For fans of “Dracula” and “Jane Eyre,” especially for those who have wondered more about the fates of Lucy Westenra and Bertha Mason, Gwendolyn Kiste’s RELUCTANT IMMORTALS gives these two characters new life.

If you’re familiar, Lucy and Bertha were victimized in their respective novels. More focus has been placed on Lucy Westenra in “Dracula” adaptations, with many interpreting the character quite harshly (and sometimes even slut-shaming the character ala BBC’s Dracula or the much-beloved Bram Stoker’s Dracula featuring Gary Oldman.) It’s been a long time coming in seeing Lucy and Bertha get some kind of justice in a narrative. RELUCTANT IMMORTALS does just that.

The novel takes place in 1967, about seventy or so years after Lucy was turned into a vampire. Before coming overseas, Lucy became acquainted with Bertha Mason, the “mad woman in the attic” turned immortal. Both have been permanently altered by the actions of men. Decades later, both are still rightfully haunted, with Lucy maintaining constant watch over Dracula’s ashes that threaten to assimilate at any moment and Bertha haunted by Rochester’s near-constant calls in the wind.

A routine can only last so long, though, and a figure from Bertha’s past emerges. And, as luck would have it, this figure triggers events that force both Lucy and Bertha to take forward action in relieving themselves and – ultimately – the world of both Dracula and Rochester once and for all.

If you’ve never been a super fan of slugging through classic literature, don’t worry. Readers are caught up to speed on the events that took place in both “Dracula” and “Jane Eyre.” We’re also introduced to slight changes in what we’ve expected from the vampiric lore. But, for the purpose of the story, there shouldn’t be any problems from readers.

RELUCTANT IMMORTALS explores the aftermath of abuse and the long-term impact it has on the victims, even decades later. Forced immortality is a hell of a reminder of the abuser, and Kiste explores these dynamics well. The story doesn’t get swallowed up by its darker explorations, however. The humor Kiste infuses into the dialogue helps to keep things light, with Lucy’s dry cynicism serving as an all-too-relatable character voice.

Because the story is told predominantly from Lucy’s perspective, Bertha’s voice does get lost a bit. This is to be expected, though, given the perspective at play here. That doesn’t mean she’s one-dimensional.  Readers watch as Bertha comes to be more comfortable standing on her own two legs. Her pain turns into rage and threatens to burn everything around her when the moment is right. If you want more background on Bertha Mason, I’d also point readers over to Jean Rhys’ “Wide Sargasso Sea.”

Where RELUCTANT IMMORTALS may ruffle some feathers is in Kiste’s depiction of the oft-romanticized Dracula and Rochester. Personally, the characterization could have used a tinge more nuance as both reminded of muscle-twirly villains of yore. But, the way in which Kiste presents them, both are parasites looking for hosts to feed on to sate their own constant emptiness. For the purpose of the story being told, the characterization presented makes sense. These aren’t the misunderstood men we are familiar with. No, these are men who will use anyone they can get their hands on and spread suffering wherever they go.

RELUCTANT IMMORTALS is easily a fast read. This is in large part due to how strong Lucy’s voice is in the text, but also the pacing. Everything flows smoothly as each new curveball gets thrown at our two protagonists. By the story’s end, you’ll want both to find their happy ending or, at the very least, peace from all the years being tormented by Dracula and Rochester. RELUCTANT IMMORTALS allows two characters relegated to the role of victims to rise up from the ashes and reclaim ownership of their lives.

RELUCTANT IMMORTALS is available now for purchase.

Sarah Musnicky
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