The Deathless Girls is an intoxicatingly compelling, dark gothic read; written with such exquisite mastery that I couldn’t bear to put it down.
Seventeen-year-old twins, Lil and Kizzy, are Travellers, a people who are treated with disrespect and disdain, by many of the Settled who are prejudiced towards their way of life. On the eve of their divining, when they would have found out their future, their family is ripped from them by the careless cruelty of the local Boyar (ruler).
Although they are enslaved by their captors, they are still determined to be the diviners of their own fate, and fight against their new life. The girls are sent to work in the castle kitchens, in preparation to become serving girls at the whim of their male master, a master who ‘ … looked, like the worst monsters often do, like a normal man.’
Enduring terrible hardships, they also build bonds with the other kitchen girls, and the Cook, who has her own secret past. Lil, who has known only familial love, feels drawn to Mira, a Settler slave: their burgeoning relationship is beautifully portrayed.
Whilst in the castle, the sisters discover more about the seemingly mythical creature, the Dragon, a creature who strikes abject terror into the population. The girls’ fates are inextricably linked to each other, and to this cruelly mesmerising creature, a fate which takes them on a final terrible journey.
Throughout, the girls’ emotional states shift between blazing firebrands and smouldering embers, and this dichotomy kept me emotionally invested throughout. Unwavering fierce sibling love, tempered with disappointment and anger, is a powerful driving force in their story. It is this endlessly enduring love which leads to heart-breaking sacrifices by both girls. And their re-awakening as The Deathless Girls, two of the ‘Brides of Dracula’.
The atmosphere is imbued with a sense of fear and threat, building almost unbearable tension, which makes the courage, dignity and strength of the girls, and their friends, all the more excruciatingly awe-inspiring. There is a real feministic tone throughout as the girls fight against a life they have not chosen to live, fight against the people who exert control over them, and fight to have power in a seemingly powerless situation. The inexorable fate of Lil and Kizzy is all the more tragic and poignant, knowing their story: their pain, their love, their sacrifices.
This really is an inspired imagining of the untold story of the ‘brides of Dracul’ by an inspiring author: a story that will linger with me for a long time.
Thank you to NetGalley and Hachette Children’s Group for an e-ARC of The Deathless Girls.