A Dowry of Blood by S. T. Gibson

This book reimagines the lives of Dracula’s brides, and tells the story from their perspective. Reminiscent of a love letter from the past, the language and imagery is dark and hauntingly beautiful.

Part 1 is eerily relevant reading during this pandemic. “Plaugetime is different. It stretches and looms.” When she talks about the ways the plague affected their community, I was reminded of the current Coronacirus epidemic and I felt more connected to history. “The world we had all known, it seemed, was drawing to a close.” Pandemics are nothing new: humans have been surviving deadly epidemics for centuries. And we always manage to come together to fight the problem as one collective group, overcome the hardships we face, and ultimately survive.

“Those years are a dark smear across my memory, everything feels blurry and hollow. Plague drains not only victims, but while cities of life. It freezes trade, decays parishes, forbids lovemaking, turns childbearing into a dance with death. Most of all, it steals time.”

Vampires in literature embody recurring themes such as social conflicts, fears, and structures, and shows how the treatment of these themes alters—or doesn’t alter—over time. Vampires can represent vital, interwoven issues, and said issues include gender, class, religion, and more. In this case, I think it ties in perfectly to the current state of the world and what we are going through.

“Now I only remember it as a tomb where we slept through our living death.”

A major in this book is faith and religion, which is really common in vampire stories (see Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, and Twilight by Stephenie Meyer). “I had always been a faithful person, bordering on superstitious. Entering my second life hadn’t changed that, it simply broadened my existential horizons.” She still prays, while at the same time playing God. Throughout the story, Constanza has a difficult time coming to terms with killing, which raises questions of morality, sin, and power.

“But I wondered if the creator of the day also dwelled in night, guiding us all in the darkness. Perhaps I had not been forsaken when I made the darkness my eternal home.”

Blood is the essence of life. It is a prevalent theme in many gothic stories, and can be interpreted in many different ways as it represents so much. Most obvious, blood imagery is a symbol of life or death and the fragility between them. It is sacrificial, and is also symbolic of pain. As a literary symbol blood serves as a physical representation of the fear one must confront when facing death, and the sacrifices one makes in life.

“Was this the moment we were joined in marriage? Or was it when your blood first spurted into my mouth?”

Blood as a motif creates a familal undertone; it can represent loyalty, or hatred. Sharing a blood connection creates a bond that is unlike any other, it is your lineage, your ancestry, your DNA. When Dracula creates another vampire, he creates a connection that goes deep and links him to his victims. In this way, Constanza is forever bonded it Dracula.

“This felt cosmic, like a piece of me was being excised so it could take up a place in you.”

Another theme in this book is rebirth. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth in literature often involves a struggle that leads to a new realization of self. Characters are spiritually reborn as a result of the trials they endure. In this story, Constanza is reborn, in more ways than one. From her new name, her new desires (like her thirst for blood), and her new eternal life, everything about Constanza is changed by her transformation.

“There was only the eternal now. Eventually I emerged, whole and new, and somebody else entirely. The village girl I had been was well and truly dead…”

This story was especially focused on the women victimized by Dracula, and brings a fresh female perspective to the story. A Dowry of Blood gives the reader insight into how women must learn to overcome and survive oppression in a world controlled by men, and ultimately embrace their strengths and take back their power.

“But I will not accept a world behind bars, Constanza. It’s always have my freedom.”

Unfortunately, violence—especially rape—is often used as a trope and it can be controversial. The character is only there, on the page, to be torn apart. Violence in this story is what leads to Constanza death, and represents painful and permanent damage to the character’s life. But even after she is reborn, she is still not free. She must still learn how to …

“…so I stepped into my role…”

The issue with this problematic trope is that is often diminishes a woman’s autonomy. I think fiction plays an important role in raising awareness to this kind of violence, but must sexual violence become the central event in the lives of so many female protagonists? Must it define them? And because this is an issue, Should we continue to romanticize abusive relationships in literature?

“…obliterating any memory of a life before you.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Saint is a poet, author, and village wise woman in training. A graduate of the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the theological studies program at Princeton Seminary, she currently lives in Boston with her partner, spoiled Persian cat, and vintage blazer collection. She is represented by Tara Gilbert of the Jennifer De Chiara literary agency.

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