Dracula: The Un-dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

(5.0/10)

The official sequel to Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, written by his direct descendent and endorsed by the Stoker family. The story begins in 1912, twenty-five years after the events described in the original novel. Dr. Jack Seward, now a disgraced morphine addict, hunts vampires across Europe with the help of a mysterious benefactor. Meanwhile, Quincey Harker, the grown son of Jonathan and Mina, leaves law school to pursue a career in stage at London's famous Lyceum Theatre. The production of Dracula at the Lyceum, directed and produced by Bram Stoker, has recently lost its star. Luckily, Quincey knows how to contact the famed Hungarian actor Basarab, who agrees to take the lead role. Quincey soon discovers that the play features his parents and their former friends as characters, and seems to reveal much about the terrible secrets he's always suspected them of harbouring. But, before he can confront them, Jonathan Harker is found murdered. The writers were able to access Bram Stoker's hand-written notes and have included in their story characters and plot threads that had been excised by the publisher from the original printing over a century ago. Dracula is one of the most recognized fictional characters in the world, having spawned dozens of multi-media spin-offs. The Un-Dead is the first Dracula story to enjoy the full support of the Stoker estate since the original 1931 movie starring Bela Lugosi.

6 out of 10 stars judging it on its own merit
4 out of 10 stars judging it against Dracula

The Younger Stoker’s Go at Dracula

I will begin this review by saying many people have played with the vampire milieu over the decades with varying degrees of success—giving their own parameters to the vampire worlds they create. I consider Bram Stoker a master of horror and fantasy, and appreciate the rules he set for his vampires. If someone wants to make changes to B. Stoker’s world and rules, it sure better be someone in the Stoker family who has what I consider the right to mess with his or her patriarch’s ideas.

Guess what.

Dacre Stoker, the great-grandnephew of B. Stoker teamed up with a screenwriter, Ian Holt (more on Holt’s probable literary influence in a moment), to write a sequel to Dracula that begins with a depressing Nietzschean truth: you must be careful not to become the monster you fight. When the band of heroes that included Mina and Jonathan Harker, Jack Seward, Arthur Holmwood, and Professor Van Helsing, battled the original Count Dracula 25 years before this novel’s opening, they became tainted in ways easy enough for a reader to accept. Jonathan became a raging alcoholic philanderer through his disappointment in Mina’s betrayal. Their marriage is a lifeless mockery of the institution. Their son, named Quincey after their fallen friend Quincey P. Morris, has turned out to be a rebellious whiner (think: Luke in Star Wars Episode IV) who wishes to be an actor rather than follow in his father’s lawyerly footsteps. Jack has become a near-lunatic morphine addict who has been corresponding with a surprising force. Arthur has become a death-seeking hermit who married a friend’s daughter to save their family financially, yet spends his days and nights bemoaning the fact he didn’t get to marry—or die with—Lucy Westenra. (I can’t comment on Van Helsing without giving secrets away, but B. Stoker fans might get as upset as I did with the choices D. Stoker has him make.)

It’s the stoic Mina who looks the hero (heroine) at first. She’s remained youthful and vibrant while decaying on the inside from the secrets and unspoken desire for her “dead” dark prince. For some reason (vampiric, of course), members of the band of heroes are dying off. Prostitutes are being murdered in the fashion of Jack the Ripper, which an obsessed-yet-dishonoured inspector wishes to resolve after losing the Ripper case 25 years before.
Characters move toward and away from one another in a maddening ebb and flow as information is passed in bits and pieces that keep main players just “that side” of danger. D. Stoker introduces his great-granduncle as a character in the novel, but portrays him as a power-hungry man whose sanity and ethics should be questioned. That upset me, but I’m not a member of the Stoker family and don’t have the luxury of stories around the dinner table to tell me whether this was literary license or some sort of vent.

D. Stoker also introduces a female vampire who provides a bit much in the way of sordid violence. And here’s where I want to mention Holt’s occupational influence. The battle scenes, sex scenes, death scenes, etc., are written in a way that makes them appear like the set-up for the next movie, yet the writing doesn’t flow like you’re watching a movie, so when the scenes suddenly hit, they surprise the reader. (Methinks some Hollywood film studio is trying to save a step somewhere…)

By the middle of the novel, the action took on purpose. The plot became less fuzzy. People took action for reasons that propelled the story quickly. I picked out a character to root for, and several to root against. I’m trying not to give away spoilers, because I recommend this novel for any vampire fan (especially those prone to reading Meyer novels), but the title gives away the come-back character’s presence. You get to decide whose side he’s on. You get to decide which storyline from which character’s confused and half-informed theories you believe is formed from good facts and which is influenced by vampiric lies.

The good news in all this is that Mina, Quincey, and others who survive into the second half don’t need an organized or cohesive team to defeat the antagonist. I’ll let readers decide who that is as they get to the end. What’s interesting is you get an ambiguous ending that almost lets you decide whether or not Dracula remained the “bad guy.” (The final line in the novel made me laugh out loud.)

If you’re looking for a good vampire story, you can’t beat the original B. Stoker’s Dracula. This D. Stoker sequel is a decent book on its own merits, but the poor author won’t get the benefit of the doubt because he’s got “that name.” When your great-granduncle has a horror award named after him, you have a lot to live up to when you start rewriting pieces of the horror novel that propelled him to fame. From scattered, random gems of excellent writing to a fast-paced second half, D. Stoker has provided an entertaining story that has its moments of frustration and poor proofreading, and its moments of mystery and motion.

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