As a huge fan of the original Dracula by Bram Stoker (it being the book I learned how to work a CD player for as a pre-teen so I could sew whilst listening!), I noticed this book with interest ... and also more than a little worry. The combined power of gorgeous cover and story from another view point (two things I generally enjoy), however, soon won me over enough to pick up a copy and delve inside.
Miss Mina Murray is introduced as an Irish schoolmistress, a 22-year-old who rose to become the star pupil at Miss Hadley's School for Accomplished Young Ladies, London, and so had remained there for the 15 years before the novel opens. She remembers being touched by the supernatural as a child - hearing thoughts like a Victorian Sookie Stackhouse. This character study is entirely new - unless my copy of Dracula was highly abridged - and immediately makes the focus of the novel apparent: this is Mina's story in Mina's words, but this Mina is an entirely different creature from the reserved Victorian lady you may have met in Bram Stoker's `version` of events. This Mina is a wildly vivid and sensual creation whose antics may indeed have required heavy editing to be made fit for the eyes of susceptible and genteel ladies. In any case, from the outset it is apparent that a simple retelling of Dracula this novel is not - this is another beast altogether, an utter leap of authorial imagination.
Karen's novel paints an immersive and thoroughly researched picture of Victorian England and the values held at the time, gently instructing her readers as Mina herself was instructed. But just one light scratch beneath the surface draws blood... and Dracula is there always to lap it up. Deftly showing the undercurrents of Victorian England, the smoke and lechery and grime, exaggerated well with the supernatural additions of shape-shifting and vampirism. It is, on the whole, a believable magnification. New characters are added, notably Kate Reed and Jacob Henry, and familiar ones renamed (Quincey Morris becomes Morris Quince, Van Helsing is now Von Helsinger...) or re-evaluated (especially the medical men!), to add depth to the narrative.
Karen outdoes herself in describing the Count - he is at once malevolent and enigmatic, a tempting and dangerous duo that hypnotised me as I read about him. In this, perhaps, Karen outdoes even Bram Stoker's descriptions - she at the very least offers them from a woman's point of view, a desired woman's point of view at that! Rather unexpectedly, I enjoyed this book. It felt like an indignant yet well-considered reply to "the red-haired writer" who censored Mina's life to suit his needs - a considerable feat to pull off from a fictitious character (Mina) against a real man (Stoker)! Do I prefer the original? Yes, but now I shall re-read this after re-reading that, as an antidote to and reminder of censorship and bias.
Recommendation: If you have read Dracula and found it wanting, especially in the characterisation of women, then this book will be your antidote. If Victoriana is your thing and you're not adverse to the darker undercurrents (in health, society, and gender) that were alive and thriving during the period then you will be drawn in by their matter-of-fact portrayal here. Dracula in Love is a brave rebuff of Dracula and a hypnotic dance through a young woman's life.