Mina Murray and Lucy Westerna are long-time best friends who became lovers about two years ago. They live in New Orleans and host a true crime podcast that has a strong local following. Just before the second season is due to begin, Lucy discovers that her brother, Harker, has stopped responding to her intermittent texts and isn’t at his apartment. Being prone to speculation, Lucy and Mina begin investigating, reaching out to Harker’s dissertation advisor, Van Helsing, who is catnip to their friend and social media coordinator, Arthur.
Lucy’s initial alarm escalates when she learns Harker’s phone has a new app, THRALL, which is initially a dating app, but which morphs into a hidden murder-mystery game. Lucy can’t tell if Harker is a possible victim or a potential killer.
Thrall is intended as a modern retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Honestly, I didn’t like the book for the first half. It’s told in a combination of blog posts, group texts, Google hangouts, IMs, and journal entries. It was really not my bag. It took me a long time to sink into, and that isn’t a vampire pun. The THRALL app seems to become a virtual vampire, sucking the life and times from our main characters. While the writing style was jarring, I dug the meta-ness of that premise. The pacing was a bit too slow, but in the second half it improved, especially as the clues are coming fast and furious and Harker’s still missing.
I liked how Arthur and Van develop an actual relationship, though this is revealed to the reader via journals and sexting. That muted the passion, and might be a little frustrating to some readers. I liked the dirty talk and sexy scenarios, but feeling so removed damped the ardor for me. The second half of the book had fewer distracting cut-aways to Twitter comments and built the tension better regarding the mystery. The end was interesting. I liked how it was a realistic twist that brought full circle the struggles between humanity and technology, interpersonal communication, and family. Arthur, Van, Lucy, and Mina make themselves a family, and Harker’s dissatisfaction with Lucy’s treatment of him was a bold lesson.
The story felt original, despite it being an adaptation. There were enough unique elements to build a new world, but the notes of the original story were deftly woven in to remind everyone that it harkens back to Dracula. That was a fun dynamic and one reason I stuck with the story. It’s likely totally cool for others, but I craved a viewpoint that was a little closer to the action.