Reluctant Immortals is a novel about female characters fighting to take control of their narrative, after living long beyond their pages. Lucy Westenra, famed victim of Dracula, and Bertha ‘Bee’ Mason, Mr Rochester’s first wife, are now living in Los Angeles. It’s the 1960s and whilst everything around them is hippies and the Vietnam War, they are caught up in their own nightmares, remembering their pasts and the monsters that held them captive. When Dracula and Mr Rochester both appear in San Francisco, it seems another face-off is coming, and they’re not just saving themselves, but other women who have been preyed on by these famous figures.
The concept of this book is undeniably ridiculous, and it is a romp of a horror novel, set amongst the unlikely backdrop of California (more Lost Boys than Dracula) and featuring a real twist on the Gothic novel. Told from Lucy’s point of view, the book follows a fast-paced narrative as Lucy and Bee attempt to thwart Dracula’s plans to return to full strength, stop Rochester collecting women at his new mansion, and find ways of living that don’t revolve around these men. It’s all pretty wild, but fun, especially for people who enjoy books that play with existing characters and tropes.
However, the characters themselves didn’t quite work for me, and you find yourself wondering why these two stories and these two characters combined. Bee in particular was an interesting choice to do a feminist reclaiming of seeing as Wide Sargasso Sea exists and this is very different to that (and that book was published the year before Reluctant Immortals is set). Perhaps having a split point of view between her and Lucy might’ve given her more of a clear character, as you only see her through Lucy’s point of view. I also don’t really know why it’s set in California, other than the film connection, though I do like the anachronistic time period for these characters to be battling, as I appreciate when vampire fiction moves from a historical period that has more of a gothic vampire aesthetic to one that is quite different.
Overall, this is a good book to not question too much, but to instead see it as a retelling that plays around with genre and character to focus on female empowerment. It wasn’t quite the horror novel I was expecting, but it was a wild ride.