The Dead Travel Fast
Oh my gosh, I couldn’t put this book down. Incredibly compelling, highly evocative of those glorious days of true Gothic literature, The Dead Travel Fast is a book that is meant to be savored slowly. Very slowly. These days it’s not often that I find myself so immersed in a story that I forget everything else, but this book accomplished just that.
Since her grandfather died, Theodora Lestrange has been living under her sister’s cramped roof. When she receives the information that her sister is pregnant yet again, Theodora knows that she has to leave. Her kindly meaning brother-in-law frowns upon her career as a budding suspense writer, and she knows she is a financial strain. She decides to visit her old schoolmate Cosmina who wishes Theodora to stay with her in Transylvania through Christmas. The minute she sets foot in the little town she realizes just how far removed she is from her familiar Edinburgh; she is immediately immersed in a feudal society where peasants cower in fear of their master, the Count Dragulescu. They live in the shadow of gruesome folklore, and fear that the recently deceased count has become strigoi, the undead.
When Theodora arrives in the castle, things are even stranger. Cosmina seems to be harboring deep secret and is under a great strain. Her aunt, the Countess, is extremely ill and must be under constant care. The new count, Andrei, is Cosmina’s betrothed, and Theodora immediately feels a troubling attraction to him. Even more troubling is that the servants are afraid of him, declaring him to be the devil. He eats little, lives a nocturnal lifestyle, and seems to have plenty of ulterior motives. It isn’t long before strange things start happening, events unexplainable by normal means, and Theodora realizes she has been dropped in the midst of a real-life mystery. Her suspense writer’s instincts are piqued, and she eagerly and warily begins to navigate the murky waters of Transylvanian existence. Against her will she begins to fall in love with the enigmatic Andrei, the man who may be at the heart of all the evil.
The Dead Travel Fast has the same desperate impetus as Dracula, the same feeling of despairing humanity raging futilely against the unknown. Yet in the center of this tale is the story of a young Scottish woman trying to find herself, coming to terms with her new feelings of love, trying to reconcile the supernatural with her rational upbringing. The mood is darkly romantic; rarely have I encountered a first person narrative so well nuanced. Theodora is a delightful heroine, intelligent and refreshingly frank, deeply true to herself.
The author meets my insatiable need for detailed setting description, and I loved exploring the mysterious, alluring Transylvanian countryside through Theodora’s eyes. Castle Dragulescu embodies everything that the idea of Transylvania evokes: danger, romance, fascination with death, and a deep seated fear of the supernatural.
The reason why I have to give the book a B+ instead of an A- is really because of two things: The ending and Andrei’s character. I wish the author would have extended the ending by a mere page or two; the conclusion was just a little rushed, and I didn’t feel quite satisfied after having gone through the entire journey. I wanted some questions answered, darn it, and got none! The story constantly trod the line between the supernatural and the mundane, and I would have liked the ending of the story to have leaned towards one or the other. I also wanted more redemption on the Andrei-side of things, because he did have a tendency to ruthlessly play Theodora like a puppet. The romance between Theodora and Andrei is intensely restrained, which is fitting, but still, the cheesy romantic side of me wanted more romantic development, and a proper love scene.
The setting is detailed, the story is gripping, and all the characters are intricate and wonderfully complicated. With The Dead Travel Fast, my year has gotten off to a great start, and I hope it’s a sign of a good reading streak for me. I don’t know why I’ve never read Deanna Raybourn before, but you can be sure I’m going make a trip to the bookstore and rectify the situation ASAP.