Hi everybody! I’m back with another book review of one of my most anticipated 2021 releases and, if this works properly, you should be seeing this the day before release day! I for one am a sucker (pun intended) for queer vampire stories and I love reading books with poly rep so when I heard about A Dowry of Blood which combines both of these, I knew I had to preorder it straight away. I was also very kindly given an e-ARC copy of this book for review which was so exciting and, let me tell you, this is not a book you want to miss out on!
Title: A Dowry of Blood
Author: S.T. Gibson
Pages: ≈ 110 (will update when I have my physical copy)
Genre: Horror, Historical Fiction, Retelling, LGBT, Adult
Synopsis: 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.
A Dowry of Blood is a refreshing take on the brides of Dracula that is both hauntingly compelling and deeply thought provoking. The novel opens with our main character, Constanta, left for dead and about to drown on her own blood after her village is destroyed and her family killed, when a handsome stranger comes to save her and offers her vengeance for the fate that has befallen her. However, Constanta slowly begins to learn that the man she is bound to is far more terrible than she first anticipated, and so, Constanta finds solace in her fellow brides and decides to put an end to the man she calls her husband.
Straight away I was drawn into this book by S.T. Gibson’s gorgeous prose – if you like beautiful flowery language reminiscent of This is How You Lose the Time War, then this is going to be right up your street! The world building in particular was something that I found was written so perfectly and S.T. Gibson managed to paint the different European cities in such an impressive way that, despite never having visited the majority of them, I found myself able to picture them so clearly in my head. The novel also has a real gothic horror atmosphere to it that is reminiscent of L.B. Shimaera’s My Lord (another fantastic queer, poly vampire read) and Caitlin Starling’s Yellow Jessamine, and I ate it up!!
I also really enjoyed Constanta and our other brides, Magdalena and Alexei. Constanta is a peasant who is suddenly thrust into a life of excess but still manages to stay so close to her humble roots. She often views herself as quite motherly throughout the book and I think that’s honestly the perfect way to describe her and her relationship with the other brides. I particularly liked the fact that she tried her best to choose whose blood she drank based on who they were as a person; choosing to drain the blood of those who had wronged others rather than the first person she came across. Magdalena was perhaps my favourite of the brides – a beautiful, wealthy and powerful Spanish woman who Constanta reluctantly falls for. I really appreciated the portrayal of Magdalena’s depression as someone who also suffers from it, and I think she was just a very well-rounded character in general. Alexei, the final bride, is a gorgeous artist’s muse who isn’t quite as compliant as the other two, and is the catalyst for the inevitable ending of the book. Despite the fact that we got less time with him than the other two brides, I really enjoyed his bright personality and seeing how he interacted differently with Magdalena and Constanta.
This book deals with some very heavy topics, primarily an abusive relationship. I really appreciate this novella for how it dealt with the topic and how the relationship affected all three of the brides differently. I myself have not been in an abusive relationship so I don’t feel like I can fully comment on the subject matter, but I think it’s an extremely read and a great take on the original story of the brides of Dracula.
The one reason I docked half a star was simply a ‘me issue’ and not an issue with the book. Due to the novella’s very distinct writing style of a letter written to Constanta’s husband, so much of the book is quite matter of fact and we don’t get to fully get inside Constanta’s head or experience all of her emotions. As someone who loves romance in books, I would have liked a tad bit more depth when it came to her relationships with Magdalena and Alexei, but I equally understand why that did not come into play here.
Overall, this was a truly dynamic read and a fantastic retelling that I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the gothic horror atmosphere and the tearful yet hopeful ending and I can’t wait to read more by S.T. Gibson in the future!