I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Dracula. A name of horror, depravity and the darkest sensuality. Yet the real Dracula was just as alluring, just as terrifying, his tale not one of a monster but of a man... and a contradiction.
His tale is told by those who knew him best. The only woman he ever loved...and whom he had to sacrifice. His closest comrade...and traitor. And his priest, betraying the secrets of the confessional to reveal the mind of the man history would forever remember as The Impaler. This is the story of the man behind the legend...as it has never been told before.
Once again, Chris Humphreys has written a captivating book—the tale of Vlad, Prince of Wallachia, told retrospectively as a confession to a Church functionary by his mistress, his closest frenemy, and his confessor. Vlad, who is Prince, hostage, crusader, lover, ruler, friend, steadfast enemy, and, of course, the Impaler. As Humphreys points out in his afterword, the man is still honoured by the Romanian people, for whom he is synonymous with just (if brutal) rule and honour.
I have to point out that this is an intense book. About half way through, I had to set it down and go read something less gruesome. And yes, many people are tortured and/or impaled, so if you have a weak stomach for that sort of thing, you may want to give this book a miss (although I would absolutely recommend that you try some of Humphreys’ other offerings, as he is a fabulous writer). This would definitely qualify for Grim-Dark and most of it is semi-verifiable history. Humphreys visited many of the sites where the action happened, so the environmental descriptions are evocative. As an actor, I think he brings a unique way of understanding the behaviour and motivations of the people he is writing about, giving a very visceral feel to the actions of his characters.
I must say that I am also reading a YA series set in the same place/time (Kiersten White’s The Conqueror’s Saga) and although I have really enjoyed both of them, there is no comparison. White’s series makes Vlad into a woman, Lada Dracula, and it is also well worth reading. By contrast, Humphrey’s version very much deserves an “Adult” rating, as it is much darker & grittier.
If this time period interests you, if you enjoy well-written historical fantasy, or if you have a yen to learn more about the man who served in some small way as the template for the modern vampire mythos, this is definitely the book for you.