A Dowry of Blood by S. T. Gibson
Published by Orbit Books
Adult, Queer, Gothic, Fantasy
Release Date : January 21st 2021 (self published) & October 4th 2022 (Orbit Release Date)
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.
Trigger Warning : emotional, verbal & physical intimate partner abuse and gaslighting; sexual assault mentioned, depression & mania; self-harm, alcohol consumption, drug use mentioned, blood & gore depiction and body horror, drowning mentioned, murder, war themes, famine and plague (by Trigger Warning Database).
“I will render you as you really were, neither cast in pristine stained glass or unholy fire. I will make you nothing more than a man, tender and brutal in equal measure, and perhaps in doing so I will justify myself to you. To my own haunted conscience.”
ARC provided by the publisher Orbit Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
It started with a letter written by a devoted bride about her life with her lustrous saviour turned abuser and her fight to end the bloody cycle. A Dowry of Blood is a seductive gothic horror debut novella that explores toxic relationships in all its darkness and the emancipation of three partners from a bloody cycle.
If you are on book tweet you’ve probably seen a couple of people on there tweeting about this novella. Since it’s release in January this book has acquired a following in the community. Blurbed as “.. a reimagining of Dracula’s brides..” sure can peak ones interest.
A few of my friends have read it as well screaming how good it is and how it depicts a queer poly-relationship with that I was tempted. I read this book not knowing anything about it with the intention of cleansing my brain from all the thick fantasy books I’ve been reading. My expectations were wrong because it is not at all a light vampire romance story. I would like to remind future readers of this book to read the trigger warnings before reading.
Before I jump into my review, can we appreciate how enticingly beautiful new cover art for this book is ? The original cover is done by the ultra talented Marlowe Lune, please check out their works and follow them on Twitter. Marlowe truly captured the essence of the book perfectly. Though I was disheartened to see that they decided to change the cover upon acquisition, the new cover done by Duncan Spilling still lives up to the glory that is the original. It is so stunning in real life and the formatting of the book also changed by adding regal accents through out the book.
A Dowry of Blood is a gothic fantasy horror novella and debut by S. T. Gibson that was originally self published and as of now has been acquired by Orbit Books. A queer reimagining story about Dracula’s brides, a bloody tale about a vampire that saves a girl from her imminent death by turning her into a vampire. Naming her Constanta as she is “reborn” with a taste for blood and claimed by him to be his wife. Throughout the centuries of their undead life, Constanta discovers a horrible toxic pattern to his love and realizes that her new life is just an eternal prison. As he took on new partners into their tainted relationship, Constanta takes it upon herself to end the bloody cycle of abuse and emancipate herself and the people she loves.
“You coaxed that tenacity out of me and broke it down in your hands, leaving me on your work table like a desiccated doll until you were ready to repair me.“
S. T. Gibson’s writing is exquisite and luscious to read, with every sentence there is longing, beauty and a developing empowerment in Constanta’s voice. The whole story is written in first person from Constanta’s perspective as she recollects all the events in a letter written to her dead husband. Gibson masterfully writes a dark and traumatic story with a lyrical flowery prose which makes the experience sad yet beautiful.
The heavy tones of abuse take many forms in the story as it gradually escalates with time. Again I would like to remind readers to check the trigger warnings. What I want to applaud Gibson is how she writes about these traumatic experiences the character goes through that is not at all romanticized.
At first I was worried about reading this book because as someone that has experienced abuse I can’t bare to see it romanticized in any way. Turns out my doubts and worries are unneeded because Gibson did a wonderful job in showing a raw realistic depiction of relationship abuse. Gibson doesn’t shy away from showing the horrible acts and manipulation done by the man. It paints a realistic picture of an abusive relationship that is clouded with betrayal, secrets, gas lighting, and emotional turmoil. The writing immediately pulls you in and engages your attention the minute you start reading.
“But now, all my carefully crafted excuses for you dissolved like sugar under absinthe, revealing a truth I had spent centuries avoiding.“
Constanta’s character is the reflection of many abuse survivors. The waves of doubt and fear she feels during her relationship with the man is realistically explored. Constanta’s character development from the obedient wife that fears her abuser to the strong willed, brave, and tenacious woman by the end of the story is truly a remarkable to witness. Readers will surely root for Constanta as she confronts her abuser and eventually kills him ending the cycle of abuse.
The other characters that became Constanta’s motivation and source of strength, Magdalena and Alexi, also experienced a varying degree of abuse and manipulation from the husband. Magdalena is the second wife, she is a head strong character that thrives from social interaction. As she is slowly isolated and held back by the man, Magdalena eventually falls into depression. The slow deterioration and the waves of depressive episodes that Magdalena endures is depicted in a realistically heartbreaking way.
“I had given you a thousand second chances, made a thousand concessions. And this wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about Magdalena, and Alexi.“
Alexi, a young aspiring actor that loves the art of theater and all it’s glory, is suffocated and beaten into obedience. That twinkle of deviance Alexi has early on slowly disappears into a dull stare of hopelessness. Together the three of them created a bond that holds each other up during the hardest years of their undead lives. Their bond blossoms into a loving polyamorous relationship that is passionate and lustful, with all of them engaging in a variety of late night bloody escapades and dark hall way rendezvous’ that will leave readers breathless.
The queer found family aspect is like a flower that grew from the cracks of a barren dessert. There is still love and support despite the trauma and pain. Gibson built up the tension marvellously between the three characters with the husband that climaxed in a bloody satisfying way.
The main antagonist of the story is nameless and we don’t get to discover his name even until the end. Which is the most bad ass decision S. T. Gibson chose to do. The man is a narcissist with an unhealthy habit of maintaining control over his partners cowing them to do his bidding. He glorifies himself as a being that is higher than humans granted with eternal life and naturally enticing features. Taking every opportunity to scavenge from the chaotic moments in humanity such as : war, revolution, coup, etc; to feast or to conduct “experiments” killing many innocent human lives.
Gibson writes this man’s character to be an oppressive figure that thrives on control and submission from his partners. The horrible tendencies he does make him a sickeningly good antagonist worthy of being hated. Through his character Gibson shows the patterns of an abuser that is methodically disgusting and believable.
“You didn’t let me keep my name, so I will strip you of yours. In this world you are what I say you are, and I say you are a ghost, a long night’s fever dream that I have finally woken up from. I say you are the smoke-wisp memory of a flame, thawing ice suffering under an early spring sun, a chalk ledger of debts being wiped clean.“
“I say you do not have a name.“
“I have one final promise to make to you, one I hope I will never break. I promise to live, richly and shamelessly and with my arms wide open to the world.”
Final thoughts, A Dowry of Blood is a sensual dark story with important themes of relationship abuse, hope, queer love, and emancipation. Gibson’s lyrical writing that is embellished with flowery yet dark undertones takes you off on an European tour throughout the century as the world evolves but life stays stagnant in the eternal cage of “love”.
The built up of frustration, anger, and disappointment felt by the the characters bleeds through the pages achieving an ending that was a feast for the imagination. It surprised me how immersive this book is and how fast I finished reading it. Normally genres that are gothic and dark isn’t something I gravitate towards but I’m glad I picked this book up. If you are a reader that’s looking for something short, very sexy, bloody, and fast paced this book is for you.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.