In 1897, seventeen year old, Louisa (Lou) and Dacia, cousins, close friends, and high society debutantes, are excitedly traveling from New York City to Bucharest, Romania for an extended stay with their Florescu family relatives, on their mothers’ sides. Dacia is traveling with her mother’s sister, Aunt Kate, while Lou is traveling along a separate route to Romania with both of her parents.
But their eagerly anticipated trip starts to go wrong. Dacia made the mistake of flirting too much with a young man in London, and now Aunt Kate is restricting her every move. Wolves haunt their train ride to Bucharest and block it temporarily by leaving something unmentionable on the track; a man whom Dacia has never before seen appears and kisses Aunt Kate in a “scandalous” manner. A stranger accosts Lou on the boat to France and accuses her of being “the Wing.” And once they reach Bucharest, things aren’t any better: the girls’ freedom is still limited, family secrets ominously swirl about them, and the girls’ Romanian grandmother turns out to be cold and cruel, ruling the Florescu family with an iron fist.
So maybe it isn’t entirely good news when Dacia meets the attentive, incredibly handsome Prince Mihai, who turns out to be a descendant of Vlad the Impaler, the original Dracula. Or, perhaps, when the entire extended Florescu family leaves Bucharest to take the girls to Bran, Romania ― where Dracula’s historic castle is located. As the girls’ heritage turns out to be tied to mysterious powers that run in the Florescu family, as well as the hereditary links between their family and the Dracula clan, these two proper young ladies realize that there’s more to life than dresses and idle socializing. They’ll need to dig deep within themselves for the courage to cope with the shocks and challenges that will face them.
Each chapter of Jessica Day George’s Silver in the Blood begins with a letter or diary entry by Lou or Dacia (or, later, by a couple of other characters), and the chapters alternate between the two girls’ viewpoints. It’s interesting to see how their concerns shift over time, from fashion and flirting with eligible young men and society visits, to life and death concerns and fighting for what they believe in. Some readers may get impatient with the girls’ (particularly Dacia’s) initial superficiality, but I thought it was realistic and played out well.
A key point occurs midpoint in the story, where the big family secret is revealed to the stunned girls. Although I had been anticipating this development for some time and, in general, could guess what was going to occur, there was at least one unexpected surprise that was a very welcome addition to the plot. It has a surprising effect on the girls’ personalities as well. In many ways, the girls trade the leadership role in their relationship at that point, as one finds the self-confidence she’s always lacked and the other struggles with her new capabilities and the damage it does to her self-image. While her reaction seems a little overwrought, it’s worth remembering that these girls are from a much more sheltered time.
Silver in the Blood has its shortcomings. The plot drags at times, which is likely to be particularly noticeable to adult readers. The villains in particular are rather one-dimensional; some additional and more layered character development would have been welcome with all of the secondary characters. Additionally, the parents played unsatisfactory roles in the story, abandoning them or turning against them without adequate explanation, and essentially being sidelined for most of the action (although I’m a parent, so I probably felt that much more strongly than younger readers will). The girls’ Aunt Kate, torn between her heritage and love for a man, on the one hand, and her love for Dacia and Lou and her sense of what is good and true, on the other, was a much more developed personality than any of their parents.
Jessica Day George deserves props for coming up with an unusual plot and setting, and for avoiding what must have been a temptation to make vampires part of this Transylvanian paranormal fantasy ― even with the Dracula clan as part of the plot!
Silver in the Blood is a light read, definitely in the YA category, although more sensitive readers may be disturbed by some death and violence, including the threat of rape. There is a romantic element to the story, but it is handled very lightly. This novel won’t appeal to all readers, but it kept my attention and I finished it off in one sitting. I would recommend it without qualms to an older teenage girl who enjoys paranormal fantasy.