A Dowry of Blood by ST Gibson

Posted On 13 October 2022

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My Five Word TL:DR Review: Sweeping gothic story of abuse

Dowry2

I will say from the outset that I loved this.  I was gripped from beginning to end and couldn’t put it down.  This is my catnip.

Retelling famous stories from the point of view of side characters, victims or misunderstood characters is popular without a doubt at the moment and I for one am enjoying this trend.  Dowry of Blood is no exception.  Take the classic vampire story, Dracula, and take a look at him and his life through the eyes of three of his ‘children’.  Dracula’s chosen ones.

As the story begins we meet Constanta, rescued from certain death after her village is ransacked and turned into a vampire.   Constanta is telling her story, in epistolary format, almost as though she’s speaking to her husband.  The style is beautiful and quite captivating.

Constanta is smitten to begin with and the two of them live in their castle until the plague forces them to move to Europe and from then onwards their life seems to be a constantly movable feast.  Eventually Dracula takes another bride, manipulating Constanta into agreeing and although the three of them form a bond of sorts there’s always something lacking.  At this point Dracula takes one more partner and ultimately this seems to signal the beginning of the end.

I don’t really want to say too much about the story but talk more about what I really enjoyed about it.

Well, firstly, as I mentioned I love the format used to tell the story.  Constanta has a lovely narrative voice and it feels like she’s talking straight to us at the same time as confessing to her husband.  The writing is lovely and there are some fantastic passages that I wish I’d noted to copy here.*shakes fist at self*

Secondly Stoker’s Dracula is a firm favourite of mine and I confess I enjoy any opportunity to revisit it and to look at it through a different lens was perfect.

Thirdly, gothic. All the gothic.  I love the gothic elements ranging from castles resplendently dressed in tapestries to crumbling houses, not to mention a brooding central character.  The story quickly takes us through the years.  We witness plague, wars, the fall of empires. Only briefly touching on these as our small family are swept from place to place staying just ahead of the chaos or sometimes using that same chaos to feed heartily sowing death in their wake.

On top of this, A Dowry of Blood gave me different vibes whilst I was reading. For example I couldn’t help but be put in mind of Anne Rice at certain points and I think that boils down to the focus here which I don’t think has been touched on with Dracula or any of his retellings before (although I clearly haven’t read everything). With Lestat/Louis, etc we enter the world of ‘making vampires’ and the issues that this inevitably causes, think of Louis and his struggles not to lose his humanity also Claudia and the right or wrong of making a young vampire, not to mention the power struggles between the dynamic and the camaraderie that builds between certain characters. Certain elements of those struggles are apparent in these pages.

Which leads me to the characters here and what for me was the key element to the story which is the manipulative and controlling relationship that Dracula had with his brides.  This is a story of abusive relationships, how people develop certain behaviours in order to cope and also about breaking free.  In a way you couldn’t probably find a more manipulative and controlling abuser than a vampire – I mean, they take your blood after all and it is rather essential to life!  I think over the years we’ve all developed romantic notions of the immortals and forgotten their true nature is that of a predator and we their prey but if you look a little deeper could there be anything more invasive than the mind control that some vampires exercise. In some novels this runs to glamouring or a sort of hypnosis, with Dowry this is less about a perceived superpower and more about Dracula controlling his partners through a variety of means. He offers love for good behaviour and on the opposite side he shows immense anger when his more gentle methods fail.  He is emotionally and mentally abusive keeping each character in their place by whatever way seems the most successful.  All his partners seem to begin from a point of gratitude but slowly and surely their rose tinted glasses come off.  Dracula controls everything.  He holds the purse strings and on top of that he is very careful about sharing knowledge so his progeny rely on him for everything.  As strange as it may seem this is a hopeful book, a book about breaking bonds and breaking free.

I think this book is around 300 pages in length and it surprises me how much the author manages to fit in.  I wouldn’t say the world building is focused on but at the same time I would defend that choice quite strongly as this is set in our world, the history is unchanged and we simply catch a fleeting glimpse of how the vampires move through it.

In conclusion, this is undoubtedly a dark, sexy, romantic, gothic, well told, twisty, retelling of the story of Dracula by one of his brides. I loved the writing and thought Constanta was a wonderful character. An absorbing and hypnotic read.  I will definitely read more by this author.

I would also point out that this story contains numerous trigger warnings which the author outlines on Goodreads.  So take a look before picking this one up.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

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