By Staff Writer Both dreamily beautiful and blood-drippingly dark, The First Bride is an extremely accomplished first novel from young writer Katja Brown. A gothic horror-thriller which deals with themes of immortality, self-discovery, sexual awakening, and morality, it does not shy away from the dark issues at the heart of vampire fiction. Written in wonderfully rich and evocative prose, the book is told from the perspective of a young countess despatched by her father to the Transylvanian home of none other than Count Dracula himself, in a bid to curb her rebellious behaviour and instil in her the ladylike etiquette expected of her. After refusing her father’s attempts at finding a suitable husband, the (anti)heroine of the story is sent away with the family’s slightly unnerving servant Heath, to learn what it is to be a worthy member of the aristocracy. Although impressed by the beauty of Transylvania and her castle lodgings, it quickly becomes quite clear that something sinister lurks within. An encounter with a mysterious apparition in the dead of night, together with unsettling encounters with Dracula himself, lend a supernatural feel to the proceedings, and soon things take a blood-thirsty turn. Following the teachings of her aristocratic uncle Viktor, the countess finds herself drawn ever closer to the enigmatic ghostly beauty, as events and exposed secrets reveal to her the dark nature of her genetic inheritance. Captivating from the first page, the book has a dreamlike (and often nightmarish) feel to it, and the text flits between first person narrative, vivid memories, dreams and letters, merging the past with the present and the real world with a dream state. With shades of Angela Carter and Mary Shelley, it’s a beautifully written book, but one which does not flinch from graphic descriptions of death and violence. Even before she is initiated into the world of the immortal vampires, we are given a glimpse into a side of the countess’s personality that is shockingly brutal and revels in death and destruction. The book’s protagonist looks on with detached satisfaction as a spoiled young girl - ‘The unpleasant child of the prestigious Count Campbell’ - is mauled to death by dogs, in an unflinchingly violent scene that is not for the faint of heart. In flashbacks and memories, the heroine recalls moments from the past that hinted at an underlying taste for blood. Describing the moment she found an injured child whose wound needed urgent cleaning, she recalls: “without hesitation, I placed my mouth around it and sucked the grit and any residue from the wound. I felt her wince and moan as I tasted blood for the first time’. Although the themes are familiar (young girl arrives at the castle of Count Dracula and undergoes a dark awakening), this book turns the traditional ‘helpless female victim’ narrative on its head, delivering a contemporary spin on the vampire theme. The book gives us an extraordinary insight into the central character’s psyche, as she uncovers the dark secrets and mysterious characters that stalk the halls of Castle Dracula, as well as those at the heart of her own family. The book’s protagonist is no victim, and this cinematic book stylishly tackles issues of humans’ dark instincts and the animalistic impulses that drive human behaviour. The book’s ending - no spoilers, but our heroine strikes a death blow and sets out for adventures on her own terms, with her companion of choice - cries out for a sequel, and readers who fall for this captivating first novel will be pleased to know that Katja Brown has a follow up in the pipeline. The First Bride by Katja Brown (Austin Macauley) is out now, priced £6.99 in paperback. £11.70 in hardback and £3.50 as a Kindle eBook. It is available for sale on Amazon UK.