Saturday, March 11, 2023

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson


I've had A DOWRY OF BLOOD on my to-read list for a while but I'd heard it was a densely atmospheric read and I have to be in the right mood for those, so it's been sitting patiently on my Kindle for months. Finally, after reading a string of creepy and gothic reads, I decided I was ready to top off my Halloween-in-March sundae with this blood-dark cherry of a book: a confessional, and a toxic love story, depicting Dracula and his not-so-willing brides (and bridegroom).

When Constanta first meets Dracula, she is dying: a casualty to a war. Her family was burned alive while she lay broken and bleeding. Dracula meets her and offers her a chance for new life and revenge. In her innocence, she takes it, not realizing what kind of bargain she's struck. Because as his bride, he has full control: of her, of everything. And he is only pleased with her while she's dancing to his tune.

As the story progresses, he takes on two more "brides": a scheming Spanish noble named Magdalena and a penniless artist named Alexi. Both are far more mercurially tempered than Constanta, who basically lives up to her name, and she often feels pale in their light. But neither Alexi or Magdalena are fully happy either, and their willfulness is causing tensions in this not-so-happy household.

I often lose patience with books that are written with a deliberate ornateness, and I did not have that happen here. If you're going to write a book with dense and flowery prose, this is how you do it. I can totally see why this book was snapped up from its indie publication and published traditionally so quickly: the writing is literary and philosophical, and I liked how Dracula was both a product of his times and also an abuser, and how he likely perpetuated cycles of abuse that he probably experienced from his master while living as a slave in Athens. I also liked how his control was so insidious, and how it was because he loved them that made it so hard to leave. Seeing that kind of nuance in books is rare.

The downside is that because this book was so flowery, it often felt like the plot was a vehicle for the prose, rather than vice-versa. Large spans of the book were just waiting for things to happen, and a lot of the "story" is spent residing in Constanta's head, hearing her story, and experiencing her small world from her eyes. Even though the book is just over 200 pages, it felt a lot longer, and I did find myself skimming a little at times. Despite that, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is still a very good book and it looks like now it's going to be book one in a series? So I'm very curious to see what happens next.

3 out of 5 stars

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