Hunting Prince Dracula, by Kerri Maniscalco
"The world is neither kind nor is it cruel. It simply exists. We have the ability to view it however we choose."
Apologies ahead of time, because things are going to get gushy. I loved Hunting Prince Dracula, as it absolutely followed up Stalking Jack the Ripper in true form. These books have been engaging, interesting, and always satisfying in terms of the romance. It is the characters, and their partnership, that truly make this series sing.
My first and foremost love is always going to be Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her independence. She is fierce and won't back down from demanding what it is she wants, and I am here for it. In Prince Dracula, she and her indomitable partner Thomas Cresswell set out across Europe by train (the Orient Express!) to Romania, where they will study forensic medicine in the castle once the stronghold of Vlad the Impaler. Audrey Rose must face many challenges, physical, mental and emotional, but as before the largest obstacle in her way is the attitudes of others around her. Ladies in Victorian days were not meant to work, or be seen much outside of the house, and certainly not having adventures cross-continent with a scalpel in hand. In the last book, Audrey held back more as acquiescing to condescension at times would smooth the way for her, but seemed to be fed up with this tactic this time around.
"I would not be treated as if my mind were inferior because I'd been blessed with the ability to bear children."
I feel her character was fleshed-out a lot more in Dracula, making her a more sympathetic character as we better understand her dilemmas. Firstly, she is dealing with some very reasonable post-traumatic stress disorder, as the gruesome events of the previous book had happened in fact just scant weeks before the next book picks up. It would be perfectly normal for her to want to take a small break from corpses to process her horror and grief, and yet she cannot. As a woman in a man's field, she must be 100 times stronger than the men around her in order to be viewed as barely equal. Any sign of weakness and she would be written off forever. This just goes to show you how gd tough women really are, because there is no way Audrey Rose is going to be written off, even as she struggles to find her way back to herself.
Her emotional dilemma is just as fraught, and comes in the comely shape of Thomas Cresswell, devoted life-partner, as he likes to call himself. She loves and desires Cresswell as much as the rest of us, but she is truly afraid of what that will mean for her future.
"I could feel my autonomy slipping from my grasp each time Thomas offered advice on what I ought to do. Wasn't that how it happened? Basic rights and wants were slowly eroded by someone else's idea of how one should act."
She even considers being ruined by Thomas so that he could no longer marry her, an idea which has very interesting consequences. On his part, Thomas' unending devotion to Audrey Rose is heartwarming. He is basically the perfect man, although his character is somewhat stagnant. Where do you go when you are already perfect?
"You are not mine to take ... you are yours to give."
Romantic sigh. There needs to be more feminist, intelligent, worthy leading men like Cresswell. I am fully fallen: Thomas is my new book boyfriend. And their relationship is so sweet. And healthy. There is a dearth of healthy relationships in young adult novels, based on respect and equality as well as desire - this one will now be my new standard.
Maniscalco also stands out to me as an author who so perfectly captures setting. In Stalking Jack, the moody grimness of 19th-century London after hours is perfect, it's practically another character in the book. Equally in Hunting Dracula are we pulled into the setting of the spooky Transylvanian castle, complete with secret passages, booby-trapped labyrinths, and wolf-laden woods. A village full of superstitious peasants rather rounds things out. In fact, the superstitions really draw us in, as the legend of the vampire, while hardly new, becomes interesting when told from the traditional Romanian viewpoint.
Haunting and romantic at turns, Hunting Prince Dracula can easily become a Halloween favourite. I fully recommend this book, and this series, for its fun and its perfect romance.