Gritty & dark, RELUCTANT IMMORTALS consumed me from the first page to the very last. The horrors of being irrevocably changed by someone without your consent. Of trying to regain a sense of agency and make our own choices free from what was done to us. It asks: are we doomed to be monsters if we come from one?
About Reluctant Immortals
Publisher: Saga Press • Release Date: August 23, 2022 • Pages: 320
Age Range: Adult • Genre: Horror/Historical Fiction • Format: ARC • Source: Giveaway
Reluctant Immortals is a historical horror novel that looks at two men of classic literature, Dracula and Mr. Rochester, and the two women who survived them, Bertha and Lucy, who are now undead immortals residing in Los Angeles in 1967 when Dracula and Rochester make a shocking return in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
Combining elements of historical and gothic fiction with a modern perspective, in a tale of love and betrayal and coercion, Reluctant Immortals is the lyrical and harrowing journey of two women from classic literature as they bravely claim their own destiny in a man’s world.
🔋 Women regaining power
🕸️ Good for Spooky Season
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Read An Excerpt
✨ You can read an excerpt from the book over at Tor Nightfire’s website!
My Review of Reluctant Immortals
Friends, this book sunk its teeth into me and didn’t let go. I’ve been thinking about it since I finished almost a week ago: this is a book that will stay with you long after reading and worm its way slowly into the recesses of your mind, changing you irrevocably. I want to re-read and annotate as this is a book that both entertains and makes you think deeply about the world.
Reluctant Immortals follows the immortal afterlives of Lucy and Bee, forgotten women of history who were irrevocably changed by the monstrous men in their lives: Dracula and Mr. Rochester. I love retellings that take characters who play a small role in fiction to explore the work through their lens, and Kiste does an excellent job with Lucy (Dracula) and Bee (the wife in the attic, Jane Eyre). It’s worth mentioning that no knowledge is necessary of the original books to enjoy this novel. Sidenote but I am now horrified that I viewed Jane Eyre as a romance and want to re-read it through the gothic lens of Rochester’s wife standing in the way of his happiness with Jane.
“There are tales about Rochester and Dracula, books and movies, ones where Bee and I have been mostly written out, deleted from our own story, our own lives.”
It’s 1967, and Lucy and Bee have lived in Los Angeles for about ten years, doing their best to live the quiet afterlives forced upon them. The friendship and support Lucy and Bee give each other, including giving space to not discuss traumatic events of their respective pasts, is so sweet and I found myself happy they found one another. Their nightly routine of going to the local drive-in? Yes. This book largely centers their friendship and I love that.
This is not your typical Gothic Horror novel. Reluctant Immortals is fast paced with a sense of wry humor oozing from Lucy’s narrative, giving the book the feel of reading Urban Fantasy. Where the gothic comes through is in the themes: the confinement and isolation our characters escaped when they found each other, the exploration of power, and decay; but this is not a book where tension slowly builds. It’s there from the first paragraph and mounts as the story progresses. This would be an excellent read for anyone who enjoys the back third of gothic books (“where all the action happens”) like Mexican Gothic but may have struggled with the slow pace.
The theme of decay is tied to the horrors of abusive men and their lasting effect, changing the women and destroying who they were Before. Trauma permanently changes a person’s brain, and decay is an representation for that. This theme extends beyond our protagonists and their home, though. The drive-in theatre itself is experiencing a form of decay as the once thriving business has lost patronage for years and is a husk of what it once was. The setting of Los Angeles is perfect for this story because of how it’s a place romanticized, much like immortal life, but the harsh realities are much worse than we care to notice.
“This is a glittering city haunted by the ghosts of dead girls and dead dreams.”
Los Angeles is famous for Hollywood and countless people flock there to “make it big,” only to be consumed by a brutal — and at times abusive — industry. Just as Lucy and Bee were consumed by Dracula and Rochester, these nameless and faceless Hollywood hopefuls had their lives irrevocably changed by the power wielded by others, making the city a perfect setting for Lucy and Bee to call home. I could honestly write essays about the use of decay in Reluctant Immortals!
“All their necks cracking as they lurch forward, their mouths gaping open like beached carp.”
I would be remiss not to mention the masterful horror writing and descriptions, because they surely paint a picture in the mind. I loved the way Reluctant Immortals expands on vampire lore in unexpected ways, particularly how sunlight actually affects them. Since the book is told from the perspective of someone who had essentially been written out of history, Kiste was able to play around with other omissions of history or things that were just plain wrong. And seriously, Lucy and Bee’s daily routine of racing around their house to clean up the decay is the sweetest part of this whole book. (Oh no, I am about to write more about the decay, abort! Abort!)
Overall, just WOW. Reluctant Immortals is a feat of genre-bending, retelling Gothic novels Jane Erye and Dracula in 1967 California through the lens of two forgotten side characters who today are relegated to a footnote. It’s poignant and hopeful, beautiful and macabre. This is a book that will consume you while reading and won’t let you go, a book that has a lot there to analyze if you’re so inclined but also stands on its own as a powerful and feminist tale of two girls trying to regain some agency over their lives and be free of the trauma they experienced at the hands of men. Kiste is absolutely a horror author to watch and I look forward to checking out her backlist immediately.
I received an ARC in a Twitter giveaway hosted by the author. This does not affect my opinions of the book or the contents of my review. Quotations are from an unfinished proof and are subject to change upon final publication.
Highly recommended to readers who enjoy fast-paced fiction that centers female friendship and gothic explorations of power and trauma.
Recommended if you enjoyed…
No two readers experience a book in the same way; this was mine, but what about you?
💬 Have you read Reluctant Immortals yet? If so, what are your thoughts?
💬 Did I convince you to add this book to your TBR?
💬 What Gothic Horror books would you recommend?