A Dowry of Blood
By S.T. Gibson
Genre: Gothic Horror/Speculative Fiction
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
Main Character of Color: No
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: Constanta lies dying outside her burning family home when he approaches. Saved from the brink, Constanta is thrown into a world of darkness and blood, her vampire lord keeping her almost completely secluded from the outside world until he takes a second bride. And then a third. Even as she craves approval and love from her lord, Constanta learns quickly that his love comes with a terrible price. Now her choices are made clear: live forever in the shadow of a monster, or find a way to be free, well and truly, for the first time. A reimagining of the brides of Dracula, A Dowry of Blood asks is love without freedom really love?
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
In previous reviews, I’ve discussed what first drew me to a specific genre. I know why I love horror (thank you, Jordan Peele), I know why I devour fantasy (RIP Brian Jacques), and I know why I love QUILTBAG+ stories (I mean, this one is obvious). But try as I might, I cannot pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with gothic romances. There is an aesthetic that I associate with this genre that I’ve loved for so long, and I cannot remember not doing so. It is a genre that inherently sings to me, a siren eager to dash me against the rocks. So when I heard this book was coming out, I knew it would be an instant buy for me, particularly when I heard it was queer.
I admit that Dracula never held my heart the same way that Frankenstein did. I liked the story but never felt a strong enough pull towards it. How fitting that the two versions of this story that I love are both queer reimagings. The first was The Route of Ice and Salt which was an mlm queer story. But while The Route of Ice and Salt tells the story of understanding the difference between societal monsters and actual monsters, A Dowry of Blood weaves a chilling tale of toxic love and the way it entraps us, sucking the very life out of us, until we can hardly recognize ourselves.
Constanta is, when her lord finds her, a sheltered young woman. She has known little outside of her immediate family and their small life together. When offered power for the first time, she takes it. When offered love, she claims that, too. After all, there is no one else like her in the world besides her lord, why wouldn’t they love each other? It doesn’t occur to her that her loyalty might be misplaced until the second bride comes along.
Over the course of decades, Constanta watches as her lord sucks all the life out of his lovers, not just literally in the form of their blood but everything that makes them unique. His jealousy and controlling nature turns the vibrant, beautiful, smart Magdalena into a depressed, bedridden shell. His rages and constant need to be in charge reduce the young, sweet, energetic Alexi to tears. As Constanta watches her loved ones wilt under her lord’s love, she eventually realizes that she, too, has lost the vibrant bloom of life.
A Dowry of Blood uses vampirism not just literally, but as a means of telling a story of a love that drains every hope, every joy, from a lover. Watching Constanta slowly become aware of the abusive nature of her relationship is familiar and heart-breaking, like any abuse victim coming to terms with their horrifying reality. It is powerful to watch her overcome it, to see her and the other brides become more fully-realized versions of themselves, free from the chains of their lord’s love.
This story is a beautiful, poetic, heartbreaker with incredibly fleshed out characters and detail placed in just over 230 pages. It is the kind of book I will revisit often, because there is so much packed in the relatively slim read. A Dowry of Blood is out now so you can pick it up from your favorite indie bookstore. May I suggest Kramers’ based out of Washington, D.C.? Feel free to leave a comment telling me your favorite indie bookstore!
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love A Dowry of Blood? Leave a comment telling me your favorite gothic romance. You can also find me on Instagram @booked.with.grace and on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@ynbushehri) for editing my posts.