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Out Today A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson from @orbitbooks

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

Orbit, HB, £10.99

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

The front cover for A Dowry of Blood. There is a woman in the middle of the cover in a red dress. Her eyes are crossed out with a red streak. The double oo in blood is in red.

Raiders destroyed Constanta’s village. They murdered her family and left her dying in the mud. But in her final moments, a dark lord appears with an offer; eternal life and vengeance, all she must do is obey him. Constanta accepts and is transformed into Dracula’s bride. But despite her new vampiric powers, heightened strength and senses, and longevity, Constanta has no agency. She exists entirely at Dracula’s whim, and if she displeases him, he punishes her in subtle, psychological ways she has never encountered before and has no defence against. But a woman can only be oppressed for so long before she explodes, and Constanta has been downtrodden for centuries. All of Dracula’s cunning is not enough for Constanta’s rage.

This story’s premise really caught my attention, reclaiming Dracula as Stoker intended, dark and manipulative, a cunning force of evil. The author has provided content guidance, so readers know what they’re letting themselves in for, and it is a comprehensive list of all the dark things people do to each other. Also, in the current climate of retelling classics, myths and legends from the female perspective, Dracula’s brides are fertile ground.

The first part of the book is a detailed description of Dracula finding Constanta, half-dead and vulnerable, and offering her a chance at vengeance against her attackers. It is emotive and compelling. Dracula uses his attention like a weapon, giving and withholding his affection depending on Constanta’s actions. And when he introduces Constanta to Magdalena, it’s obvious he has arranged this meeting because he wants Magdalena for himself, and Constanta must agree to keep him happy. I was furious and heartbroken for Constanta. Gibson’s portrayal of Dracula’s betrayal makes for painful reading.

Written in the first person, past tense, A Dowry of Blood is Constanta’s journal of her life with Dracula and covers centuries. The first date Constanta refers to is 1452, but by then, she has already lived through the Plague, which, if a second wave occurred in the 1500s, I’m interpreting Constanta’s reference as the first wave in the 1300s. The story finishes in the 20th Century, which is a significant time span to cover, especially in a book with only 292 pages with large margins and a biggish font. This means there isn’t a lot of space for content, which is my biggest problem. I wasn’t expecting every day of those centuries covered, but I was hoping for more than a handful of events recounted as a vague recollection. This is a case of telling, not showing. For example, we are told Magdalena is denied her outlets to make immortality bearable, but we don’t see it, so when Magdalena begins to fade, there’s no impact because we haven’t seen enough of her as an individual to care.

After a strong start, A Dowry of Blood trailed away in a blur of centuries with the occasional event breaking up beautiful Anne Rice-esque descriptions of decadent vampire life. For me, it didn’t realise its full potential, but that doesn’t take away from A Dowry of Blood being a competent tale of a downtrodden woman breaking free from a toxic, controlling relationship.

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