S.T. Gibson tells a deliciously dark tale about Dracula through the eyes of his wife and it’s everything. This was a story I never knew I needed until it was in my hands and then I proceeded to feverishly devour it like a newly turned vampire. A Dowry of Blood is equal parts horror and romance, detailing a tragic story of love tainted by Dracula’s sinister nature. It’s absolutely enthralling and will quickly sink its teeth into you.
The entire book is a sorrowful letter from Constanta to her lover and abuser, Dracula. She opens with a gruesome depiction of his death bed and attempts to explain why she ultimately had to kill him. Constanta decides only the full story of their life together will do her justice, so she starts at the beginning when she is taking her last, desperate breath in the mud. A handsome man appears at her side, granting her salvation, revenge, and immortal life as his vampire bride. The man we know as Dracula whisks her away to his remote Romanian castle where Constanta quickly learns subservience to manage her husband’s controlling behavior and dark moods. She is enamored by his love and limited attention, but their life together changes dramatically as they move to new countries and introduce new vampire brides to their family. Dracula is keeping secrets, and as his cruelty worsens, Constanta must decide if her love for him is worth the abuse she and the other brides experience at his wicked hands.
Three pages into A Dowry of Blood and I was already intoxicated by Gibson’s prose. Page seven and I knew I was done for. “I will render you as you really were, neither cast in pristine stained glass or unholy fire. I will make you into nothing more than a man, tender and brutal in equal measure, and perhaps in doing so I will justify myself to you.” Display this book in a gallery because it is a work of art. Gibson writes beautifully, and she wasted no time in capturing my attention. She was as alluring as Dracula, sweeping me up in her romantic, poetic charm. Then would enact her cruelty with depictions of the brides’ despair and loneliness. It was a delightful mixture of dread and hope. And I, like the dutiful Constanta, followed her every sentence with infatuation and horror.
As immortal beings with nothing but time on their ageless and maybe clawed hands, we witness Dracula and his brides settling in different places. Aside from indulging in some of the cultural happenings at the time, their location mainly serves as a backdrop to the tragedy of their lives. Gibson provides the required context and sets each scene efficiently. I particularly liked her decision to keep the focus on the family dynamics so that the location and historical events didn’t steal the show. Whether the location is Austria, Spain, Russia, or France, the crown jewel is Constanta and the story she painfully recounts.
Because the book is a letter written by Constanta, it’s easy to become one with her inner thoughts. It also helps the reader understand the essence of her fellow brides, their experiences together, and the survival tactics they develop. Constanta is loyal to a fault but walks the harsh line that Dracula draws in order to keep everyone safe. She wants to stay silent to survive but struggles to keep this demure mindset when her new family is threatened. Magdalena is brilliant and full of life, easily capturing the hearts of everyone she meets. After years of abuse, her vibrancy is often dimmed by depression, the episodes detailed so painfully by Constanta that I felt my heart break several times over. Alexi is young and wild, a charismatic artist wanting to experience all the world’s pleasures. He is fearless and openly challenges Dracula, striking a fear in Constanta that is honed into a fierce protectiveness. I loved seeing these characters through Constanta’s eyes. Not only do we learn a lot about the brides, but it gives us great insight into Constanta’s personality and personal growth. Her initial selfishness and frustrations at the onset of these new relationships are all on display, but then we see how her love for each person blossoms into something irreplaceable, and it made their bond all the more meaningful.
Listen. A Dowry of Blood is awesome. Want to be scared? Dracula is a terrible husband. Want to swoon over some romance? Good luck not falling for Magdalena. What about something that reads like a haunting poem? *Gestures to entire book*. Come for the vampires and stay for literally a million other reasons. I guarantee this story will be unlike anything you read this year.
Rating: A Dowry of Blood – 9.0/10