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Jul 15, 2010

Book Review: Dracula In Love by Karen Essex

Dracula In Love by Karen Essex
Published August 10, 2010
384 pages, Doubleday
Review copy received from publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:
In this wonderfully transporting novel, award-winning author Karen Essex turns a timeless classic inside out, spinning a haunting, erotic, and suspenseful story of eternal love and possession.

From the shadowy banks of the river Thames to the wild and windswept Yorkshire coast, Dracula’s eternal muse, Mina Murray, vividly recounts the intimate details of what really transpired between her and the Count—the joys and terrors of a passionate affair that has linked them through the centuries, and her rebellion against her own frightening preternatural powers.

Mina’s version of this gothic vampire tale is a visceral journey into Victorian England’s dimly lit bedrooms, mist-filled cemeteries, and asylum chambers, revealing the dark secrets and mysteries locked within. Time falls away as she is swept into a mythical journey far beyond mortal comprehension, where she must finally make the decision she has been avoiding for almost a millennium.
Bram Stoker’s classic novel offered one side of the story, in which Mina had no past and bore no responsibility for the unfolding events. Now, for the first time, the truth of Mina’s personal voyage, and of vampirism itself, is revealed. What this flesh and blood woman has to say is more sensual, more devious, and more enthralling than the Victorians could have expressed or perhaps even have imagined.

Karen Essex is a popular writer with recent titles of Leonardo's Swans and Stealing Athena. This time around she tackles the vampire trend by adding the tale of Dracula's muse to the mix by re-imagining the story of Mina Murray Harker in her newest release, Dracula In Love. I must preface with the fact that I am not a vampire girl. I know who Lestat is, but never saw the movie that he was in. I do not know much about Count Dracula except for some sort of kid's cereal, and I barely recognize the name Bram Stoker. I am also a bit yucked out by blood. Therefore, I never expect to actually see any of the Twilight films. Which is sad, because I used to love the cool horror flicks at sleepovers. My queasiness factor has been turned up a lot with my old age. So, at first, I figured I would not read the story of Dracula in Love. But then I saw that some of my favorite authors like C.W. Gortner and Michelle Moran were touting this story as the ONE Vampire book to read if you ever read a vampire book. So I did. I just may become a vampire girl after all.

My first impression upon opening was the fact that I have zero clue about Dracula and vampires and how they 'work'. And the main protagonist, Mina, apparently doesn't either, so there is where we have something in common but it ends there (thankfully). The author's writing is mesmerizing as it tippy-toes with Mina into the supernatural world step by step, without it warranting an abundance of incredulity. Mina has strange dreams which cause her to sleepwalk, but strange dreams is really a gross understatement. Sexually charged but not vampire-motivated yet, I was intrigued by Mina who seemed to have some deep dark secret that even she did not know of. Slowly, Essex pulls us into a world of blood-thirsty lovers, but is it real or supernatural? Is it all just a dream? Mina is not the only one affected, as she has to learn the reasons behind the fate of her best friend who suddenly dies, and then Mina's own beloved is also affected by a freaky mix of nymphomania and paranoia, but the drama of the very presence of the existence of WHAT IS GOING ON? is the underlying theme here. Having an unsuspecting yet strong main character definitely helps the reader to empathize with her, and that is exactly what I did. Mina was portrayed so perfectly that I felt like I knew her, and most of her decisions that she made were ones I would have made myself.

Mina tries to unravel the mysteries by seeking answers at an insane asylum, amongst questionable doctors like the mad scientist Von Helsinger who is experimenting with dangerous blood transfusions. He too is enthralled by the possibilities of vampires. What does it all mean? How can Mina and her beloved Jonathan rise above the sexual sin and torment.. without Dracula invading their dreams? I particularly enjoyed the lectures that Mina received from the doctors as it helped to explain a lot behind the legends and myths as well as touching upon religious themes surrounding Jesus' own blood and resurrection. There were so many things going on in the background to the present story that it is impossible to explain but was so enveloping and demonstrates to the reader how much research the author must have done. The questions of eternal life, the properties and effects of blood, King Richard the Lionheart and Raven Witches are just a few things that I remember enjoying while reading it. It is fascinating how the author finally ties it all together without rushing through anything, though I must say that I found the last quarter of the book much more superb than the first half (when the Count finally appeared), as I was at first resisting the pull of the book. I am glad that I lazily read the book so that I would not rush myself through it and miss the magic of a fantastic read which made it a part of me for a week.

Essex weaves an enchanting tale, and is told in the first person account which typically leaves some of the potential for the story behind, yet in this setting it helped to increase the mysterious and creepiness factor. The settings were done quite well as Essex portrayed her visions of darkened Victorian England with ease. For the very queasy or those sensitive to the religious context as it was used here, I would not recommend the novel, but for the light vampire twist that you cannot resist, I concur with C.W. Gortner and repeat that this is one that you should not miss. The entire story is very sexually charged though not graphically, as it is stated in a matter-of-fact way and not intended to be smuttified; yet it still emanates with gothic-romantic tones that captured my interest and surprised me at the end. This novel achieves the nuance of the gorgeous cover and presents a very titillating narrative from Mina Murray through the enviable prose of Karen Essex.