Review: A Dowry of Blood by S. T. GibsonA Dowry of Blood by S. T. Gibson
on February 23, 2022
Genres: Fantasy, Gothic, Horror
Pages: 304
Source: the library

'DARK, LUSH AND HEARTRENDINGLY ROMANTIC' Lyndall Clipstone, author of Lakesedge

This is my last love letter to you, though some would call it a confession. . .

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

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.

Praise for A Dowry of Blood:

'A dizzying nightmare of a romance that will leave you aching, angry and ultimately hopeful' Hannah Whitten, author of For the Wolf

'Atmospheric and lush. . . it will haunt you in the best possible way' Genevieve Gornichec, author of The Witch's Heart

'Ornate. Delicious. Hedonistic. Bloodied and bejewelled. This isn't a book; this is a feast' Reader Review

'Gorgeous retelling of Dracula's Brides. . .lush, incisive prose with gorgeously lyrical turns of phrase' Reader Review

'This is a story that is just as breathtaking as it is heart wrenchingly beautiful'
Reader Review

Less a love story and more the unmaking of one, A Dowry of Blood follows our narrator Constanta and her obsessive love for Dracula, referred only to as “My Lord” by Constanta. In an intimate, confessional tone, Constanta recounts how she become a vampire, how her lord brought two more “brides” into their family, and how it all fell apart.

From the beginning, it’s clear to the reader that Constanta’s obsessive love is nurtured and stoked by her lord. Why else would he isolate her and tell her nothing of the world? For hundreds of years, Constanta has no contact with people outside of her feedings and sexual escapades – accompanied and sanctioned by her lord, of course. Until one day, they arrive in Spain and meet Magdalena, who has been brought into their marriage without Constanta’s knowledge or consent. Constanta’s jealousy of Magdalena quickly turns to lust, and then friendship and love. When the trio migrate to Russia, another beautiful young thing is added to their marriage: Alexi. Alexi awakens an almost maternal instinct in Constanta – one that forces her to finally face the truth about her relationship with her lord.

S. T. Gibson’s writing style in A Dowry of Blood will not be for everyone. Gibson employs a lush, flowery style that may be pleasing to some and off-putting to others. Personally, I loved it and thought it was a smart choice for the novel. For me, Gibson’s writing enhances the romantic and gothic elements of Constanta’s story. The over-the-top descriptions are clearly intentional, bringing to life the hedonism, violence, and emotional turmoil of Constanta’s life with her husband. Perhaps the comparison is inevitable, but at times the dramatic language reminded of Anne Rice’s writing. Fans of her work will most likely enjoy A Dowry of Blood.

Perhaps the comparison is inevitable, but at times the dramatic and flowery language reminded of Anne Rice's work.

Constanta’s narrative voice uses the second person to draw the reader directly into her story. As she recounts her life with Dracula, the tale moves through some of the darkest and deadliest moments in European history. Plagues, religious violence, the fall of empires – eventually, even these horrors seem mundane to immortal creatures. 

Despite the sweeping historical setting, at its heart A Dowry of Blood is rather intimate in scope. Stripped bare of the blood and excess, it’s a simple story about struggling to recognize and ultimately break free from an abusive relationship. Dracula fans looking to read a fun, sexy romance should look elsewhere. There is a fair amount of sex appeal and romance in this story, but that comes primarily from the polyamorous relationship between Constanta, Magdalena, and Alexi. More significantly, it’s the support and community that comes from this polycule that helps Constanta find the courage to reclaim her life.

I listened to A Dowry of Blood as an audiobook and highly recommend this format. There’s something about the audiobook that made the story seem even more intimate – thanks in no small part to Abby Craden’s stellar narration. In the wrong hands this could’ve easily seemed overwrought, but Craden perfectly balances the high drama of the story with emotional sincerity. Her delivery of a few lines even made my heart ache!

S. T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood is one of my favourites of the year. Highly recommended.