ARC Review: Dracula In Love

Dracula in Love: The Private Diary of Mina Harker

Karen Essex
Hardcover, 384 pages
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
August 10, 2010

 * I received a complimentary galley from the publisher.

If you’ve ever read Bram Stoker’s Dracula then you’re already familiar with the story of the Mina Murray, her husband Jonathan Harker, and the infamous Count that comes between them. But if you think you know the whole story, wait until you’ve heard it told through Mina’s lips. In Essex’s version, she sets the record straight and recounts what really happened, starting with her engagement to Jonathan and his subsequent business venture abroad.

As a teacher and former student at Miss Hadley’s School for Young Ladies of Accomplishment, Mina knows just how lucky she is in finding a caring and respectable man like Jonathan Harker.  When Jonathan is called away to Styria on business with a new client, she leaves the school to spend the remainder of her engagement in Whitby with her wealthy friend Lucy Westenra, newly engaged herself.  Though anxious to begin her new life as a married woman, Mina is deeply troubled by spells of sleepwalking and frightening, illicit dreams about a stranger that somehow feels familiar to her.  During one such spell, she wakes to find Lucy in the arms of her fiance’s friend, Morris Quince, and Lucy confesses that they’ve been having an affair and plan to marry. 

Mina tries to talk some sense into her friend and convince her that Quince doesn’t truly love her, but soon receives word that Jonathan is ill and must leave Lucy to travel to Styria and bring him home.  While she’s away Lucy is admitted to the asylum where Dr. John Seward, another friend of her fiance’s, treats the infirm and insane (mostly women who have been diagnosed as nymphomaniacs after exhibiting what we would consider to be normal sexual behavior today).  Too late, Mina finds out that her dear friend has died under the doctor’s care and after reading a pair of smuggled letters detailing the horrific ordeals she was forced to undergo, Mina vows to find out what really happened to her friend by volunteering her time at the asylum while Jonathan is treated by Dr. Seward and his colleague Dr. Von Helingser after contracting brain fever abroad.

But Mina soon finds herself in the same position as Lucy when her sanity is questioned and she becomes a patient in the asylum, subjected to imprisonment, drugs, and torture, all sanctioned by her now husband Jonathan who thinks it’s for her own benefit.  After almost dying from the “water cure” Mina is rescued by the mysterious stranger from her dreams, who brings her into a world of magic, blood, and immortality.

Like all things vampiric, I’ve been fascinated with the story of Dracula since I was little.  Before I even read the famous Stoker tale I was enthralled by Coppola’s film version and it was thrilling to get to hear Mina’s point of view.  It was a fresh and unique take, enchantingly dark and bewitching.  I loved the origin of the Count and the depiction of the vampires that seduced Jonathan as daughters of Lilith and Mina’s relationship with the Sidhe, ancient fairies from Irish folklore.  The references to the red-haired writer who kept nosing into the story made me smile. 

As much as I truly enjoyed reading this book, I have to say that I was wholeheartedly disappointed with the ending.  I don’t want to give too much away but I just couldn’t comprehend how Mina could make the choice that she did.  Granted it was a selfless and noble act, but after being manipulated and ill-treated by all the men in her life, especially those that should have cared for her and protected her, she baffled me in the end.  After finishing the book I was angry and upset the rest of the night  I couldn’t stop thinking about it, running the ending through my mind over and over to try to make some sense of it and come to peace with it, and for the life of me I couldn’t do it.  I guess that speaks to the power of the storytelling that I couldn’t get it out of my mind, but I almost felt cheated, robbed. 

Maybe it’s just me, and most people would agree with Mina’s choice.  I would love to know.  Overall, still a wonderfully dark story, and so much fun to revisit such a classic and cherished tale.  I still recommend it but if you’re left feeling unsatisfied at the end, my sincere apologies.


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