Book review: A Dowry of Blood by S.T Gibson

Title: A Dowry of Blood by S.T Gibson

Publisher: Nyx Publishing

Publication date: 31 January 2021

Genre: Adult | Horror | Fantasy

Rep: All bi cast, polyamorous (m/f/f/m)

Page extent: 248 pages

Rating:

A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation.

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.

Content warnings from the author: emotional, verbal, and physical intimate partner abuse, gaslighting, war, famine, and plague, blood and gore, consensual sexual content, sadomasochism, self harm, body horror, violence and murder, alcohol use, depression and mania, sexual assault (not directed at any named character), drug use, drowning

Some books just leave you a shuddering, incomplete creature, unsure of how to go on in the world after you read them. This is A Dowry of Blood. There is such beauty and reverence in this prose that, sitting here after immediately finishing and trying to write this review, I find myself unsure of how the world works anymore, unsure of what to do next, longing to just sit and contemplate the words I just read.

A Dowry of Blood is a reimagining of Dracula’s brides, written from the point of view of Constanta, one of his brides, through the form of letters written to Dracula. She tells of their life together, how they came to be joined with his other brides, Magdalena and Alexi, and how they began to discover his dark secrets.

Blood has never been sexier. From the very first pages, this book just oozes with lust and desire, the prose so sumptuous and rich and decadent. It is like drowning in chocolate or wine, pleasure mixing with pain so intimately that you can’t separate one from the other. The fire with which desire floods this book is uncontrollable and obsessive: the way Gibson has written desire as something so deeply embedded in religious worship is so stunning that nothing I can say in this review will ever do it justice. Reading it feels like an awakening: you are as enraptured in the desire as Constanta, Magdalena and Alexi are. This book is a work of art, one that could not more perfectly explore the darkness and danger in desire. The way desire is represented through this sense of worship and faith is unlike anything I’ve read before, and yet so powerful and so beautiful that it feels like nothing will compare to it ever again.

These characters were just as perfectly rendered as the prose. The constant sense of foreboding, that sharp inhale of breath you and his brides take whenever Dracula, unnamed throughout the book but so breathlessly there in every sentence, walks into a room. The power he breathes into this book to have such presence in a world where he is not even named, where Constanta purposefully leaves him nameless to remove his power from her story. Constanta herself, the first of his brides, begins her story in these letters with her guilt and fear of him, but she gathers such strength as she writes her story. She gathers the love he brought into their lives in the form of Magdalena and Alexi and uses them against him. It is her love and pure, protective ferocity that brings about his downfall, that reveals his dark secrets, her fear of seeing them hurt anymore that seals his fate.

Then there’s Magdalena, a glowing, shining light of energy and passion and cleverness, subtly manipulating the room from her very first pages. Her change across the book feels most noticeable, as it leaves the most vivid hole in its wake, as her shining desire for life and freedom is brutally torn apart. And finally, the last of the brides, Alexi. He is the fire and brimstone, the terror who won’t go down without fighting, who will tear away from Dracula’s grasp even as he is strangled by it. These characters are so intricately woven together, their horrors shared together in Dracula’s control as he exerts his manipulation over them, elaborately ensuring they see that no matter what he does, they will shatter into even more pieces without him there. It digs so deeply and hauntingly into that slow journey from love to brutality in abusive relationships that the book feels as raw and bruised as anything I’ve ever read.

A Dowry of Blood is a book full of worship, telling a story about the way pain and pleasure, abuse and desire, can be so intricately wrapped that the unravelling can take centuries and break you in the process. It is a work of art, a book that has prose so beautiful that you come out of the book in a haze, wondering how you can return to the beauty beholden in its pages.

30 Days of Pride: Retellings but make it gay

Hi everyone,

I feel like 2020 publishing is a pretty major year for retellings, whether that be retellings of fairytales, historical events, classics, or mythology. Now I’m a pretty big fan of retellings, but you know what make them reach new heights of epicness? Making them gay! There’s just something about taking an old, boring, cishet book and making it sparkle with queerness instead. So here’s some of my favourites as well as some of the ones I’m most excited to read!

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies has been one of my favourite reads of the year so far. This is a retelling of the year 1617 Vardø storm, a storm which wiped out the men in a small fishing village in Norway. The village of newly independent women must come together to survive in the cold and harsh climate. But then a commissioner is sent to the village to help lead them, a witch hunter from Scotland. What follows is a story focused on the destruction of this village, as the witch hunter riles up suspicion and hatred amongst the group of women as he tries to control them with his Godly, just ways. This book is so fantastic. There is a soft, sapphic relationship (one of my favourite couples!!), a dark descent to villainy and evil, strong friendships, and an absolutely enthalling and enchanting gothic setting. Highly recommend! You can check out my full reivew here.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Okay I know we’ve all read it. But like. It’s so bloody good. I couldn’t leave it off this list! The Song of Achilles reimagines the myth of Achilles and Patroclus, their life growing up together, the journey which takes them to Troy and the long Trojan War, and their era-defining love (yes I said it, this book is ERA-DEFINING). If you were a fool like me, you might not have realised the ending of this myth before you read this book the first time, and holy fuck, what a mess that resulted in. This book is a beautiful, poetic and HIGHLY EMOTIONAL (I’M NOT FUCKING KIDDING) retelling that will no doubt break you heart but also make you fall in love with Madeline Miller and her Greek retellings.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this, and everyone is in for a treat when this releases next month!! Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a Persian mythology inspired fairytale about a princess who is poisonous to the touch and her journey to discover the power in her gift. This book has so many of my favourite tropes: enemies to lovers, morally grey MC, descent to villainy, a bisexual mc, soft sapphic romance, monster girlfriends, and wings!!!! Yes I have a thing for characters with wings, I blame it on a fanfic I read as an impressionable teen. I loved exploring all the Persian mythology, and the journey Soruya, the main character, goes on. A girl terrified of hurting someone with her poison, to someone who embraces her differences and learns to see their power, is sapphic goddess win.

A Blade so Black by L.L McKinney

Okay so I admit I’ve only read half this book, because I ran out of time and had to return it the library. Once libraries reopen I will be re-borrowing it to finish it off! This is an Alice in Wonderland retelling where Alice fights monsters with massive knives and doesn’t that just sound fantastic?! Add to that a lesbian romance and this book is killer. Alice almost dies when she is attacked by a Nightmare, a creature from Wonderland, a kind of dream realm. So of course she decides to train up and fight them. But when her mentor is poisoned by one of the Nightmares, she needs to travel far into Wonderland to find a cure, fighting monsters all the way.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

This beauty released in January this year, and has an absolutely killer cover!! This is a retelling of The Counte of Monte Cristo, which whilst I’ve never read, I have seen it discussed in the film V for Vendetta every Guy Fawkes night for the last 10 years. So. That counts. This is a book full of revenge, with Amaya looking to bring down the man who ruined her family and stole her life. I hope she stabs him. Surely that’s what that knife on the cover represents?!

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

This is the Captian Hook x Peter Pan fanfic you always wanted. I literally described this book to my partner and all he could say was ‘wow that sounds like your cup of tea’. And it so bloody is!! With a trans mc, a Peter who left Neverland to live as Wendy Darling but has come to accept his identity as a man and is now returning to Neverland as an adult. And now he has the hots for his old enemy, Captain Hook. I literally want to sob at how perfect this is.

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella is Dead is one of the books releasing later this year which have caused me to dub 2020 Publishing as The Year of the Retelling. This time, of Cinderella (obviously). This is set 200 years after the story of Cinderella, in a world where girls are now required to appear at a ball once a year, where the men of the kingdom make their choices for brides based on the beauty and finery of the girls. If you aren’t picked, you’re never heard from again… Sophia, who would rather marry her best friend Erin instead of any man, runs away and hides in Cinderella’s mausoleum where she meets the last descendent of Cinderella and together they plan to take down the king for good.

A Miracle of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

This retelling sounds so brilliant and I can’t wait to see the cover when it gets revealed!! It’s a historical fantasy retelling of a Portugese miracle about a girl who turns all food she touches into flowers, following an actual Portugese saint Yzabel of Aragon. Plu! It’s sapphic! There’s an f/f relationship between Yzabel and (I assume) the enchanter she goes to to try reverse her miracle (or curse…)

Ruinsong by Julia Ember

Of all the retellings coming this year, I think this might be my favourite. I am such a big gothic fan. I’m currently taking my partner through all my old gothic films after watching the stage version of Phantom of the Opera on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s weekly Youtube musical release. I adore Phantom. Book, film, and show! So when I heard there was going to be an f/f Phantom of the Opera I think I might have died a little. In a world with music magic, Cadence has been forced to sing to torture the queendom’s disgraced nobility at the queen’s bidding. But when reuinted with a childhood friend, she needs to decide whether to free their country or become a monster herself. Is it bad that I….kinda want her to be the monster?! This sounds so brilliant, morally grey characters, possible descent to villainy, music magic and sapphic relationships, I cannot wait till November!

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

A King Arthur retelling that’s queer as fuck?! Hell fucking yes. At a local university program for talented high school students, there are demons, a secret society of Legendborn students who fight down the demons and a mage called Merlin who wants to wipe Bree’s memory when she sees one of these demons attack on her very first day on campus. The attack unlocks Bree’s own magic and memories of the death of her mother. Bree vows to become a Legendborn initiate to find out how her mother died. But the Legendborn reveal themselves as descendants of King Arthur and his knights and claim a magical war is coming. Bree must decide whether to take them down, or help them fight.

I hope you enjoyed reading about these super queer retellings and found some new books to add to your TBR! Are there any I’ve missed which you love?? I struggled narrowing down this list so they might be appearing on my blog another day this month…