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A DOWRY OF BLOOD by S. T. Gibson (BOOK REVIEW)


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“I will render you as you really were, neither cast in pristine stained glass nor 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. To my own haunted conscience.”

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson is a darkly hypnotic reimagining of Dracula’s Bride. This is an intoxicating story steeped in blood and obsession, hunger and lust, all told through heady sensual prose.

Our narrator is Constanta, Dracula’s first bride. Through a series of letters addressed to Dracula, Constanta chronicles the moment her life as a peasant girl ended and her existence as a dangerous predator began. War had come to Constanta’s quiet peaceful village in Romania, her parents were brutally killed right before her eyes, and then the soldiers had come for her. Bleeding out upon a field, a mysterious man approaches her and whispers promises of sweet revenge, of a future without fear. With little choice left, Constanta accepts her fate, though not truly knowing what was at stake. Over decades her time by Dracula’s side is one filled with sexual passion and adoration, of lavish homes and high society. But given endless time the novelty eventually wears off, Dracula falls into fits of dark moods and irritability, for he could never be content with just one wife, and so he sets his sights on capturing other lovers. First to fall into his clutches is Magdalena, a free spirited aristocrat, and then Alexi, a young aspiring student of the arts. What follows from there is a tale of jealousy, abuse, uncovering secrets and finding the will to seek liberation. 

dowry-of-blood-s-t-gibson.jpg?resize=200Let’s be clear, this isn’t a comforting romantic novel. This is a story centred on a toxic relationship, a relationship borne of violence and blood, of dependency and desire, and Gibson doesn’t sugar coat this in any way. Constanta’s letters lament upon the subtle ways Dracula controlled, formed and shaped her, stripped her of her humanity and her free will. Now normally this is the exact opposite of the kind of narrative I enjoy reading, yet what sets this novel apart is that Gibson gives Constanta a voice that is lyrical, darkly romantic, compelling and most notably strong. From the beginning Constanta takes away Dracula’s agency by not revealing his name, she denies him his identity, his power – just as he had done to her. Gibson turns Constanta the victim into a being of power, with the foresight to now understand exactly what her husband had done and release her anger.

However, unlike Constanta’s rapid transformation from human to vampire, it takes her character many centuries before she sees Dracula’s narcissistic demeanour. For so long she plays the passive submissive wife, she becomes nothing more than an obedient pet, an object purely of his design. I feel Gibson realistically reflects upon abusive relationships here, as she shows how manipulation can condition a person, how one can become used to pleasing their partner, never wanting to ignite their temper, never even contemplating their own happiness. Yet when Magdalena and Alexi enter the scene something sparks within Constanta, at first it’s overwhelming jealousy, for she should be Dracula’s only desire, but then it turns to love. Their polyamorous relationship blossoms, and Constanta, Magdalena and Alexi form an unbreakable bond. One that even Dracula himself could not contest. 

“We killed to live, we lied and cheated and took lovers, we slipped from town to town like ghosts, draining the populace of their money and blood before moving on.”

It has been a long time since I have been this captivated by vampire fiction, and part of that is because A Dowry of Blood (mostly) follows vampires of the old lore, not the um… sparkly variety. Dracula is an apex bloodthirsty predator. He is cunning, calculating, seductive and enticing, much like his representation in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Constanta’s letters reflect upon the atrocities both her and her husband commit over centuries, the victims they lure back to their homes and ravage upon. Gibson represents vampires as primordial creatures who are driven by hunger and lust. Yet they are also represented as extremely human, susceptible to depression, loneliness and heartbreak. I loved this level of depth.

Set in an opulent blood-soaked world, A Dowry of Blood is an addictive fever dream, a perfect book to feast on during a cold dark night. 

“Love is violence, my darling; it is a thunderstorm that tears apart your world. More often than not, love ends in tragedy, but we go on loving in the hope that this time, it will be different. This time, the beloved will understand us. They will not try to flee from our embrace, or become discontent with us.”

 

ARC provided by Nazia at Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the copy!

 

A Dowry of Blood is out now! 

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The post A DOWRY OF BLOOD by S. T. Gibson (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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