Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker by Syrie James

Mina Murray is in Whitby on holiday with best friend Lucy Westenra and her mother.  Both are enjoying the last of their time together as carefree young women before they are married. Mina is troubled by the fact that her fiancee, Jonathan Harker, hasn’t written to her as much as usual, but she is quickly distracted by the arrival of young, handsome and mysterious Mr. Wagner, who seems to have eyes for her alone, and then by the mysterious sleepwalking and bouts of illness that plague Lucy. Mina doesn’t know, but will soon discover how the events are connected, and how her life has already taken a drastic turn from the tranquility she once enjoyed to a passion she has never experienced.

I was recently thrilled to discover that Syrie James had a new book coming  out.  I loved her novel The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte. I was very curious to see how she would treat Mina, a fictional character, in her novel.  Dracula, My Love was just as well researched as anything that she wrote about one of her real life heroines and I felt as if I was walking around in the world with Mina, Lucy, Dracula, et al. I must admit before I get too far into this that I have not read the original version of Dracula in its entirety, but now I am excited to do so if only to compare and contrast this story with the original.  What I know of Dracula is based on vague remembrances of old movies to which I probably only half paid attention.  The appeal was drastically increased when I found out that it would be James’ next subject.

Dracula, My Love did excellent job in communicating what the time looked like and felt like, how people dressed and behaved, and the roles assigned to the sexes at the time.  Through Mina relationships with Jonathan and Dracula the reader is  able to explore the expectations demanded of women and the limited opportunities granted to them to explore their passions sexual or otherwise.  Dracula is drawing on several lifetimes of experience and encourages Mina to question her assumptions about her choices and to pursue avenues that she didn’t think were available to her.  We see how the things that we take for granted – like having a conversation with a man – were huge improprieties, and one that had feared consequences.   James explores one of the most debated ideas on the meaning of vampires, that they played a role in the exploration of the sexual awakening and identity of women.  Both Lucy and Mina use Dracula as a means to satisfy desires and freedom that they suspect will remain unfulfilled in their marriages.

Dracula, My Love is at its core  a love triangle, unbalanced though it must be with the title being what it is. Certain things about Mina’s life and the choices that she makes can  be surmised from the beginning because the book is more about the journey that she undertakes to arrive at who she is.  It is about loving and appreciating the old, exploring the new and combining the two in ways that you can live with.

I really appreciated having the opportunity to know Dracula’s story and to learn about his motivations as well as historical information about Transylvania and Vlad Tepes. Mina is a character that is very much in flux and attempting to come into her own and there were more than a few times when her naivete frustrated me and also times when she seemed to be unusually dense for one so smart which made the book a little slow for me in places. My feelings about her vacillated wildly because while she could be tiresome, I also thought that her behavior might be expected from someone as torn as she is between two men, and one who has had as little experience as she has had.

James’ writing is thoroughly researched and gorgeous to read.  This is a great read especially if you enjoy England in the late 19th century, Dracula, or just plain good historical fiction.  I guess I am now officially counting down to the next James novel.

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