ARC Review: A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

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A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A Dowry of Blood is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation. 

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.

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Thank you very much to Nyx Publishing for providing me with a review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

A Dowry of Blood is out 31st Jan

Buy the novel:
Nyx Publishing | Amazon

TW: gaslighting, domestic abuse, depression and mania

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“What is more lovely, after all, than a monster undone with wanting?”

A Dowry of Blood is a stunning and visceral novel loosely inspired by Dracula as it follows the vampire’s brides through the centuries they live, kill and fear by his side. Set through the eyes of his first bride Constanta as she writes a letter to the monster who made her, this domestic horror is an evocative tale of romance and abuse, of love and deceit, and of finding yourself even during the darkest moments.

As she lies dying after her home and family have been attacked, Constanta is saved by a beautiful stranger who leads her from a life as a medieval peasant into an aristocratic bride for an ancient immortal. Living and killing by his side, Constanta is drawn further and further under Dracula’s powerful and dangerous spell, until, after centuries, her eyes are opened to the horror he has wrought. And then, Dracula comes home with two new brides, and Constanta now has a small, loving family she must learn how to protect from the one who controls them all.

I didn’t realise I needed a novel like this until I was reading it. A Dowry of Blood is such a heartbreaking story of domestic abuse from a paranormal lens. It’s about a woman in love with a monster, but who can’t seem to leave him — except the monster on this end happens to be the infamous Dracula. How wonderfully portrayed is the lovely romance of the beginning years of Constanta and Dracula’s relationship, to tense hyper-vigilance, to, finally, violence that sparks at any moment. Gibson’s story crafting is powerful and as she exquisitely captures the slow transformation of love into violence — so much so, that she had me shipping Constanta and Dracula for a good portion of the novel until, like Constanta, I realised his danger.

Constanta is a very quiet, almost timid character, but her emotions are intense and all-consuming. She’s a perfect main character for a novel such as this — she’s a people-watcher, someone who’s happy to sit on the sidelines and not be the centre of attention. But Constanta has a deep, all-consuming ability to love that is first placed entirely on Dracula, until she meets Magdalena and Alexei, the other brides.

I really loved the relationships Constanta had separately with Magdalena and Alexei, and then with both of them together. Magdalena is the first bride Dracula brings home after her, and she is a beautiful, accomplished and ambitious aristocrat. At first, Constanta is unbelievably jealous of Magdalena, but drawn to her as well. Then, centuries later, Alexei joins their threesome and his relationship with Constanta is a bit more complex. Where Constanta desires Magdalena, she almost becomes a mother-type figure for Alexei, wanting to protect him from the cruelty of Dracula. But their relationship soon blooms into more of a romantic one, and they, along with Dracula and Constanta, are in a polyamorous relationship. This development truly makes the novel shine, as you can’t help but root for this small found family to find happiness.

I do think people need to be aware that this novel is not a retelling of Dracula. It’s a book entirely of the S.T. Gibson’s own imagination, with characters from the Dracula world. But this isn’t a horror novel, there’s no nuisance Harkers, nor a murderous Van Helsing. Instead, this is a novel about domestic abuse and the myriad of ways it affects different people in a relationship, and how love can change and distort over time. Dracula’s treatment of Constanta is different from the ways he treats Magdalena and Alexei, and none of them are ever at fault for this abuse. What remains constant is Dracula’s controlling, manipulate behaviour, and Gibson makes it very clear who is at fault for the abuse in this queer relationship.

Gibson’s writing is truely something special to behold. Her prose is so evocative and emotional, I couldn’t put my Kindle down for a moment. What I loved most about this book is the epistolary format, as Constanta writes a long letter to Dracula detailing their lives together and how his abuse nearly destroyed them all, and why she and the other brides had to take matters into their own hands. It just made the book feel so much more intimate and personal — like I was Constanta herself, pouring out her heart to the man she used to love above all others.

S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood is a tour de force, an evocative and emotional discussion of domestic abuse in queer relationships. It’s a book I highly recommend everyone should read, whether you like sapphic yearning, complex bisexual polyamorous relationships, or retributive revenge all set amongst the backdrop of historical Europe, this book has it all.

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