Barrow hasn’t lived in Claysville for years, but she always feels the pull of the little town where she spent her teen years. Living with her grandmother, Maylene, exposed her to some of the town’s more unusual customs, but she never thought of them as anything more than quaint folk belief. Now Maylene has passed away, and by returning for her funeral, Rebekkah has stepped into a role that she never knew about nor sought.
Rebekkah is now Claysville’s Graveminder, charged with keeping the dead in their place. It is she who will be the last to leave at any funeral; it is she who will tend to the graves in each cemetery; and it is she who must hunt down any restless dead and return them to the world beyond. Together with her former lover Byron—Undertaker to her Graveminder—they become acquainted not only with Claysville’s mysterious past, but with the enigmatic Mr. D, who lives beneath the town in a shadowy land populated by the dead.
I really enjoyed the fact that Marr was able to create such a dichotomy with her setting: on the one hand, she builds a small town and all the various interrelationships that happen when people live that close to each other for that long; on the other hand, she connects the town to a vast and mysterious underground world populated by ghosts. Since this shadow realm encompasses all types of buildings and people from the last century plus, it keeps the story from feeling too confined.
Oftentimes, it’s the dynamics between the characters that make for such an interesting story. Rebekkah isn’t a blood relation of Maylene, but it’s she who is chosen to be the Graveminder, and there are others in Maylene’s family who take exception to this. Rebekkah’s history with Byron adds another layer to the tale and brings a sense of past events into the novel. And behind that, Maylene has some secrets of her own that can’t be ignored.
I would actually have liked to have seen more of the inner workings of the town and of Mr. D’s world. However, Marr has given readers just enough to whet their appetites—presuming, that is, that this isn’t the only novel that she’ll write about Claysville. If this is all that I get, I’ll be disappointed, because there seems to be a wealth of background that’s just waiting to see the light of day.
If you need an easy way to understand how much I liked this book, let me just tell you that I read it in a single day. The combination of unique setting, complex characters, supernatural doings, and just a touch of mystery makes for an engaging and satisfying read. Graveminder isn’t a book that I normally would pick up, but I’m glad that a recommendation pointed me in its direction.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on June 19, 2011.
Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 324
Publication Date: May 17, 2011
Acquired: Borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis Branch
Read an excerpt