I have two RITA® Reader Challenge reviews for this book, one from Gail and the other from HellyBelly. HellyBelly gave the book a C-, while Gail’s review, while not graded, was more favorable. I’ve taken the liberty of averaging their reviews to a C grade. This book finaled in the Strong Romantic Elements category.
With a modest inheritance and the three gowns that comprise her entire wardrobe, Theodora leaves Edinburgh—and a disappointed suitor—far behind. She is bound for Rumania, where tales of vampires are still whispered, to visit an old friend and write the book that will bring her true independence.
She arrives at a magnificent, decaying castle in the Carpathians, replete with eccentric inhabitants: the ailing dowager; the troubled steward; her own fearful friend, Cosmina. But all are outstripped in dark glamour by the castle’s master, Count Andrei Dragulescu.
Bewildering and bewitching in equal measure, the brooding nobleman ignites Theodora’s imagination and awakens passions in her that she can neither deny nor conceal. His allure is superlative, his dominion over the superstitious town, absolute—Theodora may simply be one more person under his sway.
Before her sojourn is ended—or her novel completed—Theodora will have encountered things as strange and terrible as they are seductive. For obsession can prove fataland she is in danger of falling prey to more than desire.
First, here is Gail’s review:
This is an old-style evil-vampire book (spooky, atmospheric, do they exist or not?) mixed with a lot of gothic romance, written with lots of lush, atmospheric, moody prose. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this book.
The heroine is an Englishwoman who travels to Transylvania in the mid-Victorian era to stay with a friend in anticipation of her marriage. The friend lives at the top of an isolated mountain as part of the Dragulescu family, but when the heroine gets there, she finds things are not what she expected. The friend is not marrying her count Dragulescu after all. And the heroine is quite attracted to the man. But rumors of evil walking the night begin to abound…
I’m not a big fan of the new-style vampire books, and never did like the old-skool ones. Nor have I ever liked gothic romance much—the ones where the heroine was attracted to the hero but afraid of him and worried he might be a murderer or something, at the same time. I’m also not a big fan of lush, flowing prose. At least, not prose that calls attention to itself. I did finish the book—it has a lot of the feel of The Historian, but it’s a better book, with a better ending. IMO, anyway.
And here is HellyBelly’s review:
We embark upon this story in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the mid 1800s.
Theodora and her sister Anna grew up with their grandfather, Professor Lestrange. When Anna left to get married, Theodora missed her so much that her Granpa tried to comfort her by sending her to a school for young ladies in Bavaria. There, she made the acquaintance of Cosmina, a Romanian girl, who – just as this book begins – sends Theo a letter of invitation to her upcoming nuptials.
This solves things rather neatly for Theo, who is an aspiring author and is waiting/hoping/planning to write that big novel that will really launch her career and this invitation is also a reluctant relief for her brother-in-law who is temporarily saved from having to add her to his already financially strapped household.
The Dead Travel Fast – now, doesn’t that title send your imagination in the direction of spooky dank castles, mysterious and darkly attractive counts and the walking undead? It did mine. And the promise of the title was delivered to a point – it is dark in the corners of the falling-apart castle in the Carpathians that Theo travels to, there is a sense of foreboding and a nagging question – could there really be such things a strigoi – walking dead, feeding on the blood of the living?
I had done right to come. This was a land of legend, and I knew I should find inspiration for a dozen novels here if I wished it.
The wedding is off, Theo finds out upon her arrival. Cosmina begs her not to talk about it but to say she’s come for a visit. So Theo decides to spend some time with her friend. Get a start on her novel and enjoy the hospitality of the Countess of Dragulescu, Cosmina’s aunt and mother of the present count Andrei (Cosmina’s erstwhile fiancé).
It does not take a genius to figure out that the count is the love interest of Theo. (I try to pretend I can’t see these things coming, in order to surprise myself, but I usually fail).
Now Theo I find acceptable. I don’t take to her character completely; she is a bit too dry, too practical, comes across as a little too modern for these times and – let’s say it – a tad boring. As a reader, I never feel what she is feeling even though the book is told in first person from her point of view. The count, however, I find detestable. He is a selfish womaniser of the worst sort.
Judge for yourself:
“I have sampled women the world over, from courte sans to countesses, and I can tell you there are only three types of women who matter in a man’s life—those he marries, those he seduces and those he takes. I have only to tailor my behaviour to become whatever the lady in question wants me to be and I am assured of success.”
Add to that a preference for opium and you have a user of a guy who does not think that your blood makes you worthy of marriage (even though he is quite happy to bonk you on the sofa in the observatory) and who smells of overripe fruit.
A stinky stuck-up count.
The smell of opium clung to him, not unpleasant, but primeval, like windfallen fruit on freshly turned earth.
There are strange going-ons in the castle and surrounding village. Some men are rumoured to have taken to the forests to live as wolves. The old, evil count is feared to have turned strigoi and started attacking those who were closest to him.
Meanwhile, Theo has discussions on every type of topic with the count, who she is drawn to like a moth to a rotting fruit. She says that regardless of their physical attraction, it is his mind that draws him the most.
I am sorry to reveal that, because I found the book too boring (not enough fast moving dead people for my taste), I had to skim the latter part of it.
I wanted at least to find out what was going to happen – who did the ‘killins’ and and how the romantic relationship would be resolved.
And it was meh. I can’t describe it better than that.
This is not a bad piece of writing, some of the historical and geographical details are really interesting. But as a romantic and/or goth novel it falls flat. It is not scary nor romantic enough and with an unlikeable hero the emotional investment was nada for me.