Daughters of Shadow and Blood, by J. Matthew Saunders

I've always thought that the three brides of Dracula were a wasted opportunity in Bram Stoker's novel. They only show up a couple of times and are meant only to titillate and serve Stoker's thesis that lust <=> vampirism <=> unclean. They never get names, only receiving the most rudimentary of descriptions, and then they get killed. I chose to request J. Matthew Saunder's Yasamin (the first book in the Daughters of Shadow and Blood series) because the plot synopsis promised me a story about one of Dracula's brides. I'm a sucker for books that give badly needed backstories to classic female characters, whether they succeed or not.

Yasamin is a novel of frames, often reminding me of the structure of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. Adam Mire (or Dr. Mire, as he keeps insisting on his title) is an expert in early Romanian history. His quest to find a medallion reputed to belong to Vlad Țepeș has brought him to a mysterious woman named Yasamin. They tell each other their stories, a quid pro quo to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. From Mire, we get a story of being chased all over the Baltic, from Bucharest to Dubrovnik to Thessaloniki to Berlin, by various groups representing the old Ottoman Empire and Islam, Serbian and Romanian nationalists, and a certain man with distinctive dark hair who leaves dead bodies wherever he goes.

Yasamin's story is, if less thriller-ish, more interesting to me. Her story begins in 1599, when she left Salonica (now Thessaloniki) to marry the son of the pasha of Budapest. She is an unhappy bride and woefully unprepared for harem politics. As janissaries fall ill of a strange anemia and women start to disappear, Yasamin falls in love with a soldier who bewitches her. Yasamin and historical documents tell us more about Dracula and his part in Romanian history.

I wish Yasamin had been the sole narrator. She is fascinating, where Mire reminds me of a Robert Langdon clone most of the time. I understand that this book is meant to set Mire up to find the other two brides of Dracula, but I am really starting to tire of having male narrators tell women's stories. Mire's research hints at a tantalizing story for Yasamin. Her own actions in her narrative show me that she is not a character who will remain naïve for long. She is also not a woman who will let men fight her battles for her. In fact, she first begins to doubt her janissary lover Iskander because people who give her a hard time tend to go missing. By the end of Yasamin, Yasamin is a deadly force in her own right.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 3 May 2015.

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