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

Author: S.T. Gibson
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Redhook
Publish Date: October 4, 2022
Print Length: 304

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Official Synopsis

This deliciously dark retelling of Dracula is a sensual story of obsession, desire, and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love.

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.

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

Modern popular culture tends to romanticize vampires to varying degrees. Take Louis de Pointe du Lac from INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, waxing melancholy poetic about his reflections and realizations living as one of the undead. Or Dracula from Castlevania, sequestered in his castle with his science and disdain for humans who are slow to learn yet quick to anger. Both of these popular culture tales depict vampires through the lens of time, blurring their fictional existence across a backdrop of history, horror, and sex into an amalgam of curiosity. In this regard, S.T. Gibson’s A DOWRY OF BLOOD shares many similarities to these well-received vampire legends, though to a relatively lesser degree of romanticization.

It’s an incredibly atmospheric read that starts in medieval eastern Europe with the aftermath of a village raid. Constanta shares her vampire origin story, the death of her original self, both in body and mind, and her rebirth as someone beholden to her sire. Though Constanta withholds her new husband’s name to diminish his importance, for legends hold sway, it’s fairly evident Dracula made and married her. The opening lines of the story spell Dracula’s doom. But Constanta takes the reader through her evolution of obsessive love for him and how that resulted in his demise.

What begins as total admiration and supplication eventually morphs into bitter devotion. Vampires essentially have all the time in the world. And this time allows for the accrual of observations and experiences to compound into realizations. To Constanta, a young woman, brought up devout, pure, and kind, mental and emotional manipulation were not easy to recognize at first. But centuries of the denial of independence and the dissuasion of curiosity eventually yield a slow epiphany of circumstances. Gibson writes a fantastic portrayal of subtle, masterful domestic manipulation through Dracula. My dislike for him was immediate and I couldn’t wait for Constanta to shake herself free of his invisible bonds.

However, the more fascinating aspect to me was the undercurrent, and sometimes obvious, comparison of Dracula to God or Jesus. Although Dracula scoffed at religion, Constanta never lost her taste for it and used it to ground her at times. But her devotion to Dracula is the equivalent of idolatry. She drank of his blood and he is her savior. My knowledge of the specifics of Christianity has waned significantly over the years. Consequently it’s difficult for me to relay this imagery into review format; but this metaphor is heavily present in her worship of him, body and mind.

One aspect that puzzled me in this retelling is the blurred lines between amorous, sexual love and sibling love. To avoid sharing too much I won’t delve into the details. But I would hazard an analysis that this is because Dracula controls everything. Constanta’s made family is also her family of lovers. They have no one else. So they each serve different roles to each other during various mental and emotional states.

There is just so much to unpack in this 300-page book. (And it would be a perfect book to dissect in a literature class.) It also vividly shows that one’s mind needs to be exercised to thrive; forced sequestration does the soul no good, no matter the length of one’s existence. I found this point particularly interesting because Dracula holds humans in such low regard–they are only sustenance to him. Yet he and his sires still share so many similarities to them despite their immortality. The constant machinations of the mind, through hobbies of choice, are what keep their humanity intact. I am very curious as to why Dracula became such a manipulator given his humble beginnings. Was it due to survival? Did his enslavement during his former life harden him to humankind?

In summary, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a somber realization that not all love is unconditional. It’s a prosaic exposé of recognizing the signs of manipulation through the haze of passion. It’s about putting one’s welfare first and having the courage to let shared history be history.

Rating: 4.25
Content warnings: blood, death, murder, consensual sex
Reading format: Kindle e-book

For additional thoughts about A DOWRY OF BLOOD, check out reviews by Birdie’s Book Nook; My World of Books; Reader Voracious; Books, Bones & Buffy; reader@work; and Realms of My Mind.

8 thoughts on “ARC Review: A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson

  1. Your reviews are always so thorough and fantastic! I’ve been curious about this one ever since I saw the cover and learned what it was about but your review has made me even more intrigued and eager to pick it up as soon as possible. ?

    1. Thank you so much for the compliment, Dini! 😀 It’s a relatively quick read, so if you’re curious about it, I say go for it! It won’t hold you back from the rest of your TBR for too long, maybe 3 days tops if you can easily read 100 pages each day.

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