Today is the release day for Mina and the Undead and I’m excited to be sharing my review of this YA gothic horror novel.
17-year-old Mina, from England, arrives in New Orleans to visit her estranged sister, Libby. After growing up in Whitby, the town that inspired Dracula, Mina loves nothing more than a creepy horror movie. She can’t wait to explore the city’s darkest secrets – vampire tours, seedy bars, spooky cemeteries, disturbing local myths…
And it gets even better when Mina lands a part-time job at a horror movie mansion and meets Jared, Libby’s gorgeous housemate, co-worker and fellow horror enthusiast.
But the perfect summer bliss is broken when, while exploring the mansion, Mina stumbles upon the body of a girl with puncture marks on her neck, clutching a lock of hair that suspiciously resembles Libby’s… Someone is replicating New Orleans’ most brutal supernatural killings. Mina must discover the truth and prove her sister’s innocence before she becomes the victim of another myth.
Thanks to UCLAN and Amy McCaw for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence my opinion of the book.
Content warnings for violence, (previous) abandonment by a parent, stabbing, exsanguination, murder, blood and gore, kidnapping
Something I’ve discovered about my reading tastes over the last year is that I don’t like gory/gruesome horror very much, but I enjoy atmospheric horror. And this book is exactly that; atmosphere in abundance.
There’s definitely some blood and violence (it probably wouldn’t be a vampire book without those things?), but on the whole this story definitely priorities atmosphere over gore and it hits the mark just right for sinister, gothic vibes.
We get some wonderful descriptions of the streets of New Orleans, with gilded balconies and energised crowds. Libby, Lucas, and Jared’s house comes to life as well through Mina’s descriptions of the old, sun-heated wood and bouncy beds.
And perhaps most creepy of all is the Mansion of the Macabre, with its gruesome rooms from different horror film sets. I could picture the rooms and imagine the tour in such brilliantly vivid detail that I just know I’d end up having a jump scare in the very first room.
Mina is an inquisitive, determined main character, who finds herself drawn into the allure and newly present dangers of New Orleans. But, no matter how much the city decides to throw at her, she keeps bouncing back, determined to solve the recent murder and save her friends.
I really enjoyed her and Jared’s developing relationship, but the bond that interested me the most was between Mina and her sister Libby. After their mum abandoned them and Libby moved to university in New Orleans, Libby and Mina’s relationship has become distant and somewhat strained.
They don’t talk as much as they used to, they don’t have the same close connection, and Libby closes up whenever Mina tries to bring up the topic of their mum. As the story progresses, however, Libby and Mina begin to grow closer again as they navigate several ordeals and Libby opens up about why she stopped confiding in her sister.
Their relationship felt really realistic to me, as my sister and I have experienced similar periods of distance after not living together for a while, before having periods of closeness again. I enjoyed how the strength of sibling bonds was depicted in this story and how Mina realised that, despite their differences, she and Libby would do anything for each other.
The plot goes from strength to strength as Mina, Libby, Jared, and Della try to uncover a murder mystery before finding themselves the targets of new attacks. Some of the twists were jaw-droppingly good and I didn’t see them coming at all.
The fast pacing and gripping plot make this story one that’s easy to blaze through in a few short sittings, and the threat and thrill of vampires and danger will have you wondering if everyone’s going to survive to the end.
The myths and vampire lore woven into the story added layers of history and gravity that I really enjoyed, and the tales from decades gone by made me want to look up if they were actually true.
As a 90s kid, I also really enjoyed some of the 1990s throwbacks the story offered. When Mina and Libby talked about rewinding their VHS, it took me back to when my sister and I used to watch all our Disney films on video and have to rewind them before the start of each one.
Mina’s Walkman CD player also reminded me of my first Walkman and the casual mention of cassettes took me back to when I was really young and we used to use a pencil to wind the cassette tape back into place.
Overall, this was a wonderfully tense, thrilling read with vampires, twists, and a close-knit group of friends willing to do whatever it takes to help each other. The UKYA scene is going to be all the more enriched by this enticing gothic horror novel and I can’t wait to see what Amy McCaw writes next.
Have you read Mina and the Undead or is it on your TBR? What have you been reading recently?