A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson // Book Review

Vampires? Need I say more? Thanks to Orbit Books for the gifted read.

Here’s more about A Dowry of Blood

This is my last love letter to you, though some would call it a confession. . .

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things.

Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets. With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

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My thoughts

This book is very different from the vampire stories I’ve read before. It’s a Dracula retelling, but from the point of view of his first wife, Constanta. The story is written in letters to Dracula that Constanta writes about their life together. It’s also in the second POV since the letters are specifically addressed and it feels more natural to use “you” in a letter than their real name.

This story felt as if I opened up the scraggly spine of some lost letters to someone’s lover. Each chapter was a letter from Constanta to her lover, Dracula, who took her for his wife when she was dying many years ago. The letters span across the hundreds of years together filled with jealousy, blood, murder, sexual encounters with random strangers, and the two other partners in their poly-amorous relationship. It didn’t feel much like a story where there’s a central plot and conflict to follow, but as if I was reading the sorted diaries of a young wife who was in an abusive relationship with her husband.

This particular part lended well to the story. You were on the edge of your seat wondering how Constanta would get away. The reader wonders if she’ll finally see his abuse and realizes the worth she has before she makes her vengeful decision. I was captured by the letters wanting to learn more about their lives together and finding out if they figure out how to survive.

While there was only a few moments of on-page domestic violence, most of the abuse was through Dracula’s controlling nature. He kept everything close to the chest. He never let Constanta make friends with humans or leave the house without him. He would go on jealous rampages if she had any interest in anyone outside of himself. The atmospheric feel of this book was completely around this controlling nature Dracula portrayed throughout the book with very little explanation about it.

However, in many ways this story didn’t work for me as well. First off, the reader doesn’t get to know Dracula. What you read is the experiences Constanta and the others had while with him, but you rarely hear about his past before Constanta. You rarely hear about his experiments and scientific research. It was as if Dracula was on the periphery of your vision the entire time, but never a part of the main focus.

I had a hard time really connecting with the story. I think partly because it’s written in the epistolary style with a second POV. While I felt for the situation Constanta, Magdalena, and Alexi find themselves, I could never really fall deep into the story enough to care. It was as if I was reading the story second-hand from someone else. It felt flat with my interest waning as I continued to read. The ending was also a bit lackluster for me and again, I think this is because of the writing style. It moved so quickly and because it’s all from what Constanta experiences, there’s very little dimension and development. It just moves right into the ending without any explanation and I think what I wanted was a bit more story behind the characters.

Overall, this was a quick read and fantastic display of atmosphere. If you’re a fan of epistolary stories with vengeance plot lines, then I highly recommend this one to you. It just didn’t work for me.

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