Hunting Prince Dracula is a wonderfully haunting and cleverly crafted mystery novel from Kerri Maniscalco, author of Stalking Jack the Ripper. The novel, which involves the same characters from the aforementioned story, instead follows Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her close companion Thomas Creswell as they travel to Romania to enrol in a forensics course held in a magnificent Romanian castle. The castle and its surrounding areas are rich and alive with a history of scandal, murder and blood, and Audrey and Thomas amuse themselves in the castle’s grand library, its quaint small town and the lessons on postmortems taught by a plethora of esteemed academics. However, the adventure ultimately results in rising levels of paranoia and intrigue as members of the class and the local village end up being discovered dead–dead in the most unusual of circumstances. This then leads Thomas and Audrey on a quest to unearth the truths about the castle, about Thomas’s lineage, and a conspiracy from long-forgotten orders which aim to reclaim and rule the castle, ridding it of the academic school.
I will preface this review by saying that I have very little negative input for this novel as a whole. Having read Stalking Jack the Ripper quite some time ago, I did enjoy the novel as a whole (and have also written a review of it for the site), but Hunting Prince Dracula breaks the sophomore curse like no other book ever has. This novel was the perfect blend of everything an avid horror reader could ever ask for–a strong, witty and intelligent protagonist, a lovable and loyal sidekick, spectacular pacing and descriptions, and a plot twist that I never would have been able to predict. Maniscalco has a spectacular ability to write a first-person character, using eloquent language and structure and tapping into a period of time that readers may otherwise never have gotten a chance to inspect and analyse. The setting of the novel is as haunting as could be–an ancient castle steeped in history, with winding secret tunnels and trapdoors, murderous legends of dangerous animals, and a solid collection of believable and respectable characters, from the teachers at the academy to the servants and guards.
This novel moved me in a way that only a small subset of books ever have–the action scenes had me hanging on the edge of my seat, and though it took me some time to read it–due to school and work commitments–I was actively excited every time I had a chance to delve into its pages. Audrey Rose is a thoroughly likeable protagonist–she is not vain or selfish, she has pursuits of excellence, and she can always think for herself and continues to challenge the ideas of the male students around her by being thoughtful, well-spoken and elegant both inside and out. This book would be relatively bare without her and Thomas’s humorous, but ultimately loving, relationship. I cannot count how many times this pair of individuals made me chuckle with their dialogue, especially in a time when the plot or themes may seem to be too heavy. This novel is full of beautiful and alluring characters, but the beautiful soul that Thomas Creswell embodies never fails to capture my eye and make me smile.
This novel is already my favourite read of 2020, a feat which I never like to impose upon a novel too quickly. The elegant weaving together of the plot, pacing and character development is as seamless as could be, leaving me equally horrified and mesmerised. I cannot wait to dive into ‘Escaping From Houdini’ to explore the next escapade of Audrey Rose and Thomas.
OVERALL RATING: 10/10
NOTE – Though Hunting Prince Dracula involves the same characters as Stalking Jack the Ripper, it can easily be read as a standalone novel.