Reluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste
Gallery/Saga Press (August 2022)
320 pages; $17.99 paperback; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
This was unexpected. Then again, for those who have ever been treated to one of Kiste’s works, the unexpected is part of the gift she gives to her readers. Gorgeous prose wrapped around the darkest reaches of the human condition in plots that are anything but overdone.
This novel takes an idea that could fall apart in lesser hands. Instead, the author writes the story into a realm that is wholly enjoyable while, at times, the reader may just sit back and marvel at a particular exchange or moment between the odd mixture of characters — and odd they are. Gwendolyn Kiste inserts characters from a pair of classic novels and transports them to the modern era…well, 1967 is close enough and perfect time for the exquisite tale.
Lucy Westenra, a victim of the famous Dracula, and Bertha Mason, the first wife of Edward Rochester, a more human monster from Jane Eyre, are center stage in this gothic horror offering that never gets bogged down in the details. Kiste remains, as is her style, firmly devoted to the characters in how they behave in the plot. This keeps the pages turning — leisurely, but gripping storytelling.
Both women are now immortal in Hollywood, living together, yet fighting off the darkest impulses that made them immune to human frailty. However, old Drac still has a role in this story. It seems as though the fangbanger just won’t die — Lucy keeps his ashes in several urns and never allows them to touch, for fear that he can be whole again. The evil monster from the original novel is dead set on making Lucy’s life a living hell, whispering to her, calling to her, plaguing her existence, while she struggles to continue to find a way to erase him from the periphery of being. Bee (Bertha) survived the entrapment in the attic from the Bronte story. She discovers that Edward is still alive and just as horrid a man as he was when she was a mere mortal.
They travel to San Francisco, a perfect setting for the world that Kiste weaves together.
To say more would taint the experience of the reading. For those who have read the author’s works, such as the brilliant Rust Maidens, this will come as no surprise. What makes this novel work is how these women struggle in their lives. As immortals, reluctant as they may be (no pun intended), life does not come easy. Luxury is not for them, as poverty is forever lurking, just as much as the evil that rustles in the urns. Kiste upends the expectations here with both characters, giving them center stage, something neither tasted in their original stories. Call this novel what you will, but many will jettison labels and simply enjoy the experience.
As always, Kiste delivers something special and wholly unexpected. Highly recommended reading.
Expect this one to bring home some awards.