Any way you slice it, I was intrigued.
The first volume of this series sounded a lot like Maureen Johnson’s Name of the Star, another Jack the Ripper themed jaunt through London to solve a number of gruesome murders. That’s where the parallels between the two books end. Name of the Star features supernatural elements with younger protagonists, whereas Hunting Prince Dracula relies more heavily on the mystery and realism of the Victorian age to drive the plot.
This series follows a young woman, Audrey Rose Wadsworth, as she apprentices to become a medical examiner. The first book saw her hunting down Jack the Ripper, a criminal who murdered women and removed their organs. A lot of Audrey Rose’s challenges come from facing the stigma of being a woman in the Victorian era interested in medicine. Along the way, she meets the mysteriously handsome, hyper-intelligent, impetuous Thomas Cresswell, also an apprentice.
The second story follows Wadsworth and Cresswell on their journey to Romania to enroll in a medical examiner apprenticeship school. Shortly after they arrive, a mysterious killer threatens the school, leaving bodies of Romanian royalty drained of their blood.
When I initially requested this book for review, I thought it involved a magical school. Neither of the books have anything to do with magic – the closest they get is to superstitious Romanian folklore, but everything that happens in both mysteries is entirely based in our world’s reality. A lot of the story is focused on Audrey Rose’s apprenticeship with her uncle (and later at the Romanian school) in mortuary science. Though the book acknowledges this is a macabre subject, the writing itself never gets too bogged down with the weight of gruesome bodies and medical procedures.
Frankly, I enjoyed the first book in the series more than the second one – the banter and romance felt more playful, and the mystery was more compelling (and less historically and mechanically complex!) than in the second.
I really enjoyed the prequel, Stalking Jack the Ripper, but it’s not required reading to jump into the sequel. Readers won’t be too lost if they pick up the second book without context, even though a lot of Audrey Rose’s character development (and her PTSD) is centered around the identity of the villain in the first book.
I highly recommend this series to YA and adult audiences alike – Audrey Rose is a compelling, feminist main character, and her adventures are fast-paced and packed with thrilling danger. The Victorian London and Romanian settings are atmospherically perfect, and the secondary romantic elements woven throughout both books help round out the characters’ development to keep the mystery from getting stale.
I’m always an advocate of YA books with healthy and realistic approaches to love, romance, and relationships. This is a good series to add to that stack, even if most of that flirtation happens over cadavers.