The season is upon us: Wrap a scarf around your neck—tightly—and crack open a book of undead intrigue.
A Dowry of Blood
A queer, feminist reimagining of Dracula, S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood starts with its narrator, Constanta, reclaiming a small bit of power. She refuses to grant her abuser a name, instead referring to him as “you” throughout the book. Her abuser is a prototypical vampire, vulnerable to sunlight and silver, who sires new vampires by giving them his blood. He finds Constanta near death, grants her immortal life and, despite calling her his bride, sees her as a possession. Over the years, Constanta is joined by two other consorts—Magdalena, a politically savvy philosopher, and Alexi, a sprightly socialite and actor—who become her friends, lovers and allies.
A Dowry of Blood focuses on Constanta, her abuser and his other spouses; no other character is present for more than a handful of pages.This narrow focus, along with several time jumps and Constanta’s stream-of-consciousness narration, creates a dreamlike haze. As each new consort enters the narrative, the house’s atmosphere transitions from cloistered and dank to frenetic with need and simmering rebellion. The story’s specificity ebbs and flows according to Constanta’s memory: Events she struggles to recall are blurry, but she hyperfixates on what she remembers in rich detail.
In the tradition of the best vampire stories, Gibson uses her characters to explore how centuries of time would affect a once-mortal mind. A Dowry of Blood whisks readers through human history, arriving at the dawn of the 20th century, drenched in blood.
House of Hunger
In the fantasy world of House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson (The Year of the Witching), an industrial revolution is in full swing, condemning the ancient houses of nobility to a slow decay into irrelevance. The House of Hunger is one of these dying houses, but it’s still influential enough to continue indenturing bloodmaids like Marion Shaw, who is eager to accept the position when it is offered to her.
At the House of Hunger, she will be treated well, fully fed and paid enough to keep herself and her brother afloat before receiving an enormous pension once her service ends. But during her time as a bloodmaid, Marian’s blood will be harvested to grant health and beauty to the houses’ aristocratic members. In Henderson’s world, blood has magical properties and is also used in medicine, steam engines and other scientific endeavors.
Countess Lisavet, head of the House of Hunger, already has four other bloodmaids, and Henderson uses them to illustrate the dangers of Marion’s choice. Cecilia, the countess’ oldest bloodmaid, is also her favorite lover and primary blood donor. She is consumed with desire for Countess Lisavet and is extremely jealous when the countess’ eye turns toward Marion. Lisavet manipulatively distributes her favors, whether they be sexual, emotional or verbal. She makes her bloodmaids’ lives revolve around her until they find themselves defined by her attention.
House of Hunger begins with dark secrets and ends with secrets darker still. Readers will be on the edges of their seats as Henderson slowly unveils the grotesque horrors at the heart of her inventive, gothic society.