Tagged: dracula

Daughters of Shadow and Blood: Yasamin by J. Matthew Saunders

Daughters of Shadow and Blood Yasamin by J. Matthew Saunders(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Buda, Ottoman Hungary, 1599: Yasamin, the naïve daughter of an Ottoman bureaucrat, finds herself trapped in an arranged marriage to the son of the powerful governor of Buda. She is unprepared for the gossip and scheming rampant in the palace but realizes she faces more than petty jealousies when someone tries to drown her in the baths on the day before her wedding. An unearthly menace lurks in the palace corridors, and the one person able to protect Yasamin is a soldier named Iskander, who seems to appear whenever she needs him. Charming and confident, he is nothing like her new husband, but trusting either of them could be a deadly mistake.

Berlin, Germany, 1999: Adam Mire, an American professor of history, discovers a worn, marked-up copy of Dracula. The clues within its pages send him on a journey across the stark landscape of Eastern Europe, searching for a medallion that once belonged to Dracula himself. But a killer hounds Adam’s footsteps, and each new clue he uncovers brings him closer to a beguiling, raven-haired woman named Yasamin Ashrafi, who might be the first of Dracula’s legendary Brides.

Adam has an agenda of his own, however, a quest more personal than anyone knows. One misstep, and his haunted past could lead to death from a blade in his back … or from Yasamin’s fatal embrace.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

The first thing you really need to know about this first book in the Daughters of Shadow and Blood series is that it’s told in three different points of view.  We have the point of view of Yasamin from when she was human, the present day with Adam Mire and the past with Adam Mire as he tried to unravel the mystery that is Dracula and his brides.  I personally loved Yasamin’s point of view the most because I love history but Adam’s point of view was really just as good in a lot of aspects (particularly during his banter with Yasamin).

The thing that really stood out to me in this book is that Saunders is a master of plot pacing as well as suspense.  Sometimes the point of view shifts can be a little disjointed or disconcerting (in some cases quite disconcerting) but in each little chapter there’s that undercurrent of tension as we move closer and closer to the end of the story and the end of Adam’s time talking to Yasamin.  Will she decide to let him live if she enjoys his tale enough or will she kill him anyway because he knows too much?  Not only that, we want to know what happens within each story: how Yasamin came to know the man known as Dracula and how Adam Mire stumbled across the truth about Dracula and found Yasamin.  And of course, what does Dracula himself think of all this?  I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say he’s not missing from the face of the earth like everyone seems to think he is.

Both main characters were fascinating for different reasons.  Yasamin is fascinating not only because of her association with Dracula but because she was a remarkable young woman when she was still human.  She grew up in the provinces and so never really was prepared for the secluded nature of the royal harem when she marries the oldest son of Buda’s governor.  When she realizes she isn’t really attracted to her husband and that she’d really rather have his little brother, things definitely get interesting.  Yasamin stays true to herself without and when she develops a dangerous attraction to the mysterious Iskander, things start to spiral out of control.  Adam Mire is fascinating because he’s an historian with a pretty exciting past.  After his best friend died he tries to search out clues hidden in his friend’s books and other documents to see what he was looking for and what he died for.  In the process, Adam encounters more than he’d bargained for but he’s not as unprepared as Yasamin would like to think.

Of course when you have fantasy colliding with history there are going to be some liberties taken with the facts but Saunders does a really good job of mixing the two together to create a great story.  I loved how he meticulously researched the Ottoman Empire and gave little details of everyday life to make Yasamin’s story all the more authentic.  And he mixes in parts of the Dracula legend everyone will recognize while adding in some other parts to make it more of his own.  (I particularly liked the Michael the Brave and Iskander connection.)  If you’re a fan of the Dracula legend or just vampires in general I think Daughters of Shadow and Blood: Yasamin is at least worth checking out.  Who knows?  Maybe by the time you finish the book you’ll be as eager as I am for the sequel.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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The Tale of the Vampire Bride by Rhiannon Frater

The Tale of the Vampire Bride by Rhiannon Frater(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Set in the 1820s, The Tale of the Vampire Bride is sure to thrill fans of vampires of literary past with its lush, gothic atmosphere and terrifying spectacle.

All Lady Glynis Wright ever wanted was the freedom to live life as she pleased, despite her aristocratic parents’ wishes for her to marry into wealth. But her fate is far more terrible than an arranged marriage when her family becomes prisoners to one of the most fearsome and powerful vampires of all time, Count Vlad Dracula.

Imprisoned in the decrepit castle in the Carpathian Mountains, Glynis’s new life as a Bride of Dracula is filled with bloody feasts, cruel beatings, and sexual depravity. There is no hope for escape. Vlad Dracula has elaborate plans to use her familial connections in England and she has become his favored pawn. Even more terrible is the bond of blood between them that keeps Glynis tethered to his side despite her deep hatred of him.

It’s only when Vlad Dracula takes Glynis to the picturesque city of Buda on the Danube River and she meets a mysterious vampire in the darkened city streets, does she dare hope to find love and freedom.

Rhiannon Frater sure wasn’t kidding when she said that this book was ‘gothic horror’ on Goodreads.  It’s pretty bloody and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart but at the same time none of the violence is really unnecessary.  There’s always a point to it; none of it is gratuitous.  And the most important part is that it really jars the reader in the same manner that poor Glynis herself is jarred as she’s thrown into the life of an unwilling wife to one of the most famous psychopaths in history: Vlad the Impaler.

 Glynis is a pretty extraordinary woman for her time.  She really doesn’t want to get married; she really just wants to be her own woman, independent and free.  In her time that’s certainly unconventional but not an impossibility when you have wealth on your side so it’s not like she’s a stand-in for a modern woman.  No, she definitely tries to rebel within the narrow confines of society and that’s part of the reason why she runs afoul of Count Dracula and his brides once her family is killed and she is turned.  Glynis loves her independence and being raped and controlled by Dracula isn’t exactly being independent.  So as she suffers, Glynis begins to plot to gain her freedom by any means possible.  I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say that when Dracula begins to love her in his manner (because realistically he is not the sort of man to fall in real love) it’s the beginning of the end of his reign of terror over poor Glynis and the other brides.

One of the things that struck me the in the first novel I read by Rhiannon Frater, The Last Bastion of the Living, was the complex psychology involved.  The Tale of the Vampire Bride is really no different in that it presents some pretty abnormal psychology without condoning or condemning it.  She simply portrays the characters without judgment and leaves it up to the reader to figure things out.  Is it a result of all of the trauma she’s gone through that Glynis starts to actually feel something (not love) for Dracula?  Or is it that she’s finally accepting her vampire life?  I personally think it’s a result of the trauma combined with an acceptance of her vampire life but Rhiannon Frater smartly leaves things up to the reader for them to figure out themselves.  She’s not one of these authors that tries to beat her readers over the head with the obvious stick.  Her writing is subtle and ambiguous, which is perfect for this kind of gothic tale.

I was a little hesitant about this book in the beginning because it starts off relatively slow with Glynis and her family travelling around in Transylvania to try yet again to find Glynis a husband.  But things pick up pretty quickly when they get mysteriously diverted to Dracula’s castle and meet the count himself.  After that the story involves a lot of the push-pull dynamic between Vlad and Glynis as both of them try to assert their authority.  Sometimes Dracula wins, sometimes (particularly toward the end) Glynis wins.  She learns to survive and there’s another level of intrigue dropped in when the two of them go to Buda and find that humans aren’t the only things they need to worry about.  Glynis’ journey is one of sorrow, torture and strife while at the same time it’s a story of hope, redemption and even love.  Even when the pacing itself is slow, it’s hard not to be captivated by the story itself and the amazing, memorable characters.

That’s why even if you’re not a big fan of gothic horror novels, The Tale of the Vampire Bride is worth a try.  I certainly didn’t expect to love it as much as I did and maybe you’ll surprise yourself as well.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Forbidden by Amy Miles

Forbidden by Amy Miles(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Roseline Enescue didn’t ask to become an Immortal, to have all of the guests at her wedding slaughtered, or be forced into marriage with a man whose lust for blood would one day ignite the vampire legend. Willing to risk everything for a chance at a normal life, Roseline escapes to America. Terrified her husband Vladimir will find her, Roseline enrolls as a senior in Chicago’s elite Rosewood Prep school. Mingling with humans is the last place he would look for her. But her transition into the human world isn’t easy. Mortal men flock after her while cutthroat girls plot her demise. Yet Roseline remains relatively unfazed by the petty hysteria until she falters into the arms of Gabriel Marston, reluctant MVP quarterback, unwilling ladies man, and sensitive artist in hiding. Troubled by the bond that pulls her towards the mortal boy, Roseline tries to ignore him, but Gabriel is persistent. As their lives entwine, Roseline begins to realize that Gabriel is much more than he appears. His ability to toss a football the entire length of the field and grind concrete into dust pales in comparison to the glowing blue cross tattoo that mysteriously appears on his forearms. Despite the forbidden bond between them, Roseline can’t help wondering what Gabriel is: He’s not human. He’s not Immortal. So just what is he?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received this ebook through NetGalley as part of the ‘Beautifully Unnatural’ four book package.]

I thought the premise of this book sounded a little dumb, to be honest.  An immortal who just wants to be a teenager?  Meh.

And yet, after all the effort Amy Miles went to in order to develop her characters, I kind of get it.  Roseline was never allowed to be a child.  She was raised for marriage into another wealthy family from birth and was a child bride on her wedding day.  Add to that the fact she watched her entire family die before her eyes and that the blood of dead younger sister made her immortal and you’ve got a basic recipe for stunted growth.  Not to mention all the myriad tortures Dracula inflicts on her.  I think anyone would turn out with a lack of trust, not to mention an odd mix of maturity (because she had to deal with torture and politics) and immaturity (a response to being forced into said torture and politics).

From all this, you can definitely guess that Roseline is a pretty memorable character.  I still don’t quite buy the whole 300-year-old immortal falling for a teenage boy, but I’m willing to give Amy Miles a little leeway here after she semi-justified Roseline’s immaturity.  Gabriel is not bad in the beginning and I like how he actually develops into a character rather than just your typical love interest.  He won’t abandon Roseline, no matter how much she pushes him away in order to protect him.  Compared to other love interests, he also knows how to act and lie, which make him a far more compelling character than your usual guileless but oddly heroic male.

Even if the characterization was iffy in spots, the plot was not.  Even when it was ‘slow’ (i.e. there were no major events happening), there was still an element of tension throughout the novel that kept your attention.  I generally liked Roseline as a character so I was very invested in what happened to her, especially when she got the word that Dracula was going to go on a killing spree unless she returned to him.  She has trouble adjusting to high school life in America but she does find a lot of things to be happy about at the same time: Gabriel, finally being allowed to be herself and (again) the whole not being tortured thing.  Anyone would act a little irrationally after being denied freedom for centuries and then being given it back.

So overall, Forbidden at least had a solid plot and generally well-developed characters.  The world-building was okay and I expect we’ll see a little bit more of an explanation in the other two books of the trilogy.  For something I picked up as guilty pleasure, I actually found myself enjoying it on a more intellectual level.  And that’s why I’ll be reading the next book to find out what happens.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

(Cover picture courtesy of Reading with Tequila.)

Breathtakingly suspenseful and beautifully written, The Historian is the story of a young woman plunged into a labyrinth where the secrets of her family’s past connect to an inconceivable evil: the dark fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler and a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive through the ages.  The search for the truth becomes an adventure of monumental proportions, taking us from monasteries and dusty libraries to the capitals of Eastern Europe—in a feat of storytelling so rich, so hypnotic, so exciting that it has enthralled readers around the world.

With a premise centred around Dracula, a novel is generally a hit-and-miss.  However, Elizabeth Kostova actually managed to pull it off and this was definitely a hit.

While the premise may attract many people, I have to say that the writing style isn’t for everyone.  It’s very descriptive and you really can picture yourself in all of the places described, but some people might find it overly-descriptive.  In historical fiction I don’t mind such things and the descriptive writing style really appealed to me because many of the settings in the novel are completely foreign to me.  Elizabeth Kostova’s writing hooks you in and slowly builds up the suspense while you wait for the shoe to drop—which it eventually does, at an unexpected time.

This is a book you really, really have to pay attention to.  I would definitely not recommend reading it when you’re tired because the plot is incredibly complicated in a blink-and-you-miss sort of way.  There are a couple of intersecting stories from different eras, which can be confusing at times, but works surprisingly well in The Historian overall.

The characters are amazing.  We don’t meet Dracula himself for very long, but he is definitely a memorable character, as are pretty much all of the characters we come across.  Elizabeth Kostova has this way of making her characters come alive, even though all we learn about some of them is through the stories of the main characters.  It’s sort of how we learn about Lestat and other characters in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and in this case, it’s highly effective.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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