The Deathless Girls – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
I had to read this book after a Year 10 pupil returned it and told me it was THE BEST BOOK they had ever read. It’s a book I had often admired, with a beautiful cover and illustrated endplates so it didn’t take much more persuasion. I was also taken with the idea that it’s been produced as part of a series of books from Bellatrix to give a voice to female characters side-lined in classic stories. Also, the clocks have gone back, it’s dark earlier and the wind is howling. Practically perfect conditions for reading a gothic horror story. The story is a prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, an imagining of the untold tale of the three brides of Dracula. Their origins and story are never told, beyond them being called “the sisters” but here, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, has given them a voice.
On the eve of their divining ceremony, when twins Lil and Kizzy are about to find out their fate, their Traveller community is destroyed and they are captured and enslaved by an evil Boyar, named Valcar. Forced to work in the harsh castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. She also learns about the Dragon (Dracula), a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend and it soon becomes clear that the sisters are being groomed for him.
There’s a strong sense of setting and the importance of nature to Traveller life. This also serves as a strong contrast to the unnatural goings on in the castle. This is a book about vampires (strigoi) but it’s not your typical YA vampire book. The focus is on the relationships between the women, the two sisters, the cook, their mother and the other girls in the castle kitchens. Lil and Kizzy are vastly different characters but we quickly grow to understand and like them both. Kizzy is the beautiful twin, who soon attracts the attention of the local Boyar. Full of fire and light, she refuses to succumb to her fate. Lil sees herself as the dowdier twin, always in her sister’s shadow. But when Kizzy catches the eye of the Dragon, it’s left to Lil to fight for her. To be clear, it’s not an action-packed adventure with vampires on every page, and if that’s what you want, you’ll be disappointed. In fact, it reads more like a historical novel with gothic and horror elements and that suits me more. The ending was superb.
Hargrave is an award-winning poet and it shows. The prose is lyrical. The characters are brave and strong and there’s a heartbreak. I’d happily recommend it to Year 9 and above.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is available in the Senior Fiction section.
Also by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: The Girl of Ink and Stars; The Way Past Winter; The Island at the End of Everything.