Love historical fiction? Fan of dark fantasy? You’ve come to the right place! Today we’re talking about Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series, and more specifically book two, Hunting Prince Dracula.
(I just looked for my review of Stalking Jack the Ripper to see how many stars I gave it, and realised I never wrote one! Sorry about that, I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, so it’s definitely worth a read before you dive into this one – although the way book two is written there are no spoilers for book one beyond who survives, so it’s up to you!)
Remember last week when we discussed ‘speculative fiction‘? This is a prime example of ‘alternate history’, taking well-known legends and giving them a completely new and fresh spin. Book three tackles the story of Harry Houdini, and I cannot wait to read it – I feel like I know the Jack the Ripper and Vlad the Impaler/Dracula stories reasonably well, and have read a few fictional takes on them, but I’m basically a newbie to Houdini. All I’ve heard is he was pretty good at disappearing.
Speaking of which, don’t you love how Maniscalco has twisted the book titles to show how the eponymous character operated in the original story, and how that’s been flipped on its head in her versions? STALKING Jack the Ripper, HUNTING Prince Dracula and ESCAPING from Houdini. I love that little hint of what’s to come from the author.
(According to Google, Houdini was born Erich Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, before moving with his family to Wisconsin, USA, so fingers crossed we see a bit of both countries in book three. I’ve always wanted to visit Budapest!)
Book two picks up a couple of weeks after book one ended, and Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell are on their way to Romania, where a school of pathology and forensic science has taken up position in the old castle where Vlad Dracula once lived.
Audrey Rose is running away from her problems, she’s having nightmares and hallucinations caused by the Ripper case, and hopes she can escape them by leaving London. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works, and her problems follow her to Romania. Not only that, but a whole crop of new problems arise on the way there, when a man is murdered on their train. His wounds look like the work of a vampire, but surely they’re the stuff of myth?
On arrival at the castle, we discover the deaths tie into the local myth of the ‘strigoi’, angry spirits of the dead that rise from the grave and drain their victims’ blood. As more victims are found, Audrey Rose and Thomas begin to question whether there’s a copycat killer on the loose, or if something more supernatural is afoot.
With the help of Thomas’s sister, the head teacher’s niece, and a castle maid, the pair hunt for clues and try to solve the puzzle before anyone else can be killed.
I gave Hunting Prince Dracula 4.5 stars, I enjoyed it even more than book one, there’s something about the boarding school environment that speaks to me (I went to a boarding school but I didn’t board as we lived 5 minutes away, and I’ve always loved YA in that setting, i.e. Harry Potter). The romance between the two main characters starts to heat up somewhat in this instalment, so I’m excited to see where that leads, and as always Maniscalco’s writing is beautiful and descriptive, with just the right amount of Victorian vocab mixed in.
If you’re into period dramas, alternate histories, dark thrillers with just a hint of the supernatural, then you’ll definitely love this series. My pre-order of Escaping from Houdini will be available to download in 5 days time, I’ll let you know how I find it!