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Monday, September 19, 2022

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson (reviewed by Caitlin G. & Shazzie)


Official Author Website
Order A Dowry of Blood over HERE - USUK

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Saint is a author, literary agent, and village wise woman in training. She is represented by Tara Gilbert of the Jennifer De Chiara literary agency.
OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: This is my last love letter to you, though some would call it a confession. . .

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things.

Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband's dark secrets. With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (SHAZZIE): When I choose to request for advanced copies of books, I have a chronic problem: I tend to spare the really good ones less than a glance. I did that with THE BOOK EATERS by Sunyi Dean, and I don't seem to have learnt from that experience, because that's what I did with this book too, until I suddenly developed an overwhelming interest due to the abundance of positive things I heard about it online. I would have missed out on something truly special if I hadn't.

To those who escaped a love like death, and to those still caught in its grasp.

This book is written from the perspective of ConstantaDracula's wife, that detail all the events from their first meet, to the day she recounts all the important moments that led to her present day, in the format of letters addressed to him. As the dedication indicates, this is clearly not a love story. It is an account of domestic horror, control, obsession, and abuse. Note that Dracula is not mentioned by name anywhere in this book, but there is no doubt who Constanta refers to as her lord, for he is not just a vampire, he is the vampire from that time.

What can't S. T. Gibson do with her words? Sometimes, authors only need use only one device to impress a reader and leave a lasting impression, and in this book, that would be the prose. I can think of no other tale told better with the right placement of words. The prose is just right, sumptuous, and rich in religious symbolism. The book reads like the author painstakingly chose the right combination of terms and phrases to keep the reader obsessed with the way each sentence flows. This is not a book you read to know what happened or how it happened, it is purely a book you need to be reading to know how it is expressed.

At this point, we all know what this book depicts. It is a story of control and domestic horror, as Dracula traps Constanta in the guise of marriage over centuries of her life, and makes additions to their "family", as he calls it, when they encounter Magdalena and Alexi. Though everything in this story happen with a limited set of characters and in very limited settings, the author always ensures that the reader is given a constant sense of the passing of time through the smallest of details, right down to the references that Constanta makes as they move around Europe over centuries.

You manufactured my consent every step of the way, a mere formality.

As Dracula's cycle on control and abuse repeats, the reader is shown extremely slow change in Constanta's feelings toward him. What started as her feelings of gratitude and desire for him, we slowly see transform into hatred and mutiny, influenced by his behaviour toward her and the others that she grows to care about. This is given an extra degree of reinforcement due to the structure of the book, as the letters speak to "you", and by the time I was halfway through the book, I simply forgot that the narrator was not referring to me, and every few paragraphs that spoke of "your" behaviour seemed like accusations hurled at me.

CONCLUSION (SHAZZIE): This is a book that you will want to savour slowly, word for word, but also one that you will want to read like everything depends on it. Peak perfection in its usage and choice of words, simply arresting, compelling, and absolutely worthy of purchase for lovers of classics and contemporary fiction.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (CAITLIN): Dying alone in the remains of her raided village in medieval Europe, Constanta has no reason to believe she’ll live to see another day. But a dark stranger offers her a second chance at life and she grasps it, becoming a vampiric bride who will live for centuries. But despite this unending life and the chance to see a world she never dreamed of, Constanta’s life is a tumultuous one. Her husband is passionate, cruel, and domineering, determined that nothing else but himself shall be first in Constanta’s life. As the centuries roll by, Constanta finds herself questioning if she can bear immortality under the weight of her sire’s control. 

A Dowry of Blood is an atmosphere-rich vampire story, one that focuses on emotional vibes and relationship over plot. The book is just under 300 pages, (closer to 250 if you discount the new epilogue short story), yet covers several hundred years of Constanta’s life, so you can imagine how much of this tale is mere snapshots of her unlife. While I chose to stretch this read out over multiple days, it can easily be read in a couple of sittings, and in fact, that might be the best way to read it to maximize the emotional resonance of the story.

This book’s greatest success is making you feel a mood. It evokes the luring decadence of vampire life, of living forever and having endless human “playthings” to satisfy your various appetites. But it also explores the toxic relationship Constanta has with her sire (only ever called “you” in the book, never specifically Dracula) and her warring emotions of devotion and fear. Her sire is the one who made her and gave her these centuries of life, but he is also controlling and abusive, curbing any attempts of Constanta to have a life of her own.

CONCLUSION (CAITLIN): A Dowry of Blood is the dark lush tale it promises to be. Its language will envelope you in a gothic mood befitting a vampire story, making the most of its short time before you. If you are looking for a read to give you maximum ambience, A Dowry of Blood is the book for you.



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