Excellently crafted, well-plotted, fast-paced, incident-packed and macabre thrill fest.
Anno Dracula is set in an alternative Victorian London where Dracula has become the consort of Queen Victoria and as such vampires are members of society. Charles Beauregard, an agent of the Diogenes Club, and Geneviève Dieudonné, an elder and very powerful vampire, are the protagonists who are thrown together while investigating the murders of vampire prostitutes in London by Jack the Ripper.
On the plus side, the story is well written and the book is not just a gothic horror cum murder mystery but a homage to both the gothic horror and Victorian fiction genres as Newman cleverly weaves into the narrative all the familiar characters from that era, so that we have the likes of Sherlock Holmes and C. S. Lewis making cameos. Newman’s depiction of a gas lit, dark and foggy London is also vivid and brilliantly sketched, creating a wonderful sense of menace.
On the other hand, I found Anno Dracula lacked pace. The story starts well but quickly starts to drag so that I had force myself to persevere to the end of the book and the characterisation didn’t help with holding my interest either. Although Newman paints a vivid portrait of London’s Victorian society with its class, gender and racial issues, the characters in the story were dull and humourless and as such I had no vested interest in them and couldn’t have cared less whether they lived or died.
I first stumbled across Kim Newman when he was writing for the Warhammer fantasy role-playing game line under the pseudonym Jack Yeovil. Of all the books he wrote for that world by far the best was Beasts in Velvet, a fast paced murder mystery set in the city of Altdorf.
Beasts in Velvet had exactly the same plot as Anno Dracula as it centres on the hunt for a murderer, the Beast, who is preying on the city’s prostitutes. If anything, you could call Beasts in Velvet Anno Dracula lite as it is considerably leaner than Anno. However, with Beasts Yeovil/Newman wove a wondrous tale complete with fascinating, humorous and believable characters all set against the backdrop of a vividly drawn fantasy, early renaissance era, city oozing political corruption and savage violence. The story also allowed Yeovil to explore themes of class and gender division, political intrigue and rivalry, poverty, violence and human nature, as well as to indulge his love of the gothic horror genre and satirise popular culture. In short, Beasts in Velvet was a riveting read, a wonderful rollercoaster ride of dark fantasy adventure.
Anno Dracula in comparison was slow and tedious even with Newman’s clever depiction of an alternative Victorian London. I’m a big fan of Newman’s writing, especially the stuff he wrote for the Warhammer line, which is why I’m sad to say this one gets the thumbs down.
Abbas Daya, 5.5/10
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.’’
Daniel Cann, 9.5/10
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