The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I would like to thank Hatchette’s Children Group for an advance copy of this novel for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Publisher – Bellatrix

Published – Out Now

Price - £12.99 hardback £4.99 Kindle eBook

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kit.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen year old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Vulcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchen, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand.  But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

Horror stories don’t always have to be with a threat that is supernatural we can often see that humanity can often equal and probably surpass the feats of any monster we imagine.  What that can itself reap can be devastating for many. It may even create its own monsters. In Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s powerful The Deathless Girls we see the story behind the anonymous ‘dark sisters’ that feature in the legends of Dracula and it’s a haunting tale of love and loss.

The story is focused on two twins who are Travellers in 15th century Romania.  This novel examines the history of this community. It notes that Travellers have their origins in Northern India; so an ethnic group with different skin colour and culture of their own soon became a regular target for abuse, attacks and enslavement. In this environment though Kizzy and Lil are just two young woman about to reach an important milestone in their life – they will sit in front of their elder who has he Sight and both girls will be told their fates. Unfortunately they arrive at the camp to find most of their family and friends, dead or dying and those left alive including the twins are being captured by the notorious Boyar Vulcar – their lives now to live in enslavement within his lands.  Lil is forced to take the lead as Kizzy appears angry with everyone including her sister, but they soon find the world of the Boyars holds deeper threats to their fellow slaves and circling around it a mysterious leader known as the Dragon whose exploits no one wants to talk about.

This is an excellently well plotted gothic style tale really firing you very quickly into the horror of the twins seeing their fellow Travellers destroyed or enslaved.   It’s a brutal sequence of the book as we are forced to watch someone’s world being shattered and the sheer hostility towards people because of their skin colour and ethnic background reminds us that this is a shameful episode that humanity repeats so very often. We see people captured, treated as property and clearly at risk of sexual abuse.  While this is a YA range these topics are treated sensitively but intelligently.  Assisting this is how the two sisters work together so well. 

The twins are contrasts to each other.  Kizzy is the considered the more glamourous and adult twin – poised to be the dancer while Lil is viewed as the shyer and more reserved and the Boyar’s group is happy to criticise her looks and figure to her face. But once captured Kizzy although seems to be the main focus of attention (as she meets the Boyar’s needs) she is also clearly traumatised and angry at the loss of her family so it is Lil is taking the lead and starin in protecting both of them.  Our whole point of view in this tale is fully narrated by Lil and through her compelling and very honest voice I really felt for this character who has to learn to quickly grow up and stand for herself and her sister in the face of the Boyar’s various wicked servants and guards.  Hargrave really makes this a very personal tale and we are meant to feel the terror and isolation the twins suffer.  A bit of joy however comes into the tale though when Lil meets Mira a fellow slave who herself has recently suffered a physical injury at the hands of the Boyars., It is a really gentle blossoming relationship between the two woman that gives the novel a ray of hope; although I wish perhaps this has been progressed further in the tale.

While The Dragon aka our legendary vampire’s full appearance is held back until very near the end he is a presence felt throughout the novel. The servants and even the Boyars speak quietly of his exploits and tastes are used to build up the tension so that when Lil finally visits his lands it’s a truly unsettling set of scenes.  Humans here are playthings or food. The people and creatures that work for him are clearly not quite human in their view of the world and it just builds up a sense of a confrontation to come.  This final section is about choices and love.  What would make you choose to give up your humanity.  The choices the twins make are ultimately human and will have consequences for all they hold dear. The Dragon is not the key figure here in the tale but merely the catalyst for changes in our lead’s lives. 

I think this is a very compelling debut release for Hatchette’s new Bellatrix range of YA novels and those who enjoy a gothic style story of terror, love and revenge will find this a very strong tale to dig up.  A perfect way to break yourself gently into the month of Halloween!