Publisher: Orion Children’s Books (Bellatrix)
Release Date: September 19, 2019
Available Through The Book Depository: The Deathless Girls
Summary: 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 Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.
Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she 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…
My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½
My Thoughts: The Deathless Girls is a dark, gothic, atmospheric & feminist retelling of the brides of Dracula! With traces that evoke the feel of a historical fantasy, Millwood Hargrave delivers a character-driven tale of love, loss, and the bonds between sisters! This YA Fantasy features beautiful and descriptive writing that reads like a fairy tale! An impactful read that will keep you hooked!
I’ve been a fan of Kiran’s books for years, ever since I read her debut, The Girl Of Ink & Stars and later, The Island At The End Of Everything! She’s continuously delivered on personal 1st person narratives that follow young women’s journeys encompassing friendship, family, and independence.
Though there’s a couple more books from her I still have to catch up on, there was something that just compelled me to pick up her YA debut, The Deathless Girls and I loved it SO much! This is a dark and intense YA fantasy that I feel has NOT gotten enough hype, do yourself a favor and add this book to your to-read list: It features representation of Romani culture, f/f romance, powerful bonds of sisterhood, underlying vampire lore, and fairytale-esque storytelling!
It follows Lillai (or Lil) and Kizzy, twin sisters who are part of the Travellers and live with their fellow Traveller community that journey through the forests of Romania. The twins & their younger brother Kem, come from a family of Ursar, or bear dancers. Lil, the oldest twin, has always dreamed of being a singer or an Ursar and yet, she believes she will never match the potential of her twin sister.
But on their 17th birthday, Charani (a seer) will finally tell them their fates.
However, an unexpected attack on their community, leads them to be captured and enslaved. Now, Lil, Kizzy, Morsh, Girtie, Fen, among other kids are taken and brought to Boyar Valcar’s castle to work.
They’re all split apart and though Lil and Kizzy are still together, there’s this aching pain you feel for the other Travellers knowing they’ve been taken away from their home, family, and community.
The sister dynamic between Lil and Kizzy was beautiful, heartbreaking, and overall intricately explored. I adored these 2 brave ladies so much! You can sense how much love they have for each other and though they both carry their differences, its the quiet strengths that you see shine within them, each and every page! This also chronicles their journey to discover their own fates and take charge of a future that’s been taken from them.
Lil has grown up learning about the mysterious figure known as The Dragon, who drinks blood and is apparently immortal —however, she quickly learns from other girls working there that he takes girls from Boyar Valcar’s castle.
Though Lil’s entire world has been taken from her, she quickly realizes she finds friendship among other girls who work in the kitchen: Szilvie, Dot, and an ally with the strict head of the kitchen, Cook who also may be a Traveller like them!
She also finds herself drawn to one of the other workers there, the quiet Mira! Who we quickly learn, lost a former love to the Dragon. Their relationship is a slow-burn and takes time to develop throughout the book.
Told through an introspective and descriptive 1st person POV, it allows us to get a rich, captivating look into the Traveller culture that Lil’s grown up in. You understand the deep connection her community has with nature and how its such a distinct shift to her new life indoors of the castle.
The elements from the Iele (forest spirits), to the Boyars (lords) and princes across the land, and how the underlying tale of the Dragon ties much of the world together, these elements all weave seamlessly as the novel progresses, throughout what is set to be alluded to be the historical regions Transylvania or Wallachia.
Overall, the writing is just really beautiful, whimsical and weaves in atmosphere, world-building, history, folklore, culture, and fantastic character development all in such a way where this novel reads like a classic fairy tale.
Also, let me just say that the cover is not only absolutely stunning, but offers a lot of symbolic meaning the further you delve into the story!
The Deathless Girls, while a retelling of Dracula’s wives, is not entirely about vampires. The folklore of the the Strigoi is very much built up over the course of the novel and the foundation is rooted in the aura surrounding the Dragon. Though, nearing the later half of the book is where you get to see more folklore surrounding vampires, etc.
As for the representation, you see our main characters Lil, Kizzy and their Traveller community to be portrayed as those from the Romani culture, where you mostly see women in positions of power, such as Lil & Kizzy’s mother and the seer Chirani (who all are stated to have brown skin). There’s also f/f rep. & romance (Lil & Mira)!
The story tackles a lot of dark topics such as slavery, death, and discrimination that may not be for everyone (Cw for those topics and attempted assault). But at its heart you see that this slow, atmospheric story is also an incredibly moving tale! It delves deep into the bonds between sisters, love, and forging your own path when you find its been taken from you!
Also due to the nature of how character-driven and slow/atmospheric the story is, I personally don’t think its a book for everyone, but I feel those are its strengths that make it such a compelling book!
There’s also a deep sense of melancholy that I personally felt throughout the book, because you can’t help just sadness for Lil and her community as they’ve essentially been forced to leave their homes and have little to no way of escaping. Also, the theme of sisterhood is incredibly powerful as a plot point later leads Lil to save her younger sister!
I suppose my only minor critique is that the ending is a little bit rushed nearing the end as the story wraps up and with certain choices that our main characters make, I just couldn’t help but be heartbroken. This story is a lot darker than I anticipated, but truly at its heart its a very moving YA retelling!
The Deathless Girls is a dark YA Historical Fantasy retelling that re-imagines the backstory to the brides of Dracula! Millwood-Hargrave’s storytelling just captivates you with the elegant, introspective writing, and deeply-explored themes! If you love character-driven stories with lush prose, this is definitely a captivating book to add to your TBR!
I’m also shouting-out a fellow blogger review:
Megan from YABookers highlights why the slow pace of the novel really brings to life other important themes/elements of the story! Also, we had similar thoughts on the importance of sister bonds and how character-driven the story was!
I highly recommend checking out her review! ❤📚