Book Review: A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of A Dowry of Blood
Publisher: Redhook (October 4, 2022)
Length: 304 pages
After I finished A Dowry of Blood, I went to look up the book on Goodreads and was not surprised to see that the ratings for it were all over the place. Because this one is very much a niche book. I have a feeling it will strike the perfect note for some, while for others it will fall flat on its face. Stylistically, you could tell author S.T. Gibson was going for a certain vibe, and whether it’s a vibe that appeals to you will depend on your personal tastes.
A Dowry of Blood reimagines the story of Dracula, though the classic figure is never mentioned by name, referred only to as “My Lord” by our narrator, Constanta. This is the tale of how she became the bride of her vampire master and lived for centuries by his side, eventually helping him add two more members to their immortal family as they migrate across Europe.
The book opens upon the site of a massacre, with our protagonist barely clinging on to life while the rest of her family lay dead around her, slaughtered by a group of armed men. Like a vulture attracted to the carnage, the vampire lord suddenly appears before her and offers her salvation and a chance to live forever. Filled with desperation and in awe of the power of her savior, she accepts—and becomes reborn as Constanta. And her first act as a vampire? Exacting revenge on her family’s killers, reveling in her newfound powers.
As the years pass, the obsessive love for her master continues to consume Constanta, until they arrive in Spain and meet Magdalena, so beautiful and full of life—the perfect addition to their clan. Gradually, Constanta’s jealousy of the other woman turns to admiration, respect, and then love. And later, when the trio end up in Russia, the young artist and actor Alexi also awakens a protective instinct in Constanta after he joins their family, forcing her to face some difficult truths about her relationship with her lord.
If you enjoy retellings from a different angle, ones that are a little unconventional, then A Dowry of Blood might provide you with what you are looking for. But although the novel may reimagine the character of Dracula from the point-of-view of his “wife”, it also makes several nods to the original classic which inspired it. The entire tale is told in second person epistolary format, addressing her words to her vampire master. I also feel that the prose is written in a way that brings to mind the works of Anne Rice, with dramatic language that at times is almost too flowery.
The results, however, are quite effective. It’s as though Constanta is speaking directly into your mind, creating an atmosphere that feels both immediate and immersive. The mood is thick with seduction and gothic vibes, as the narrative takes us through the darkest parts of history including times of plague and war. Yet at the same time, it’s not all just filth and blood and death. We’re also treated to the imposing backdrops of resplendent castles and the bustling theater scene and nightlife of cities at the prime of their power.
But for all that, the scope of this story feels small. The overall plot is also uncomplicated and linear. Remove all the paranormal and fantastical dressings, and what A Dowry of Blood boils down to is a story about our main character struggling to break free from an abusive relationship. In that sense, there’s really nothing sexy and romantic about this book. Whatever we get to see is constrained by Constanta’s limited experience within the sphere of influence strictly enforced by her husband, and she freely admits she knows little of the world outside of their little family. And unlike Magdalena and Alexi who are a little more willing to test their master’s limits, Constanta herself displays little motivation to go against his wishes for most of the book.
Still, simple plot or not, the point is that our protagonist does eventually find the emotional strength to break that vicious cycle to protect those she loves. It was an epic journey, in its own way, of Constanta’s centuries-long awakening from the spell cast upon her by her so-called beloved.
Bottom line, A Dowry of Blood is a gothic vampire novel filled with dark and sexually charged vibes—not so much “horror” in the traditional sense, but more designed to fill you with a sense of unease. As I said, I believe the response will be mixed on this one due to its niche appeal. Not so sure that it was really for me, but nevertheless I was quite impressed by the way it was all put together.