#WitchWeek2022 Day 2: Travellers in Wallachia

Roche Castle

Chris Lovegrove

The Deathless Girls
by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
Bellatrix / Orion Children’s Books, 2020 (2019).

In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner. I thought at the time that I must be dreaming when I saw them, they threw no shadow on the floor. […]

Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes, that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires.

‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker, chapter 3.

Marginalised for centuries in Europe, the Roma or Romani – here called Travellers – are known from linguistic and genetic evidence to have originated in northern India. Seen as entertainers and fortune-tellers by settled populations, they have been feared and abused for both their visible differences and their nomadic life.

And so it is that in eastern Europe Romani twins Lil and Kizzy, at some indeterminate time between the 14th and 19th century, find their encampment attacked and their people either trapped and burnt to death or captured by a boyar’s soldiers. Unbeknown to them their ultimate destination will be a castle in Wallachia, Romania, but in the meantime their main concerns will be to stay alive and to punish their persecutors.

Knowing that Kiran Millwood Hargrave drew one of her themes from Stoker’s Dracula, we can guess where the title may possibly lead us, but The Deathless Girls aims to be much more than simply another ghoulish Gothic tale. As the narrator Lillai tells us, “a vampire cannot love, only thirst,” yet the novel aims to explore other issues including prejudice, cruelty, power, carnal love, familial ties and, inevitably, damnation.

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