A Dowry of Blood
- Author: S.T. Gibson
- Genre: Horror
- Publication Date: October 4, 2022
- Publisher: Redhook
- Series: A Dowry of Blood #1
Thank you to Redhook and Angie Man for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: unhealthy relationship (including emotional, verbal, and physical abuse of an intimate partner), gaslighting, war, plague, famine, blood, gore, body horror, violence, murder, depression, mania, mention of sexual assault (off-page)
A deliciously dark retelling of Dracula, A Dowry of Blood is a saga of obsession, desire, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.
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 her 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 be broken only by death.
S.T. Gibson—you had me at queer reimagining of Dracula’s brides, but this was way beyond even my most hopeful imaginings. If you’re reading my blog, you probably already know that I’m not one for horror (or classics), so the original Dracula isn’t a book that I am typically a huge fan of (mainly due to the antisemitic overtones in the original). But somehow, Gibson has managed to make Dracula himself such a small character in the story itself, although his influence looms large. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So this book is billed as “a queer reimagining of Dracula’s bride, ft. Sapphic yearning at the opera and tangled polyamorous relationships,” and that’s exactly what it was. But it’s also wrapped up in the unhealthiest of unhealthy relationships, and Constanta’s journey to first identify that her relationship isn’t a healthy one, and then to escape it and reclaim her own life.
We get to meet Constanta as she is dying, and then reborn into a new life, where she knows nothing and no one. She becomes entirely dependent on her maker, and he actively encourages it, rather than teaching her how to stand on her own feet as an individual. It was incredibly difficult to watch an unhealthy relationship develop from the outside, especially having been through one myself. And it makes it even harder for Constanta to see it, since he isn’t physically violent with her, and his actions all seem to come from a place of love, even as he actively works to control her every move. However, we know that Constanta eventually makes some changes because a) she never uses his name directly, only referring to him as “you,” b) she explicitly refers to making some serious changes, and c) the format of the story makes it feel as though this is all some kind of apology, almost.
While this is a dark and brutal story, it is also an incredibly sexy and openly queer story. All of the characters are bisexual, and they transition into a polyamorous relationship relatively smoothly. However, some complications do arise, and those are addressed. Issues such as consent and jealousy are discussed at various points, and I loved reading a book where basically everyone is bisexual and just draped all over each other and no one bats an eye, no matter the time period it takes place in.
The story is written beautifully, and I could easily put myself in Constanta’s shoes. It was lush and dark and entrancing, and it was nearly impossible to put down. The way that the relationships between the characters are written had me completely engrossed, and it was done absolutely perfectly right up until the last page.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how this retelling has completely reclaimed the story of Dracula’s brides, in fact, nearly removing Dracula completely from the story. By writing his name out, Gibson hasn’t removed his influence, but rather made it even larger, while allowing his brides to develop on their own merit, both as prisoners and individuals. This lush, feral, and blood-soaked story single-handedly reignited my love for vampire novels in a way that I didn’t think was possible.
Categories: Book Review