I've been struggling over this review for a bit now--normally I love Melissa Marr's writing and The Graveminder sounded wonderful when I read the synopsis. And the idea of the world of The Graveminder is very intriguing: a small town has a tunnel, unknown to almost all, to the land of the dead, and the Graveminder and her counterpart, the Undertaker, must make sure that the dead don't cross back into the land of the living because the dead in our world see the living as lunchables. It's just that the execution of this story is, well...not so hot.
The biggest problem for me is that I never once warmed up to any of the characters. The story opens on Maylene, the town's Graveminder, being murdered by an escapee from the dead; her granddaughter (though not by blood--this point is hammered home again and again and again) Rebekkah is summoned home to the funeral, which must take place within a day because there's a law against embalming in Claysville. Rebekkah has spent the past 9 or 10 years running away from Claysville and her sometime lover, Byron; Byron, newly returned home to Claysville to work with his father in the funeral home business, was once in love with Rebekkah's step-sister Ella (who killed herself years before). Rebekkah loves Byron and Byron loves Rebekkah but Rebekkah believes they can't be together, so they aren't, until she returns home and it is revealed that, upon Maylene's death, Rebekkah has been named the new Graveminder (a position neither she nor Byron knew anything about). Byron, by default, is the new Undertaker, the man charged with protecting the Graveminder and escorting her back and forth from the land of the dead and also from the mysterious Mr. D (Mr. Death? Mr. Devil? Mr. Davis?), who seems to be in charge of the dead. Also, there is evidence that a waking dead person is snacking on townspeople; we do get some chapters from the surprisingly engaging Daisha, teen Hungry Dead person.
Maybe it was my lack of attention but I feel like very little in the story was fleshed out. I got the idea of a land of the dead, and that's a fascinating idea. But even though it was explained Why Claysville?, I just felt as though it was thrown together, not thought through. I got that Rebekkah is drawn to the land of the dead, and Mr. D does seem charming throughout, but honestly, why was she in love with the land of the dead? There is a whole sub-plot involving former Graveminder Alicia (whom I really liked, btw) and her problems with Mr. D, and maybe I missed it, but...what exactly happened between those two? And Byron and Rebekkah both left me cold; there was so much waffling on both parts ("I love you, but I can't be with you"..."I dont' want to be with you but here, help me take off my clothes so I can lie celibately next to you because I really do want you--hey, why are you mad?") that I did not care if they ended up together or not. Actually, I did care; they deserved one another so that no one else would get caught up in their inabilities to make a commitment.
It may seem I'm being overly rough on this story, and perhaps I am, but I've come to expect a much higher degree of world-creation and relationship building from Ms. Marr, and this one has left me flat. I'm giving it three stars, rounded up from 2.5, because there were moments when Daisha and the land of the dead were interesting and rife with possibilities. I just expect more from someone from whom I've experienced tension, magic, and beauty in spades before.