Publisher: Philtre Press
Release Date: September 27, 2018
Received From: A Novel Take PR
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.
SEXUALITY: bisexual, homosexual, lesbian
ROMANTIC ORIENTATION: biromantic, homoromantic
PAIRING: F/F, M/M, M/F
TROPES: age gap, childhood sweethearts, friends to lovers (before the start of the book)
TAGS: adult, contemporary, retellings, mystery, romance, queer romance, queer characters, epistolary, existing relationship, black character, POC character
WARNINGS: death, kidnapping, mention of professor/student relationship, ableism, aro exclusionary language (“just a friend”), vomiting, anti-queer language (“not support their lifestyle”), cissexism/anti-trans language (comment about not telling Mina about dicks because she’s a lesbian), hacking, technological invasion of privacy, anti-native language (“savage”)
I found this retelling absolutely delightful! All of the characters were engaging, the mystery was exciting and creepy, and the epistolary/social media format really worked for me.
First, I’ll talk about the format! Like I said, it really worked for me! I absolutely love books with mixed media, so while I was already excited for this book because, helloooo, Avon Gale and Roan Parrish, I was even more eager to get my hands on THRALL once I learned that the novel was going to be entirely in epistolary format and told through chat logs, emails, texts, and more. It was mostly told in short bursts–so, chat, texts, twitter–which made things a quick and easy to fly through. Getting used to that made the parts that were chunky emails or diary posts feel a bit clunky and ended up taking a bit longer to read through since it was a format that had essentially become unfamiliar regarding this book, but overall, it was really cool to read the book like this!
Also, I really adored the relationships in the novel. All of the characters were lovely to read, particularly the main four, and even in the format the book appears in, you’re able to get a lovely sense of the differences and similarities between the characters. (My favorites were Mina and Van.) And the relationships were so precious and I loved reading the different kinds! The romantic one that develops between Arthur and Van Helsing throughout the novel was really fun and cute, and the flirtation between them, as well as the genuine connection, made me really happy. Mina and Lucy’s relationship was also really great, but in a different way. I loved that they were already an established couple before the novel and that we got to see their relationship progress and become even stronger as they moved through the hurdles of the novel together. Another relationship I really enjoyed was the friendship between the four main characters! It was so interesting to see how their personalities played off each other and how easily they connected, despite the age difference between the younger three and Van, despite the stronger academic knowledge of Mina and Van. They all worked so well together and it was great. Finally, I liked the depiction of the relationship between the siblings–Lucy and Harker–because it really showed how complicated things could be. The siblings don’t really talk to each other, Lucy is a bit flighty and tends to ignore her brother, and he just doesn’t try to do things with her because she doesn’t try to understand him. It was really interesting to see that dynamic play out and see them have to learn to be more open and accepting of each other.
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I found the overall plot to be exciting and thrillingly creepy, and I really liked the idea that the person behind the ARG (alternate reality game) was essentially a Data Vigilante, taking the information they gathered through the game and the Thrall app and using it to basically fuck over the government and Big Data.
Also, I struggled with the revelation about Harker essentially using the circumstances to teach Lucy a lesson, while at the same time, I understood and empathized with his thought process. It was kind of harsh to let Lucy think he was dead the whole time, but ignoring her texts and messages was essentially giving her a taste of her own medicine.
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Speaking of the ending, I know that some people may think it was pretty anticlimactic after the drama and mystery of the rest of the novel, but I really liked it. I loved that it showed them being able to go on with their lives and relationships, and trying to connect in better ways. The ending allowed them the happiness they all craved and allowed them to step back into the less hectic lives they lead before.
One last thing I want to comment because I think it’s something that some might note as a negative part of the novel. There’s several instances where the characters are chatting together, and in one message, they’re talking about being scared and worried, and then in the next, they’re flirting with their partner in some way. While I know this can seem unrealistic to some, I just want to throw my own personal experience in there and say that this is something that is totally plausible. With my previous romantic partners, or with crushes, or even with close friends, there have been many instances where we could be talking about heavy things (think: depression, anxiety, suicide, etc) and the next message could be some kind of silly flirty thing or a joke about something totally unrelated. This is, of course, not to invalidate anyone’s opinions on the depiction of this in the book, but it’s just a way to say that this does happen in some relationships and conversations.
Overall, I really loved this novel and think it was a fabulous retelling!
Avon Gale was once the mayor on Foursquare of Jazzercise and Lollicup, which should tell you all you need to know about her as a person. She likes road trips, rock concerts, drinking Kentucky bourbon and yelling at hockey. She’s a displaced southerner living in a liberal midwestern college town, and she never gets tired of people and their stories — either real or the ones she makes up in her head.
Avon is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan at Handspun Literary Agency.
Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia, where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre.
When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.
She is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary Agency.