Title: The Deathless Girls
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Genre/Themes/Content Warning: Young Adult Fantasy, Dracula Retelling, Brides of Dracula, Animal Abuse, Intimate Body Search
Blurb from Goodreads
They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.
On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.
Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.
They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…
I feel this book had so much more potential. What it ultimately delivered was a very lacklustre piece of gothic style fiction.
The Deathless Girls is a book that aims to give agency to the story of the brides of Dracula from the original Dracula novel. And while I have never read Dracula so ultimately can’t truly compare the two I feel that this didn’t quite fulfil its brief.
CONTENT WARNINGS: I wish to mention that this book has some very graphic descriptions of animal abuse (Bite wine) and there is a very uncomfortable scene where the girls are forcibly examined in an attempt to determine their virginity status.
Some plot spoilers so read at your discretion.
The story follows sisters Lil and Kizzy and from the outset we get the inkling that these will become deathless girls due to prophecies about their fates. So the book is an exploration into how faced with the darkest of choices these loving sisters became brides of Dracula.
And okay, technically the book delivered on showing how their fates ultimately unfolded but what was missing from the narrative was real emotion.
I didn’t once empathise with any of the characters.
To me I felt the characters were little more than pastiches. Outside of knowing that Kizzy was argumentative and stubborn we never fully felt what it was that made her tick. And Lil, whose PoV the book is from… yes we understood how she had strong familial ties to Kizzy especially but it felt like a whole lot of telling rather than showing.
And in amongst the angst and anguish a love story was shoehorned in… and wow was it under developed. The first time I as a reader got the sense these two characters were supposed to be together I didn’t understand it. I felt like I had missed a chapter or two building up this connection. Suddenly Mira was referred to as Lil’s Mira and I was like where did that come from?
For a book that was supposed to give voice to the brides of Dracula it really didn’t deliver.
The book was all about getting from A to B plotwise but with absolutely no nuance in the journey.
And what was truly irksome is that ultimately the book felt pointless. As a reader you know from the beginning that these girls are not going to have happy endings because they are to be The Deathless Girls but there should have been so much more colour to their story along the way. The book felt defeatist from the start…. which of itself you could say is an interesting idea as you let your fate take over… but this book resorted to cliched tropes and eye roll worthy martyrdom that felt pointless. Lil going on a hopeless journey to save Kizzy from the dragon was just written so poorly that I just wanted the book over already and both girls turned so I could put back this book on my shelf and let it gather dust for eternity as I can guarantee you I will not be rereading it.
I fully appreciate that Hargrave was trying to create the idea that these girls had some agency in their destiny and that their options were definitely “between a rock and a hard place” but the ending fell beyond flat for me.
And squeezing a cursory mention of the third bride of Dracula in the epilogue was extremely frustrating. A book that is about forgotten women and it itself conveniently forgets one of the women until the very end??? Lol no.
I felt apathy rather than empathy towards all the characters in this book.
I didn’t care that Lil and Mira would never be together. I didn’t feel sad that they were torn from each other because their love story was just so under developed.
I didn’t feel for Kizzy and how she sacrificed herself to save others because I was simply told this happened. I think in that regard definitely too much action occurred off-page.
And I genuinely didn’t understand Lil’s choices to be with her sister again (i.e. live as a vampire) because the emotion was lacking.
Basically I felt the prose throughout the novel was rather sterile and ultimately reading to the end of the novel was rather perfunctory rather than enjoyable. I simply just kept reading to see how Hargrave would wrap up everything but could just have easily abandoned the book around the 2/3 mark so bored and utterly uninvested emotionally was I.
This is my third novel I’ve read by Kiran Milwood Hargrave and I’ve found her to be extremely hit and miss. I didn’t enjoy her middle grade (The Island at the End of Everything) as like this book it lacks that emotional connection. I’m less than ambivalent about this her YA debut and yet I’m obsessed with her adult debut The Mercies. To me when she writes for a younger audience I get a sense that she is shackled as a writer. If you read her adult book The Mercies it is so much more vibrant. The characters have so much more depth. More heart. She writes with a freedom of spirit and has so many interesting points to raise about the feminine and how it’s viewed.
I can truly see her talent as a writer but she definitely has a tendency to get caught up in focusing on her settings and being overly descriptive in that regard (too much simile and metaphor), rather than properly giving focus and feeling to characters.