I was sent this book as an advanced copy for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.
Summary: Dating Sucks & Love Bites
Happy couple Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra have begun to garner national attention for their quirky New Orleans true-crime podcast, Shadowcast. When Lucy’s brother Harker disappears while researching the popular new dating app Thrall, they’re thrown into a real-life mystery. Aided by their social media expert, Arthur, and Harker’s professor, Van Helsing, they follow the trail, hoping to find Harker before it’s too late.
When their investigation crosses the path of a possible serial killer, the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur. And as they race against the app’s countdown clock, so does the line between friendship and love. What starts as a flirtatious rivalry between computer-savvy Arthur and techno-averse Van Helsing becomes much more, and Mina and Lucy’s relationship is tested in the fires of social media.
As they get down to the wire, the group discovers that nothing on their screens is as it seems—including their enemy.
A modern retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Thrall is a novel that tries to be many things. Modern Dracula retelling, queer romance(s), thriller, mystery, all told in an unique format. Some things worked better than others, but while the attempt at being a multi-genre novel was certainly admirable, it didn’t completely succeed at it.
First off, I liked the main characters. Lucy is a bisexual Black woman and co-host of Shadowcast, a true-crime podcast. She’s also the sister of Harker, who goes presumably missing at the beginning of the novel. Mina is the second co-host of Shadowcast and Lucy’s girlfriend. Arthur is their social media manager and is later instructed to keep in touch with Van Helsing, Harker’s anthropology professor, in order to find out anything relevant that might give them a clue about Harker’s disappearance. Van Helsing (VH) is an older character (I don’t think it was specified how old is he really is, I imagined him around 45 or 50 year old, while Arthur is 28) and is new to technology and chats, which was both fun and a little repetitive to see.
I found the beginning of the book rather slow, pacing-wise. This was kind of counterbalanced by the fact that the book is entirely told in chat logs, emails, podcast transcripts, tweets, etc., which made it easier and faster to read. Other times the pacing was faster, but overall I can’t say that it was consistent. It mainly depended on how much page time was given to the romance(s) at any given point, because the plot basically paused a few times to allow for the romance to develop instead of organically integrating the romance in the plot, if that makes sense.
The main relationship was between Arthur (bi) and VH (gay). Despite the pacing issues I just mentioned, I found their romance interesting even though I don’t care much for that age gap, and I liked the way the authors managed to use the format to their advantage. I think it wasn’t easy but it definitely worked well for me as a romance.
Something I loved is how this wasn’t purely about a M/M romance but also about an (established) F/F one. Although it wasn’t given as much page time as the M/M one, it had a few both cute and steamy moments. Not only seeing that on page, but also thinking about all the people who exclusively read M/M and imagining how mad they’re gonna be about the F/F sex scenes? Oh, that is truly priceless.
I actually want to talk about the bi rep and give a little warning that some might find Arthur’s history to be the slutty bi stereotype. I wasn’t bothered by it because whenever his history was mentioned it was always heavily implied that it’s his character and insecurities that made him act the way he did, so there was never an in-text correlation between his bi-ness and that. There was another scene that actually did bother me and it was the sex scene between Lucy and Mina where Mina (who is a lesbian) is basically writing a story from Lucy’s POV and at the beginning it focuses a lot on male gaze. They’re in a club and Lucy’s dancing with a guy and then Mina steps in and they dance and she keeps mentioning how none of those guys will have her and then they go to a bathroom where they know they’ll be heard (by the men outside) if they have sex. It made me feel icky because it added a male gaze even though there was absolutely no need for it, and I didn’t like how that seemed to have some sort of correlation with Lucy being bisexual. The scene turned out great and hot but I can’t shake the feeling of wrongness at the beginning where there was too much talk of men for it to feel safe to read as a queer woman.
Moving on, I usually love things that defy a genre or are multiple genres at once. With this novel, I feel like that could’ve worked much better with some more consistency in the way the narrative worked. It was mostly fine, hence the 3 stars, but there were a few things I really couldn’t let myself care about.
First of all, since a lot of the book takes place in chat format, I hated when they were talking about the actual plot and like, being scared about the things that were happening and then they were flirting with heavy innuendos in the next message. That made me roll my eyes so hard and it happened too often. If you’re scared for your life or your brother’s life or whatever, I don’t think you feel like thinking about sex in the next line. It was just too much.
Then, I know I haven’t talked much about the actual plot because it’s best to actually read it but I found the ending very anticlimactic and not really like it fit the rest of the novel. It kind of… changed the whole genre of the novel? Or maybe not really, but look, there’s not much else I can say without spoiling things. Just, the ending actually made me drop the rating from 4 to 3 stars, and the more I think about it the more plot holes I find that just don’t make any sense.
To add another point, since this is marketed as a modern retelling of Dracula: I’ve read Dracula probably like… 10 years ago and I don’t remember anything about it, but there was still very little Dracula-y about it if you look at it from the perspective of the legacy that Bram Stoker left to the literary world. I really don’t want to drop spoilers but let’s just say that there are no actual vampires in Thrall, and the bridge that was used to further connect it to Dracula was ridiculous in my opinion.
I’ve talked about the format but let me reiterate that I thought it was brilliant and cleverly used and probably the only way it was sort of a retelling of Dracula. I hope to see more novels told like this in the future, in any genre, because it’s a lot of fun.
As you can see from my review, there were things that worked and didn’t work for me. I have to 100% admit that if this hadn’t had a lot of queer rep I would probably have given it an even lower rating. Overall I would recommend it if you’re curious about reading a very queer romance/mystery with a format you probably haven’t seen used before (at least for this type of book).