Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
Review by Daniel Cann
When you think of vampires these days’ themes such as romance, teen angst and self-obsession immediately come to mind. There are countless novels, films and television programmes that have subverted the genre which all began with Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Dracula’ back in 1897. Little did the author know just how much of an impact his fictional creation would have on the years that followed.
Anno Dracula written by novelist, critic, broadcaster and horror aficionado Kim Newman is a return to form and is clearly of the Bram Stoker – Hammer Horror vintage. Set in 1888 (three years after the events depicted in Stoker’s source novel) the action takes place in an alternate reality where instead of being vanquished Count Dracula has triumphed and is married to Queen Victoria. London and its citizens increasingly choose to become vampires and the British Empire is under the spell of the Wallachian Prince.
In the backstreets of Whitechapel a killer known as ‘Silver Knife’ is slaying vampire girls. The eternally young Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club join forces in hunting the killer, an endeavour that will bring them ever closer to England’s most despotic and bloodthirsty ruler yet.
What Newman has managed to do here is both original and hugely entertaining. As I read the novel I kept smiling at his imagination and creativity. In fact it is amazing that no one else has attempted an alternate Dracula novel before. Thankfully Newman is best equipped to tackle this subject thanks to years of research and confessing to being an unashamed fan since the age of eleven.
The novel cleverly weaves historical figures with fictional ones so characters such as Queen Victoria, Oscar Wilde and Sir Charles Warren occupy the same universe as Dracula, Mycroft Holmes, Dr Jekyll, Dr Moreau, John Seward and Lord Ruthven. One of the true delights of reading this novel is spotting all of the references to the Jack the Ripper case as well as all the fictional characters from the Victorian era. Holmesians, Ripperologists, fans of Robert Louis Stephenson, Rudyard Kipling and of course Bram Stoker will all get something out of this.
It is clear that Newman not only possesses a great imagination but also extensive historical knowledge. The novel contains plenty of references to the tensions of the day between socialists, republicans, Fenians, aristocrats and the ruling elite of the day. This is all given a neat twist thanks to the vampire plot! Also Victorian values are wonderfully debunked as the late nineteenth century is portrayed as it really was as a dangerous time with widespread violence and social unrest – The Bloody Sunday Riot took place only the year before this novel is set.
Not only is there is great attention to detail there are vivid descriptions of characters, events and setting. Yes it is gory, graphic and horrific (its supposed to be!) but all of this is neatly balanced with dry wit and gallows humour. The reader is taken on one heck of a ride through gaslit fogbound London. It is truly a squalid, unforgiving and very dangerous place as it was in reality, but with vampires running amok it is given heightened intensity. Fans of old school as well as contemporary horror will get a big kick out of this.
The book succeeds not just as horror but also as a thriller and detective novel combining politics, romance and history. Newman has produced an excellently crafted, well-plotted, fast-paced, sure-footed, incident-packed and macabre thrill fest.
This edition not only comes with one of the best horror novels I have read but also extras such as an annotations section detailing Newman’s influences, an alternate ending, an Anno Dracula screenplay as well as articles and ideas. This is essential reading for all fans of the genre. This is essential reading for all fans of the genre. As fellow horror aficionado and writer Neil Gaiman says this is ‘compulsory reading…glorious.’’
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