Title: Dracula in Love
Author: Karen Essex
Genre: Historical fiction, paranormal fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher
First line: Everyone has a secret life.
Mina Murray has seen and heard strange things ever since she was a child. Her ability was enough to make her father think she was a changeling, a faerie child. Sent to a boarding school for girls, Mina rejects her gifts and becomes a mannered young lady, eventually teaching other young girls how to survive in cultured society. When the handsome young solicitor Jonathan Harker proposes, Mina’s dream of having a normal family seems about to come true. She is determined to ignore the seductive man she sees in her dreams, whose voice she hears calling to her.
When Jonathan leaves on extended business, Mina visits her friend Lucy, and discovers that Lucy has become enthralled by the charismatic Morris Quince, in spite of her mother’s desire that she become engaged to Lord Arthur Goldalming. As Mina becomes more and more concerned about her friend, she meets an old sailor who tells her some of the legends of the area, legends of the dead rising again, of spirit beings who drain the life-force of their victims.
Mina receives a telegram that her fiance has been committed to a hospital after being found wandering in the countryside, suffering from a brain fever. What Mina discovers when she hears the full details of Jonathan’s experiences will lead her even deeper into a world of dark desires, supernatural gifts, and an eternal love affair.
I really wanted to love this book. I have been a fan of Karen Essex’s historical fiction since I read Stealing Athena a couple of years ago, and then Leonardo’s Swans confirmed my opinion that she is a writer who values strong female characters and well-researched historical settings, and can write some gorgeously descriptive prose. The books also tend to be a bit racy, but nothing that made me quit reading – although my mom did put Leonardo’s Swans aside as too descriptive for her taste.
Reading these previous Essex novels in no way prepared me for the sensual and erotic book that is Dracula in Love. I know that I may be in the minority in this, but I prefer more left to the imagination when it comes to love scenes. I understand that this less-descriptive way of writing would not have fit the framework of Essex’s novel, in which she explores the way normal female sexual appetites were often attributed to mental illness, and treated as such with horrific methods. Her gift of research and describing historical details comes through most strongly in the scenes in a mental institution, scenes that vividly showed the inhumane and gruesome treatment methods employed by psychiatrists.
I definitely wanted to know how the story turned out, how Count Drakulya and Mina would eventually find each other, and what the result would be for her marriage to Jonathan. The story was enthralling – just as the Count is to Mina – but by the fourth or fifth graphic sex scene it all became a bit much for me. It seemed as if the book’s viewpoint is that denying one’s sexual nature in any way is a result of an old-fashioned, Victorian mentality. As a Christian, I am one who believes that the idea of purity before marriage and fidelity within marriage are good things, and that giving in to every single impulse of one’s sexual nature leads to negative consequences that are far-reaching. I know, however, that many of you will not share these viewpoints and therefore may not be bothered in the same way I was when reading this novel.
Ms. Essex does write beautifully, and while this novel was not one I loved, she remains one of my favorite authors of historical fiction, and I will continue to seek out her work, as I believe that the extremely erotic nature of this book was a result of the story she was telling, and not a writing style that she always employs.