The Deathless Girls

The Deathless Girls was written by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and first published in 2019. It is a Gothic horror novel which tells the untold tale of the Brides of Dracula. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

Lillai and her twin sister, Kisaiya, have just turned seventeen and that means that it is time for their Divining Day – the moment when they will find out what the fates have in store for them. Lil is certain that her beautiful and outgoing sister will be an ursar – a bear dancer – yet she is less certain what place she will be given within their Traveller community. However, the future for Lil and Kizzy holds nothing but bloodshed and death. Before their palms can be read, their camp is ransacked and they are torn from everything that they once knew.

The girls’ destiny lies in the court of Boyar Valcar – a lord who is well known for his “love” of pretty young girls. They are put to work in Valcar’s kitchens but know that it can only be a matter of time before they are forced to serve him in other ways. While Kizzy endangers herself by constantly battling their captors, Lil would rather accept their fate to avoid further to pain. For Lil, the one ray of light comes in the form of Mira – another kitchen girl whom Lil is inexplicably drawn to.

However, as Lil adjusts to life as a slave, she starts to learn disquieting things about her captors. Valcar and the other Boyars answer to a mysterious prince known as the Dragon – a man made legend due to his brutality. In order to keep their master’s favour, each Boyar must present the Dragon with a regular sacrifice. As beautiful Kizzy starts to be noticed more and more, Lil realises that there is a good chance that she could be next…

Before I begin, a word of warning. The Deathless Girls is not a pleasant read and is certainly targeted at older teens. It contains some graphic depictions of violence against women, attempted rape and animal abuse. If you are sensitive to any of these themes, I would strongly recommend giving this novel a miss.

As a fan of Gothic Literature, I was really looking forward to getting my hands on The Deathless Girls. The Brides of Dracula – or “sisters” as they are technically known – only play a very minor role in Bram Stoker’s novel, so there was a lot of scope to develop their story. Sadly, the way that this is presented in The Deathless Girls is probably not what most readers would expect.

Despite its subject matter, this novel is not a vampire story. The strigoi (undead) don’t really get a mention until around the 70% mark of the Kindle edition, while Dracula himself does not appear in person until 89% of the way through the novel. The story is more of a character study, focusing on twin sisters who are taken as slaves by a Romanian Lord and frequently find themselves persecuted due to their Traveller heritage.

The story is told from the first-person perspective of Lil and was fast to sink its hooks into me as it opened with a bloody attack that saw most of her loved ones killed. Hargrave’s writing style is smooth and easy to read, creating a poetic narrative that managed to capture both the beauty and brutality of Lillai’s world. This tone nicely suited a Gothic novel and made me keen to read on to find out what would happen to the girls.

Unfortunately, The Deathless Girls could not sustain my interest. Once Lil and Kizzy reached Boyar Valcar’s castle, the novel slowed to a crawl. It was a long time before Lil saw anything of her captors beyond the inside of the kitchen, and the novel just became mired in misery as the girls were tormented and abused with no hope of rescue. This really sets the tone for the rest of the novel, as The Deathless Girls is a shocking bleak tale with little by the way of structure. It was ultimately little more than a slow build-up to the point when Lil would inevitably meet Dracula.

Personally, I felt that this also posed a bit of a problem. The Deathless Girls does not really have any kind of a twist, as it is obvious from the blurb how the story must end. While the book almost tries to conceal Dracula’s identity by referring to him only as “the Dragon” for the most part, the back of the book openly states the subject matter of this novel so this should come as no surprise to the reader.

Yet, despite this, the ending of The Deathless Girls was still frustratingly abrupt. After so much build-up, it was disappointing that novel does not go so far as one would expect as it fails to even show the moment of the girls’ transformation. It merely cuts-off mid flow, ending with a short epilogue that summarised the fates of the rest of the characters. Personally, I just felt that this was a very clumsy way to round things up.

In terms of characterisation, I was also left disappointed. Lil was a very easy character to like as she received a lot of development as the story progressed. While she started out as a shrinking violet who seemed almost too keen to accept life as a slave, she slowly finds her strength as the story progresses and proves that she is capable of doing all that it takes to protect her family. However, Kizzy did not share this strength. While she is introduced as the more confident of the two, Kizzy never changes as the story progresses and her recklessness often served just to bring more trouble.

I’m also not really sure that I would consider this to be a feminist work, despite how it is advertised. The sisters are never entirely given the freedom to choose their fate and their salvation ultimately comes at the hands of a man (as far as Dracula can be called such). Also, the power that they are granted is of a violent kind, allowing them the ability to flat out murder all of the men that they deem to be “sinners” (which is the overwhelming majority of ones that seem to appear in this story). I personally felt that this viewpoint was a bit old-fashioned, inciting the kind of feminism that encourages violence rather than equality.

I also did not really like the way that the romance panned out in this story. While Lil’s attraction to Mira isn’t quite instant, it did seem to largely develop off-page as there were not many scenes shared by the two prior to their escape. The fact that it did not end all that well for either party was also disappointing. Tragic endings for lesbian couples is a well-known trope in literature and it’s always disheartening to find this at the end of an LGBT novel.

Anyhow, I think that’s about all that I have to say. I had really high-hopes for The Deathless Girls but was ultimately left disappointed. It is a bleak and uncomfortable read which suffered from some issues with its structure and characterisation. All in all, it’s not a novel that I would really recommend.

The Deathless Girls can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sofii @ A Book. A Thought.
    Oct 23, 2019 @ 23:35:44

    I’m so sorry it ended up being a disappointment! still, I love you review, you’re super clear and detailed 😊

    Reply

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