Explorer Meriwether Lewis has been stuck in Nowhere since his mysterious death nearly two centuries ago. His last hope for redemption is helping nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney flee her madame mother in New Orleans and find her father in Nashville. To get there, Merry must cross his own grave along the Natchez Trace, where he duels the corrupt Judge, an old foe who has his own despicable plans for Em.
To Live Forever is an ambitious collision of near-historical fiction, adventure/thriller, and magical realism. Like a well-simmered gumbo, this book is rich, complex and deeply enjoyable, with just enough je ne sais quoi, that crucial pinch of filé that makes the thing just right.
I devoured the story in great gulps, always sad to have to put it down, but the characters and the Natchez Trace stayed with me, pulling me back whenever my Kindle and I had a moment alone.
In Meriwether Lewis, we find not the encyclopedia-page explorer, but a compassionate and desperate soul, caught between his desire to finish the work of his time in Nowhere and his lack of understanding of exactly what is required of him. Merry is competent, wry, and gentle, but not without the steel that brought him across a continent two centuries before. Emmaline Cagney is a captivating little girl, and while her mother and the Judge are despicable in their aims, I completely understood how Em enchanted everyone she met. She is on the knife-edge of growing up, and her time with Merry tests her mettle far beyond her years. While his “page-time” is perhaps less, the Judge is a villain in the best sense. He is vile, corrupt, and unhinged, but as the story winds the characters together, I saw that like Merry, the Judge is searching for what his believes to be his immortality.
As well as being a rollicking good story, To Live Forever is a literary examination of what it means to love, to give yourself and your legacy over to the keeping of others, to be remembered – to truly live forever.
Full disclosure: I had been reading and following Andra Watkins for a few years on her blog. After letting her in on the best-kept breakfast secret in Cambridge, I coerced her into collaboraing on a project, and I consider her a friend. Additionally, any Amazon links here are affiliate links, so I might bring in a penny or two if you click through. Otherwise, I am not being compensated in any way, and I bought my own copy of the book for my Kindle. All opinions are entirely my own.