I should have known better. Really, I should have. One should never start a Deanna Raybourn novel on their lunch hour and expect to be able to stop and go back to work. It was torture, but I managed to be on time by about 10 seconds. This is a gothic romance novel that blew me away for the most part. You may know Ms. Raybourn from the Lady Grey mysteries, of which I am a huge fan. This novel is not part of that series, but you get the same round characters and nail biting scenes as found in her previous work.
Miss Theodora Lestrange is a writer in a time when women authors were not looked upon kindly. After her grandfather dies, a chance invitation to visit her old school mate, Cosmina, arrives out of the blue and with perfect timing. She jumps at the chance to visit Transylvania, a place full of folklore, myth and legend. The setting is ideal to write her first novel. Remembering the stories from her school days, she leaves her sister and brother-in-law, as well as her publisher/suitor and embarks on the long train ride to the aging castle where Cosmina makes her home. In her letter, Cosmina indicated she was betrothed to the current Count, and hoped she would be stay through Christmas and for the wedding. When Theodora arrives, she learns there is no such betrothal, and the current Count has refused to marry his poor relation. It goes downhill from there, as Theodora realizes there is more to what Cosmina has told her, and things are not right with the castle and village. She has also developed an attraction to the Count, and she believes he has become interested in her. They spend the evenings together after the house retires, working in his grandfather’s room of amateur astronomy devices and charts. They gaze at stars on the observation deck, and while Theodora knows it’s improper, she can’t help herself. The Count is mesmerizing and a natural at seduction. She is in the middle before she realizes. Then murder happens.
The countryside is rife with legends about strigoli, or vampires. When a maid dies with two puncture marks on her neck, the Counts mother insists he go through with a medieval ritual to condemn his father’s body to the grave forever. The Countess believes the former Count was evil and walks the castle in search of his next victim, those of his blood. With the arrival of her publisher/suitor, things go downhill as more attacks occur, and Theodora finds herself accused as the accused party. When she places her life in a trustworthy doctor, she learns not everything is as it seems.
If you are not into gothic novels, then this book is not for you. Do not expect a vampire book full of flashing elongated canines and blood sucking monsters attacking innocent debutants. This is pure gothic novel, where things are not as they seem, and you are surprised at what the truth really is. Theodora is a complex character; wanting experiences to bolster her imagination, and then finding herself in love with a man she cannot have. The book is written in first person, so it was easy to immerse myself in Theodora and become emotionally involved with the character. The scenes are intense when need be, and light hearted at the right moment. It’s a well-rounded book that I encourage everyone to pick up.