Chapter 16
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Creatures of the Night

Kerri Maniscalco delivers monstrous thrills in her latest Victorian-era YA novel

Megabestseller James Patterson knows a thing or two about literary success. When he decided last year to create a new YA imprint—JIMMY Patterson Books—he had his pick of authors to feature, and he chose Knoxville novelist Kerri Maniscalco. Her debut novel, Stalking Jack the Ripper, quickly attained the number one spot on The New York Times bestseller list. Maniscalco’s new offering under the JIMMY imprint, Hunting Prince Dracula, debuted at number five.

In Hunting Prince Dracula, Maniscalco eschews subtlety for a more direct, no-holds-barred approach, signaled by these opening lines: “Our train gnashed its way along frozen tracks toward the white-capped fangs of the Carpathian Mountains. From our position outside Bucharest, the capital of Romania, the peaks were the color of fading bruises. Judging from the heavy snow falling, they were likely as cold as dead flesh.” Not surprisingly, what follows is a gothic nightmare complete with corpses mysteriously drained of blood, victims impaled with wooden stakes, and (literal) blood baths.

The year is 1888, and seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her sometime love interest, Thomas Cresswell, are enrolled in the Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science, conveniently located inside the former castle of Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. A career in the mostly disreputable field of forensic medicine is unheard of for a woman, but Audrey Rose’s aristocratic father indulges her interest, impressed that she and Thomas have just solved the Jack the Ripper case back in England. That case hit close to home, and Audrey Rose is relieved to escape the demons haunting her in London. Equally appealing to Audrey Rose is the chance to solve new riddles of the dead, despite understanding “how odd it truly was for a young woman to carve open the dead and pluck out their organs as if they were new slippers to try on.”

When a fellow traveler is murdered on the train, Thomas and Audrey Rose begin to absorb the local folklore, hearing the legends of vampires, possessed wolves, and the reanimated dead. Once they arrive at the academy, Audrey Rose is instantly on guard: “An enormous fireplace offset the stairs, but even the inviting ambience of crackling wood couldn’t stop gooseflesh from rising. The castle seemed to chill in our presence,” she thinks. “Darkness clung in areas the fire didn’t reach, heavy and thick as a nightmare one couldn’t wake from.” Later she observes, “I couldn’t help feeling like this castle enjoyed devouring fresh blood as much as its previous occupant enjoyed spilling it.”

These impressions are not alleviated by the arrogantly unpleasant headmaster or her fellow students from around the world—all male, unfriendly, and dismissive. But when tragedy repeatedly strikes their group, Audrey Rose and Thomas begin to investigate. They will have to descend into the castle’s vast underground network of tunnels to follow the clues, while keeping a sharp eye out for any unfriendly creatures of the night, just in case.

To quell their fears, one professor offers this practical reassurance: “Once upon a time men needed explanations for such darkness and bloodshed during times of war. They were quick to blame anything other than their own greed for their troubles. And so they sat down and created vampires—sinister creatures that sprang forth from the twisted depths of their dark hearts, mirroring their own bloodlust. Monsters are only as real as the stories that grant them life. And they only live for as long as we tell those tales.” Perhaps the only monsters Audrey Rose and Thomas need fear are the human kind.

Maniscalco has crafted a taut tale of an independent heroine and her faithful crime-solving partner in nineteenth century Romania and filled it with unexpected twists and turns, playful romantic banter, red herrings, and monstrous surprises. As Audrey Rose prepares to step into yet another dark and dangerous situation, she muses, “I could not, in good conscience, sit back and be a passive participant in my life.”

In an introduction, James Patterson writes, “Part of our mission at JIMMY Patterson is to create books that young readers will finish and then immediately say, ‘Please give me another book.’” Mission accomplished.