(Cover picture courtesy of Mythical Books.)
The 19th century’s most infamous party-girl is undead and on the loose in the Big Apple.
When 23 year-old Parisian courtesan, Marie Duplessis succumbed to consumption in 1847, Charles Dickens showed up for the funeral and reported the city mourned as though Joan of Arc had fallen. Marie was not only a celebrity in in her own right, but her list of lovers included Franz Liszt – the first international music superstar, and Alexandre Dumas fils, son of the creator of The Three Musketeers. Dumas fils wrote the novel The Lady of the Camellias based on their time together. The book became a play, and the play became the opera La Traviata. Later came the film versions, and the legend never died.
But what if when offered the chance for eternal life and youth, Marie grabbed it, even when the price was the regular death of mortals at her lovely hand?
In 2014, Marie wonders if perhaps nearly two centuries of murder, mayhem, and debauchery is enough, especially when she falls hard for a rising star she believes may be the reincarnation of the only man she ever truly loved. But is it too late for her to change? Can a soul be redeemed like a diamond necklace in hock? And even if it can, have men evolved since the 1800′s? Or does a girl’s past still mark her?
Blood Diva is a sometimes humorous, often dark and erotic look at sex, celebrity, love, death, destiny, and the arts of both self-invention and seduction. It’s a story that asks a simple question – Can a one hundred ninety year-old demimondaine find happiness in 21st century Brooklyn without regular infusions of fresh blood?
[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
As my regular readers are probably well aware of by now, I love opera. It makes up the bulk of music I’ve listened to in the past two years or so and since there’s nothing on television anymore it also makes up the bulk of movies/performances I watch. I guess you could say I’m an opera fanatic, so when I saw this book on NetGalley I decided I’d go for it. After all, while I’d never heard of the real Marie Duplessis, I sure loved Violetta in La Traviata. I figured it would be nice to see a different take on the woman behind the legend.
What was really clear from the beginning is the Gautier loves opera and she loves the book by Alexandre Dumas fils. She has this excited energy about both of them that you really just can’t fake. However, to me it seemed like her love of opera sometimes exceeded her knowledge of it. When referring to a famous aria from Verdi’s Rigoletto she called it “Dona e mobile”, which is not correct Italian. It should be “La Donna e mobile”. At another point a vampire tells her he calls blood l’elisir d’amore because of the Rossini opera; that’s not really possible because Donizetti wrote the opera in question. Some other errors like saying “vencere, vencere” is the last line of the aria “Nessun Dorma” can be attributed to the lack of knowledge of characters, but the two examples above should have been caught in the editing process.
For all of my nitpicking, I really did enjoy Blood Diva. Marie/Alphonsine is a great character and is very three dimensional. She struggled so much with her transition to being a vampire and now she struggles with being a vampire because she’s falling in love with a human. A human that doesn’t (and can’t) know about her past. Marie also really struggles about what she’s forced to do for work because sometimes the elder vampires (in order to gain funds for the communal fund to help other vampires) sometimes make her revert to her old profession. It’s actually kind of sad that she was gifted an immortal life on her deathbed and yet, for all that she’s seen and learned, she’s back where she started 200 years ago.
This is mostly a character novel, so it helped that both Marie and Dashiell were three dimensional. The one thing I really loved was that their relationship was intense and beautiful, but that it also had its rocky moments. Contrary to how they’re portrayed in many novels, relationships are rarely straightforward and couples in love do argue. Marie and Dashiell certainly argue, but you can always feel that they love each other. Considering their relationship takes up most of the book, I really appreciated that Gautier spent so much effort on it.
The plot was pretty good right up until the end. As I’ve said, this was character driven so of course it’s going to be slower than a plot-driven novel, but Blood Diva never really drags. The characters are far too interesting for that. My only problem is that the ending left me unsatisfied. It fits with the theme throughout the book of Marie’s fictional incarnations, so I don’t mind that the ending was not necessarily the most cheerful ever. I just felt unsatisfied, like “I read all that only for it to end like this?”. It didn’t feel like there was much closure, really.
Still, Gautier’s writing style was beautiful, her pacing was excellent as well as her characters and she had that kind of excitement that you just can’t fake. Despite the ending and the little mistakes I really, really enjoyed Blood Diva and I hope that Gautier, whether under this pseudonym or another, writes more novels in the future.
I give this book 4/5 stars.