The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

The Dead Travel Fast
Deanna Raybourn

I was thrilled to get an autographed copy of this book at BEA last year and I’ve been saving this read for a few months. I finally got around to it last weekend, and it was a relatively fast, atmospheric read.

The Premise:
Theodora Lestrange is left with little prospects after the death of her scholarly grandfather, and despite her sister and her husband’s good intentions, she has no desire to live with them. Theodora longs for passion and adventure and to be able to continue writing her books.  So when an old school friend writes to Theodora asking her to come to Transylvania to celebrate her betrothal and stay for a little while, Theodora jumps at the chance to be bold and to have her creativity sparked. When she gets there she falls in love with the mysterious countryside and the man who is lord of it, despite the disturbing beliefs of it’s people.
Read an excerpt of The Dead Travel Fast here
My Thoughts: The Dead Travel Fast is a book that is separate standalone from the Lady Julia Grey series, with a very different heroine and a very different tone.  Rather than a Victorian mystery, this is a tale spun in sensational Gothic fiction tradition, starting with it’s horror setting: a crumbling castle set imposingly above a rustic village in the Carpathian mountains. This is where Theodora arrives and meets an eccentric bunch: an aging but haughty countess, a stoic group of servants, a jovial family doctor, Theodora’s school friend Cosmina, and the handsome, enigmatic Count Andrei Dragulescu. Stories of vampires and werewolves abound, and Theodora is thrilled to have so much fodder for her writing. She doesn’t believe any of it’s true at first, but as she experiences more of this place, it’s difficult to disbelieve that there are not evil creatures roaming the night. As she falls under the spell of the castle, she also falls for the seductive count.
This story felt like a tribute to the Gothic genre and thus certain “rules” of that genre were followed, which I think lent this story a simpler feel compared to Raybourn’s other books, both in plot and character. Theodora felt like your typical intrepid but still innocent Gothic romance heroine. She has a high level of imagination and a romantic heart.  She tells her sister she wants to feel passion and will settle for nothing less, and when she meets the count, despite his improprieties, she just can’t seem to help herself. Over and over she resolves to stay away, and over and over she does not.
The count on the other hand is a despoiler, and it’s very obvious that he’s seducing our heroine. He even explains to her that there are “only three types of women that matter in a man’s life –those he marries, those he seduces, and those he takes. I have only to tailor my behavior to become whatever the lady in question wants me to be and I’m assured of success.” I think this sentence explains why I found his character unlikable. While he may be genuinely attracted to Theodora, the calculated way he got her attention rubbed me the wrong way. What softened the dislike was that his character fit the Gothic tale – is he the hero, or the villain? I hoped he was the hero because Theodora (the narrator) sees him through rose-colored glasses, but I questioned her judgment severely.
The first part of The Dead Travel Fast builds up the melodrama of the story, and I wasn’t sure whether a supernatural being would appear or not or if this would be just a romance or something more. Thankfully, the typical Raybourn mystery does appear (albeit in a smaller dose than in previous books). While this was a quick read, I was relieved by the mystery because that’s where I feel Raybourn shines. Theodora may not be as sharply observant as Julia Grey, but once she does put her mind to it, she’s just as quick to see the possibilities. As a result, the book ends on a satisfying high note.
Overall: This is a story which nods it’s head towards the Gothic fiction tradition and mixes that with a romance and a mystery. In the end I liked this one, but I wanted to like it more than I actually did. I understood where the author was going, but the Gothic affectations of the characters stopped me from really connecting to them. If it wasn’t for the satisfying ending this would have fallen into my “OK” category, but if I was an English Literature major or someone interested in the Gothic genre, I think I’d probably have appreciated this more.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Angieville – positive
See Michelle Read – mixed feelings
fashion_piranha – positive/some criticisms
The Book Harbinger – positive
Dear Author – B-

4 thoughts on “The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

  1. Yeah, I definitely fall under those last two categories you mention. Hence my enjoyment of it. But, you know, I felt the same way as you for much of the book. It was the utterly expert ending that did it for me.

    • I think I just love her other books so much that although this was really well written, I had an expectation that I would love it. It surprised me that I just liked it. Oh well, it was something new and different and not the same old, same old. Yep, the last.. oh 50 pages I think (? thereabouts) swung the goodness levels back up. I liked the little surprises.

  2. The Count is a little hard to like at first. I remember thinking that. You definitely can’t have the slow simmer of the Julia/Brisbane relationship in a standalone.

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