As always, Deanna Raybourn's opening lines both grab us – I can no more not read on than I can stop eating a perfect pizza after the first taste – and encapsulate the attitude of the heroine to the situation she finds herself in when the story opens.
'I am afraid we must settle the problem of what to do with Theodora,' my brother-in-law said with a weary sigh.
Theodora's brother-in-law and married sister feel that they are responsible for her now her father has died and left her with little more than some debts and the clothes she stands up in.
Theodora doesn't see it that way. Having published a few stories, she dreams of writing a successful novel and so establishing her independence. And she intends to write it not in the north of Scotland, in her sister's home, under the watchful eye of her clergyman brother-in-law (this is Edinburgh in 1858!) but in Transylvania, in an ancient castle set high up in the Carpathian Mountains.
Jane Eyre in Translyvania!
She has been invited to stay at the castle by an old school friend of hers, an invitation she now feels free to accept.The castle actually belongs to her friend Cosmina's cousin, the young Count Andrei Dragulescu, who seems to have inherited, along with the castle, full feudal rights over not only the other members of his family but the whole population – mostly peasants – of the surrounding country.
The peasants, of course, are superstitious – but then so are the peasants in Scotland, laughs Theodora. To her, tales of vampires and werewolves are simply a thrilling inspiration for her forthcoming novel. How can she possibly fail in such a setting?
The reality turns out to be rather more than she bargained for. Especially the Count! Apparently the old Count really was a vampire, and even now walks the night. Does his handsome, sophisticated son – just back from Paris where he lived for years in the company of such as Beaudelaire – take after him?
Written in the elegantly irresistible manner we have grown accustomed to from Deanna Raybourn, this book succeeds – how could it not? – but in truth it is not nearly as good as, for instance, Freda Warrington's A Taste of Blood (a similar novel of the same genre) and can only be a something of a disappointment for those, like me, still entranced by Lady Julia Grey and the Silent in the Grave series.