Book Review: Daughters of Shadow and Blood by J. Matthew Saunders

24810634Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin

J. Matthew Saunders

4/5 Stars

Release Date: May 3, 2015

Publisher: Saint George’s Press

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Buda, Ottoman Hungary, 1599: Yasamin, the naïve daughter of an Ottoman bureaucrat, finds herself trapped in an arranged marriage to the son of the powerful governor of Buda. She is unprepared for the gossip and scheming rampant in the palace but realizes she faces more than petty jealousies when someone tries to drown her in the baths on the day before her wedding. An unearthly menace lurks in the palace corridors, and the one person able to protect Yasamin is a soldier named Iskander, who seems to appear whenever she needs him. Charming and confident, he is nothing like her new husband, but trusting either of them could be a deadly mistake.

Berlin, Germany, 1999: Adam Mire, an American professor of history, discovers a worn, marked-up copy of Dracula. The clues within its pages send him on a journey across the stark landscape of Eastern Europe, searching for a medallion that once belonged to Dracula himself. But a killer hounds Adam’s footsteps, and each new clue he uncovers brings him closer to a beguiling, raven-haired woman named Yasamin Ashrafi, who might be the first of Dracula’s legendary Brides.

Adam has an agenda of his own, however, a quest more personal than anyone knows. One misstep, and his haunted past could lead to death from a blade in his back … or from Yasamin’s fatal embrace.

Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin by J. Matthew Saunders. I’d recommend this title to fans of Bram Stoker because it pays homage to Dracula, but is still different enough that you can’t easily predict what’s going to happen. The novel is set up into three main timelines, among other minor ones in the form of letters, book passages and written accounts. The research is meticulous and the writing well-done, albeit sometimes lacking life in certain chapters. My first thought when starting this was “Dracula meets The Da Vinci Code”, which is interesting because after finishing I saw Darin Kennedy quoted it as this too! This novel is the first in a planned trilogy and I definitely plan to read book two.

As I mentioned, the novel is divided into three timelines: Buda Hungary 1599, occupied by the Ottoman Empire at the time, and is told in the perspective of Yasamin. Then we have early August 1999, Berlin Germany told in the POV of Adam Mire and lastly mid-August 1999, also in Adam’s POV. The differences between these last two POV’s are Anya and Yasamin Ashrafi, who appear in one of these two timelines respectfully. Furthermore, the reader experiences other minor timelines that all have a connection to Dracula, his medallion and his legendary brides’. My favourite POV was Yasamin because I felt she was the most developed character and I was the most involved with her. As well, it was great reading about the Ottoman empire in this context and I felt this made the novel different from other Dracula-inspired ones; it stood out more!

Everything about the 1599 timeline is five stars. The reader is given a deep understanding of Yasamin’s background as well as her current life in Buda. The dialogue felt natural to me, never awkward or rough as was sometimes the case with the other two timelines. Yasamin meets Iskander, a janissary (member of the Turkish infantry) and the romance between the two is natural, moving at a realistic pace. I was of course rooting for the two of them! The author paints a very visual, three-dimensional picture of the Ottoman Empire in Buda, which I absolutely loved! Another interesting point was the Jinn, mentioned as creatures of a smokeless and scorching fire by the characters of this timeline. Instead of using the term ‘vampire’ to explain the mysterious happenings, the characters would instead talk about the jinn and demons, so this alternate perspective was interesting to read. I think for me including both the Western/Gregorian calendar date and the Islamic calendar date iced the cake.

The suspense is fantastic! This is where I compared it to The Da Vinci Code; there was always lots of action happening. The plot revolves around Adam finding a journal with clues to the location of Dracula’s medallion and ends up simultaneously searching for one of Dracula’s bride’s. Of course, other secret organizations’ would love to get ahold of that medallion, so Adam finds himself in a lot of danger and ends up being saved by Anya. I would say the suspense is built up a lot in the beginning, dies down a bit in the middle, but then starts back up near the end. The last 20 percent of this book wowed me enough to give it a 4/5 versus 3.5/5 stars.

When comparing Adam, Anya and Yasamin together as characters, it’s clear Yasamin is the most expanded on. The reader learns a bit about Adam and some traumatic events in his past, but I wasn’t as involved with him and Anya as I was with Yasamin. With Anya, we only seem to learn what’s relevant to the plot – she has a connection with Yasamin Ashrafi, but it’s not made totally clear. As well, there’s some romance between Adam and Anya that I found unnecessary; they didn’t seem to know each other for long enough. I think this lack of development is due to the many POV’s filled in-between the three main ones, and so there’s not a lot of space to grow. I’d recommend for book two the author make absolutely certain all main characters have breathing room to grow before filling in minor POV’s. These minor POV’s were of course all important, but I value well-developed characters over plot.

Overall, Daughters of Shadow and Blood was really entertaining and I will definitely be continuing the series. The format and plot brought me back to my childhood love for Dracula by Bram Stoker, and being a fan of The Da Vinci Code, I loved the mystery! Now I think if you’re not a fan of Bram Stoker, the set-up of the novel might take some getting used to because there’s multiple POV’s and the author layers a lot of facts into the novel. I recommend this title for readers wanting a Dracula-inspired novel with intrigue, mystery and action-packed scenes!

I received a free eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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