It’s difficult to sum up quite how good Anno Dracula is. Vampires have steadily become less Transylvanian devils and more brooding Byronic heart throbs in recent times. There’s also the image problem that vampires have largely been consumed by the Paranormal Romance genre. Fortunately Kim Newman wrote Anno Dracula twenty years ago when vampires were still grotesque, and one can assume he’d write them the exact same way if he wrote the novel now. Twenty years is a long time, and Titan Books have very wisely re-issued this great story along with a superb cover.
Newman’s tale is a ‘what if’ of not just story-telling, but literary proportions – the question being ‘What if Van Helsing failed to destroy the titular villain of Bram Stoker’s classic novel?’. A daunting undertaking that Newman not only pulls off, but absolutely hammers down like a wooden stake. With Queen Victoria remarried to the Wallachian Prince, London finds itself in flux. A new upper class of the ab-dead quickly rise through the ranks of the Government, the foreign and ruthless ruler imposes increasingly draconian punishments, and people of every strata of society find themselves adjusting to a new breed of citizen.
The new-born vampires are at least as dangerous to themselves as anyone else, often unaware of what to do in the aftermath of their first death. And then there are religious fundamentalists, claiming the end is nigh and demons are walking the streets. A fact increasingly hard to dispute in the face of Prince Vlad’s excesses and tyrannical strangle hold on fair Britannia.
Into this mix comes Charles Beauregard, of the Diogenes Club (a shadowy sort of proto-MI5) and Geneviéve Dieudonné, a vampire not of Dracula’s own bloodline, and free of the taint that corrupts the former Count Dracula. However, Beauregard and Dieudonné are not seeking to remove the Prince Consort, but rather stem a flood of killings occurring in Whitechapel. Horrific murders are two a penny in the grim streets of London in 1888, but the carnage inflicted on vampire prostitutes carry hallmarks of a particularly cunning killer.
Newman does a fantastic job of taking the surviving cast of Stoker’s novel and pitting them against the consequences of their former actions (and in some case, lives) and the new emerging ruling class. This is a perfect confection of horror, romance and politics, and is by turns genuinely unpleasant and incredibly tender. There are so many great characters in Anno Dracula I’m looking forward to re-reading it, just to meet them all again, and immerse myself in London’s mist shrouded streets.