by Marie Kiraly, historical/paranormal (2007, 1994 reissue)
Berkley, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-425-21746-7
Despite the prominence of the woman's chest on the cover and the synopsis on the back cover that is ten times more lascivious than anything in the story, Mina is not an erotic vampire romp like the packaging would like you to believe. Marie Kiraly is the pseudonym for horror and fantasy author Elaine Bergstrom and this book came out in 1994 when everyone wanted to be Anne Rice.
I can only imagine that this book is currently re-released in trade paperback format to cash in on the current erotic paranormal romance trend. Hey, it manages to snag $14.00 from yours truly here. And if you still harbor any hope for kinky vampire sex scenes in this book, let me dash your hopes gently by telling you right now that the author closes the door, so to speak, when her characters are having sex.
Mina is a soap-opera type of story that attempts to pick things up where Bram Stoker's Dracula left off. Ms Kiraly claims that she wishes to interpret the last few chapters in that original book from Mina's point of view, but for some reason she, like Mr Stoker, abandons Mina's point of view once Count Dracula bites the dust for the third person point of view. These first few chapters, written from Mina's point of view in the form of journal entries, are easily the most intriguing parts of the story as it transforms Mina into a conflicted person who both yearns for the freedom to experience all kinds of feelings that she has never experienced before and fears the man who offers her this terrifying freedom. Ms Kiraly attempts to turn Mina into a somewhat feminist character who chaffs at the way the men around her take her for granted and in a way, she succeeds. It makes sense that one of the reasons Mina is attracted to the Count is because he pays attention to who she is and what she is thinking as well as feeling.
But once the story shifts away from Mina's point of view, it becomes a different story, something that is a mix of mystery and soap opera. Jonathan and Mina Harker grow increasingly estranged when they return to England, mostly because both are still harboring passions aroused by their encounters with the vampires that they are reluctant to reveal to the other person. It doesn't help that Jonathan also turns out to be a bit of a spineless twerp, letting his domineering aunt stay at his place and clash with Mina over who the boss of the household is. I also get to see how John Seward and Arthur Holmwood are faring (not very well), although their story lines are abandoned midway through this story so I don't know what to think about those two. There are various new players in this soap opera, but some of them end up dying in a pretty meaningless manner after all the back story the author has given these characters so, again, I don't know what to think.
Mina has its strengths, its chief one being that it is surprisingly very readable and even thought-provoking at many places. Mina is a very compelling character and I am very disappointed that the author eventually abandons Mina's point of view. Oh, I know Mina has her journal entries showing up now and then later in the story, but by that point it is clear that she has started to deliberately write things in her journal in a certain way in order to manipulate the thoughts and feelings of those reading it. The intimate connection between the reader and Mina's psyche has been lost. Instead, the author brings in the third party points of view of many other characters, none of them as interesting as Mina - some of them eventually dying just like that - so it is not as if they are worthy replacements for the loss of Mina's point of view. The last few chapters also feel very rushed, right down to a climax that feels anticlimatic and hollow after all that build-up leading to that scene.
Mina, therefore, is an interesting attempt at picking up the pieces after Dracula. There are some good ideas here as well as an interesting flawed and tormented heroine. But this story also feels very uneven at many places, with too many uninteresting characters and secondary storylines that go nowhere. All in all, an uneven yet memorable read.
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