Hunting Prince Dracula is the second instalment in Kerri Maniscalco’s young adult historical fiction series, Stalking Jack the Ripper. I read the first book in June and picked up the second book this month as part of a buddy read with the brilliant and wonderful Nandini over at Unputdownable Books. I absolutely adored the first book, so when I sat down and read through this one, my expectations were rather high. Unfortunately, each and every single one of them fell flat on its face, one after another, leaving me in a ball of sadness and shock.
Hunting Prince Dracula picks up very shortly after the events of Stalking Jack the Ripper, following Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell as they trek to Romania where they shall be attending a prestigious and private academy for the study of forensic sciences. However, as their journey begins, there is a terrible murder on board the train. When they arrive to the castle that shall be their home for the next few months, it’s dark history and the second sudden death of one of the students, leaves the duo in the midst of a twisted and fantastical mystery to solve.
In my review for Stalking Jack the Ripper, I gushed about all of the things that made the book a pleasant surprise. Some of those included a perfect balance of mystery, pacing, suspense, graphic depictions of death, and more. Yet, in Hunting Prince Dracula, not a single one of those facets decided to stick around. I feel absolutely confounded by the fact that these two stem from the same series, let alone are written by the same person; they were that bloody different from one another in terms of good, gripping storytelling.
There are only three redeeming qualities in this book: the lush, snowy setting, the flirtatious interactions between Audrey Rose and Thomas, and a female/female romance between two minor characters. That’s it.
In the first book, they followed one clue to another and another, until it all led to the ultimate climax and culprit. There was a natural flow to the progression. Hunting Prince Dracula doesn’t have that at all. They find very little to no actual clues that help them with their investigation. Nothing of import, progress wise, occurs until the very last quarter of the book, where the characters conveniently tumble onto their asses from one plot twisty revelation to another.
Every plot twist was so substandard for the genre and about as bleeding clichéd as you could possibly get. This lack of originality made it extremely difficult for me to stay focused during my time reading. For the vast majority of the time, I wanted to give up because I was so unbelievably bored out of my mind. The suspense was about as present in this narrative as were the characters’ wits.
One of the things that I enjoyed about Audrey Rose’s character initially was her strength and her pro-equality attitude. While that attitude didn’t go anywhere, her strength disappeared leaving behind a damsel-in-distress trope that ultimately created a huge discord in her personality based on what was established in book one and what was given in book two. They felt like completely different people. She was far less logical and composed and fell victim to the whims of her romantic emotions more than anything else. If it wasn’t about her lovey-dovey feelings, then it was about her trauma from the occurrences in the prior novel’s finale.
Which brings me to my biggest issue with Hunting Prince Dracula: the representation of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As the story begins, Audrey Rose candidly shares her struggles with nightmares and the instinctive reactions that she has to certain noises or words, otherwise known as triggers, that bring up all of the intensity of the trauma she faced. Additionally, she worries about how these qualities will affect her ability to give her very best at this academy. She already feels weakened by her gender, no thanks to the societal viewpoints on women during this era. When this was brought up, a big part of me was super excited to read about PTSD rep as it’s a condition that I live with. However, these good feelings were short-lived as her PTSD ends up becoming nothing more than a horrid plot device that came to make no logical sense at all, ironically. It inaccurately became a tool for propitious shifts in her attitude, behaviours, and even fears. PTSD does not work like in that real life. You don’t just whip it out on demand or when a situation seems like the ideal setting for a trigger or an episode, and this representation of it was appalling.
Other minute titbits of torment came from the length of the entire book, which was about 200 pages longer than necessary given that the book lacked any significant amount of actual storytelling; Audrey Rose’s non-existent despair or disappointment at receiving bad news regarding something that she wanted with quite a passion; and the predictability of specific characters and the parts they played in the narrative as a whole.
Overall, I severely disliked Hunting Prince Dracula. Even with all of its shortcomings, I didn’t hate it because I find Thomas Cresswell to be too pleasant and fallible a person to hate, and I also refuse to believe that a series that began with such potential could end in such a terrible way. Meaning, that I will retain cautious hope that third book will be loads better and redeem the serial for the colossal disappointment that book two has turned it into. Something with such magical storytelling just cannot deteriorate this quickly. We’ll call it a bad batch and move on to the next. Let’s hope I won’t be disappointed again, or I’m going to have to shelf the series indefinitely afterwards.