I read this book for the first time last year after I discovered the author and fell in love with her style. A couple of days ago I felt the irrepressible urge to pick it up again, so pick it up I did.
Author: Deanna Raybourn seems to be rather popular in the USA but if I want to get my hands on any of her books here I have to order them in from the other side of the Atlantic. They're quite expensive, too, but I feel that they're worth it. She's an American author but she makes a very commendable effort to write in British English as her characters thus far have all been Brits. She even changes her sentence structure to be one closer to that of 19th century English. Just part of why I love her!
Presentation: A medium sized paperback of good quality paper. Medium sized, well spaced type. There are 309 pages broken down into 20 chapters of roughly the same length.
Story: Theodora Lestrange has recently lost her grandfather, her only remaining relative apart from her happily married, mother of four (soon to be five) sister. She does not want to find herself lodged with her sister's family and means to make her own way in the world as an established author.
So when her best friend from boarding school invites Theodora to her wedding at her family's castle in Translyvania, Theodora jumps at the chance to go to the land that Cosmina used to tell of when they were girls, hoping to find inspiration for a full-length story there.
Theodora arrives in the Carpathians, at the caste perched on a mountain peak. The master of the castle and surrounding lands having recently died, his heir, Cosmina's supposed fiancé, has returned to settle affairs before meaning to leave again - without having taken Cosmina as his wife.
Despite herself, Theodora finds herself draw to Count Andrei Dragulescu and he seems to be showing interest in her too, even encouraging her interest in him. She feels that it would be a breach of her friendship with Cosmina to go after the man who had refused her friend but as she gets to know the Count better she finds that she just cannot help her attraction.
But there is more than just romance in the air at the Dragulescu castle. The villagers tell of werewolves and strigoi (vampires) living in their mountains. Theodora comes to understand that Translyvania is unlike other places: things happen there that do not happen elsewhere. When one of the servants is found dead, two puncture marks on her neck and her body drained of blood, Theodora finds herself wrapped up in her own horror story.
Thoughts and impressions: I think that I was able to enjoy this book more the second time around than I did the first time I read it. The first time around I was expecting a supernatural horror story; the second time I knew I was going into a mystery novel.
Raybourn's ability to create such a vivid atmosphere of middle-of-nowhere Translyvania, where the locals still cling to ancient superstitions, is admirable. I felt the isolatedness of the castle and the village oozing from the pages. I enjoyed the descriptions of the area - it sounds positively stunning and I would love to visit the Carpathians one day - and the local folklore was fun and interesting to read about. I only wish there'd been more of it! I adore Eastern European folklore.
There are some passages where the narrator is apt to rambling, the sheer length of them making it difficult to retain all the information they offer. The story is also somewhat slow in parts: this frustrated me last year but I was able to appreciate them more this time around.
Style: As mentioned, Deanna Raybourn tries very hard to make her language the British English of the area. She misses some spellings - in particular in this book she often describes things as being 'medieval' instead of 'mediaeval' - but she does extremely well. Her style is not the most sophisticated out there but it is one that suits what I want from a book very well. It is her style that has cemented her a place as one of my favourite authors.
Final verdict: Not perfect and I will not pretend that it is, but the story works very well for me. I really enjoyed the story and the characters, though the slow pace of the story may frustrate other readers. This book is not as good as the Lady Julia Grey books but it is certainly very enjoyable and a solid stand alone. 4 stars.
Extra notes: The language in the book is what I would consider clean. Sex does take place but behind closed doors.