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Monday, December 27, 2010

'Dracula in Love' by Karen ESSEX


Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

From the shadowy banks of the River Thames to the wild and windswept Yorkshire coast, Dracula's beautiful, eternal muse, Mina - the most famous woman in vampire lore - vividly recounts the joys and terrors of a passionate affair that has linked her and Count Dracula through the centuries, and her rebellion against her own frightening preternatural powers.

Mina's gothic vampire tale is a visceral journey into Victorian England's dimly lit bedrooms, mist-filled cemeteries and terrifying asylum chambers, revealing the dark secrets and mysteries locked within. Time falls away as she is swept into a mythical voyage far beyond mortal comprehension, where she must finally make the decision she has been avoiding for almost a millennium.

Historical novelist extraordinaire, Karen Essex, takes Stoker’s story and infuses new life into the old work.

The story opens with a promise from Mina Harker to the reader. The year is 1897, and in the wake of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ story being released, Mina wants to set the record straight and tell her side of events, lest Stoker’s fanciful imagination carry the truth away with time and embellishment. . .

The year is 1890, and Mina Murray (soon to be Harker) awaits the return of her fiancée from his work with an Austrian Count in Styria. Alone and pining for Jonathan, Mina starts to have wild and wonderful dreams – dreams of a strange man who she has never forgotten, but cannot remember. He is a man from her childhood, one who watched over her and kept her safe. Now he has returned to make appearances in her most carnal dreams. . . even when she ventures to Whitby and calls upon her dear friend, Lucy Westenra, the handsome stranger follows Mina’s dreams and waking fantasies.

We all know the story of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, whether from watching the various adaptations or reading the cliff-notes. The Irishman’s story is even more widely known today when the paranormal romance genre has gripped the hearts and imaginations of reader’s everywhere, and people venture back to the beginning of the vampire legend.

Karen Essex has imbued Stoker’s original story with fascinating folklore and heightened sensuality. Our protagonist is Mina Murray – an Irish orphan working as a teacher at a Ladies college when her life tumbles out of her control. With her fiancée’s absence comes hidden memories from Mina’s childhood, a sensuous stranger she can’t stop yearning for and secrets within herself she can no longer deny.

I will warn that a good portion of the book is in suspense as we await Mina coming face-to-face with the Count. She is visited by him in her dreams and remembers him from her past. . . but the first 100 pages or so details Mina awaiting Jonathan Harker’s return and her repressed London life. Essex imbues the first half of the novel with delicious suspense that reads like foreplay for Mina and Dracula’s anticipated meeting. . .

And when Mina does finally meet her monster, it is spectacular.

The real focus of this retelling is Mina herself, and Essex writing new and fascinating dimensions to the unwitting heroine of Stoker’s tale. And so, a big focus of ‘Dracula in Love’ is Essex explaining and deepening the connection between the Count and Mina – the monster and his muse. Essex does this by weaving a tale of reincarnated love across time and space, as Dracula lives his seven hundred years searching for his true love as she is continually reborn.
“I am dying,” I said, the words staggering out of my mouth.
“No, you are dying into me. And if you die into me again and again, I promise you will live forever. Do you want to live forever?”
“I do, my love, I do. I want to be with you forever.”
“You will not turn me away again? You will not sentence me to enduring your cycles of birth and death while I wait for you to remember who and what you are?”
“No, my love, I am yours.”
Essex is writing ‘Dracula in Love’ in the wake of renewed fascination with vampirism and Gothicism. So Mina and the Count’s love story is aptly sensual and daring – spread across different folklores and era’s to become something truly beautiful and heartrending.

As fascinating and sexy as Mina and Dracula’s love affair is, equally enlightening is Essex’s reimagining of other aspects of Stoker’s tale. She writes a number of checks and balances for the ‘Dracula’ story – at once shedding a more factual light on certain parts (like the real reason for Lucy Westenra’s wasting away) while also writing deeply disturbing explanations for characters like Dr. Von Helsinger, a psychiatrist with an unhealthy obsession with vampirism and medical treatments involving blood. This is the real Gothicism in Essex’s tale – the true darkness of Stoker’s original lies more in the world of mortal men than with the monster. Astounding.

I do wish that Essex had more fun with the ending, and given herself more freedom from Bram Stoker. Essex had done such a wonderful job of infusing the old ‘Dracula’ story with new dimensions and fanciful layers. Throughout the book she enlightens the character of Mina Murray and adds a sensual depth to her relationship with the fabled monster, Dracula. But then the ending, in complete contradiction to Essex’s previous character building, sticks to the Bram Stoker original. After heightening and romanticizing the love between Mina and the Count, and sullying Jonathan Harker’s reputation, the ending just didn’t ring true to all the reimagining that had come before it. Even more so when you think that Karen Essex is writing her novel in the aftermath of ‘Twilight’, ‘True Blood’ and Edward Cullen.

We are not a Victorian audience to anticipate a happy ending of good triumphing over the caricature monster evil. . . Indeed, I could not fathom Mina not choosing the monster over the mortal man. She and the Count had such a heartbreakingly epic romance, they reached such heights of sensuality and love that when Mina did choose Jonathan over him – I wasn’t buying it. This was the one aspect of Bram Stoker’s original story that I hoped Karen Essex would get carried away with. After she illuminated Dracula and Mina’s love affair, and ridiculed Jonathan Harker throughout the book – there was just no conceivable way that, as a reader, I could bite my tongue and accept that Mina would choose the ordinary over the extraordinary.
I sat up, and he sat with me, arms around me. We said nothing for a long while but simply held each other. I stared into the flames as they resurrected images and memories from my first days with him in this very room so many lifetimes ago. There is no explanation for love; no spoken words compare with its silent exhilaration. If that was true of the ordinary love between two mortals – if love is ever ordinary – then it was true of a love that has contorted itself into different bodies in different eras over the centuries.
I cannot deny that I read ‘Dracula in Love’ well into the night, consuming Essex’s fancifully sexual tale with absolute joy and fervour. I didn’t love the ending, and I do wish that Karen Essex had taken more of her own imagination into the finale, the same way she had with so many other aspects of Stoker’s tale. Regardless, ‘Dracula in Love’ is a full of spicy Gothicism and eerie sensuality, a darkened and awakened tale of reincarnated love for the most famous fanged fairytale.

4.5/5



3 comments:

  1. Great review! I have seen this one around, but hadnt read a review yet hehe

    I dont know why, but I dont really have an interest in reading about the legendary vamps like Dracula, Lestat, etc LOL =/

    Hope you had a great Xmas hon!!! and that your New Year is Amazing!

    did you see my Top 5 why 2010 sucked/rocked? LOL =P

    xoxo

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  2. Oh yay - I met this author when I went to see Jeaniene Frost and she was so lovely and gracious - I purchased a copy of Dracula in Love (I enjoyed Leonardo's Swans) but haven't read it yet...

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  3. I loved the review, it makes me want to read the book just to see what I think about it!

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