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I decided to get this book after reading the other review of it here and generally hearing good things about it, as I was struggling deciding what to get with my new DooYoo/Amazon voucher I opted for this!
It is currently priced at £6.23 for a new copy and around £3 for a used one, these prices are from the Amazon website, this is the new annotated 2011 version (with extra bits) so this is the version I shall be reviewing. Reprinted by Titan books LTD.
The novel was originally written in 1992 by author Kim Newman, and is the first instalment of the 'Anno Dracula' series (in which there are 4 books).
The main story is consists of 424 pages set in 57 chapters, although with the extra bits such as annotations etc the book consists of 547 written pages.
The front cover looks and reads like a vintage 'show' poster in creams, reds and black, giving you the name's of the major characters and a 'feel' for the story, there are the usual critic reviews and the synopsis.
Seeing as I love all these strange including killer novels and vampires, this to me sounded like the perfect novel for the recent chilly nights in.
The book cover synopsis as follows......................
'It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. His polluted bloodline spreads through London as its citizens increasingly choose to become vampires.
In the grim backstreets of Whitechapel, a killer known as 'Silver Knife' is cutting down vampire girls. The eternally young vampire Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes club are drawn together as they both bunt the sadistic killer, bringing them ever closer to England's most bloodthirsty ruler yet...............'
***CHARACTERS AND PLACES***
The story is set in the year 1888, and mainly focuses on the east end of London namely Whitechapel and occasionally the Docks, although other places are mentioned throughout the story such as Chelsea, Buckingham Palace and the Diogenes club building.
Namely while it focuses on life in Whitechapel, it mainly focuses on Toynbee Hall and the sites associated with the 'Ripper' murders (Millers court and Mitre Square).
The main characters overall are that of Charles Beauregard - the Diogenes club spy stroke detective and Genevieve Dieudonne - the 'good' vampire who is around 500 years old! I did enjoy these characters although I think the lead male role could have been slightly more explored as the lead female was, and I also didn't like the old 'falling in love' story (a bit too Twilight for me!').
There is of course the split character of the 'Ripper' and the 'doctor'( I wont say who as not to ruin it) and sadly from the outset you know who it is- this I found quite sad as I was expecting a sort of whodunit but it turned into a will the realised whodunit!!
There are also some characters with a slightly lesser roles including 'Kate reed' the vamp reporter, 'Lord Ruthven' the Prime Minister and strangely a clergyman come protester 'John Jago'.
Surprisingly Prince Dracula and the Queen only appear in the last chapter; this surprised me because as the books are generally based on these characters and events started by them I was expecting more input from them.
For me though my favourite character has to be 'John Merrick' or 'the elephant man' although he is only in the last chapter and nothing is known about him etc, he becomes a sort of mini hero and helps the leads escape, the way he is written though makes you want him to survive and make it!
For me the book seemed to end to quickly and on a sort of cliff-hanger, yes the villains are booked to rights and good outweighs evil etc it seemed to me like the ending was rushed and almost became an afterthought, not really explaining what happens and how the characters develop, to be honest I thought the story was longer as I hadn't realised the extra bits at the start and thought it was another 300 or so pages longer. AAnother point is as I said the character that is a running theme in the book is hardly present and it would have been good to hear more about him and his escapades etc.
That said I absolutely love the style and idea of this book, I find it very clever, Newman's idea of taking many books and characters real and mythical is amazing, I love the idea of Sherlock Holmes being sent to a Vampire concentration camp because he resists the vampires.
On that line I think Kim Newman did very well in not over doing it, for example there were a lot of other characters that could have been added to the story and weren't as the wouldn't have 'fitted in'. Overall I loved this book and apart from the minor things wrong that I've stated I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the next instalment. In my opinion it is an expertly written book and a very good read.
***THE EXTRA BITS***
Like I said at the beginning the revised 2011 version has some 'extras', these are
-Annotation of each chapter
-The alternate ending of the story
-Extracts from the movie script
-'Drac the Ripper' an article by Kim Newman
-'Dead travel fast' a short story by Kim Newman.
These I found ok, having read the alternate version, I admit I prefer the chosen one, the movie extract reads like a script and I didn't really enjoy it as it was quite close to the story I had just read.
For me the interesting parts were the annotations, article and the short story, all three of which are interesting and fun to read. The annotation part basically tells you which books were included in each chapter and where the characters and ideas came from.
'Drac the Ripper' is putting forward the argument of what if Dracula were actually the Ripper and a short history in who has played the Ripper etc.
'Dead travel fast' is from the 'unforgivable stories' collection from 2001, and has some of the characters from the book in, it is quite a good little read though...........
The year is 1888, London is a place of fear, a madman is on the loose and he is on a killing spree. Prostitutes in the east end district of Whitechapel are being brutally murdered by a person known as the 'Silver Knife' aka 'Jack The Ripper'. But this London is not quite as we know it from history. The events take place just three years after those in Bram Stoker's famous book Dracula except that in this reality Dracula triumphed over his adversary Van Helsing to the extent that Van Helsing's severed head now sits on the end of a spike for all to see. Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula did more than simply defeat his enemies he thrived in Victorian society eventually to become Queen Victoria's Consort and jointly rule the empire with her.
In this alternative London vampires are accepted indeed vampirism is desired by many for which the prospect of growing old and dying is too much to bear. In every strata of society Vampires abound, the Prime Minister, Lord Ruthven is a vampire and the so called new born, recently turned vampires are growing in number by the day. That is not to say that there isn't opposition to this new state of affairs, many who at first objected now find themselves amongst the 'disparu', probably imprisoned in concentration camps on the Devil's Dyke in the heart of the Sussex Downs. Among these are the great detective Sherlock Holmes and the author Bram Stoker. Others resist Dracula in different ways among them rival vampires from different but no less ancient blood lines. One such is Geneviève Dieudonné who appears to be a beautiful girl of just sixteen years but is in fact a powerful 400 year old elder vampire.
Dieudonné hates the diseased blood line that Dracula is creating and she has devoted herself helping and caring for destitute and malformed new born vampires in the east end of London who are the unfortunate recipients of Draculas infected blood. Others such as Charles Beauregard a member of the secret espionage organisation known as the Diogenes Club, although sworn to serve the crown has grave reservations about the Queen's consort and his army of Carpathian vampires that are slowly tightening their grip over the country.
Amidst this turmoil one person is making his opposition very clear. The Ripper is targeting Vampire prostitutes who peddle their trade in the dark alleyways of Whitechapel. 'Red Jack' is killing them the only way you can a vampire by slicing off the head and taking away vital organs and his despicable acts are beginning to worry those in power so much so that founders of the Diogenes club including Mycroft Holmes ask Charles Beauregard and Geneviève Dieudonné to apprehend the killer.
A GALLERY OF ROGUES AND SCOUNDRELS!
Kim Newman has a wonderful imagination; he has created a wonderful dystopian alternate Victorian world populated by the most celebrated characters from fact and fiction of the age. In the course of this hugely enjoyable part mystery part horror romp we meet Fu Man Chu, Prof Moriaty, Oscar Wilde, Dr Jekyll, Dr Moreau, Alain Quatermain, Raffles, Alfred Tennyson, Joseph Merrick, Inspectors Lestrade and Abberline and many more. If you know your Victorian classics you'll love the literary references interspersed throughout this novel, but even if you are new to the genre you'll still love the fast paced and highly inventive story Newman has written.
Kim Newman has obviously thought long and hard about this novel. He has properly and meticulously predicted what kind of society would evolve if Vampires were to be accepted in the London of Queen Victoria . A balance is stuck between the 'Nosferatu' and the warm blooded, each becoming more dependent on the other. Vampires do not attack innocent victims any more instead they buy their prey with money, sex or a promise of immortality. 'Warm' humans allow themselves to be bled but not turned, which requires them drinking the blood of a vampire. A market in human blood has grown up, street sellers peddling vials of the stuff to satisfy the inevitable vampire's thirst.
There is also some great of political and social satire to delight in. The hypocrisy of Victorians values and their casual, unthinking oppression of the weak is brought into extraordinary relief by the description of Dracula as an example Victorian moral rectitude. Dracula a merciless killer and oppressor of the innocent is said despise thieves and other criminals. He regularly orders his elite Carpathian guard to raid any establishment found to harbour those engaged in 'unnatural acts of homosexual deviancy', the poor patrons of such places being publicly impaled and left to die a slow death for their crimes.
MUSING AND MUTILATIONS
It is this attention to detail, the mischievous attitude, the audacious storytelling and the creation of a complex and believable society that makes the story so much more worthwhile and engrossing.
The concept of mixing up literature, history popular culture and vampire gothic horror is hardly original today but when this was written in 1992 it was groundbreaking, the comparable Alan Moore penned 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' wasn't published until 1999. Newman shows his love of literature and history but also of more low-brow culture by weaving together characters from all sorts of backgrounds. As well as the heavyweight literary creations of Conan Doyle characters from Warhammer, 70's TV horror mystery series 'Night Stalker' and Polanski's comedy horror 'The Fearless Vampire Killers' are also included in the mix.
Newman is an undisputed expert of horror fiction and films, his non-fiction book 'Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s' is for horror fans the definitive text in the field and his love and passion for the subject is evident in 'Anno Dracula'. The narrative is presented from different character's perspective as well as in the third person and many of the chapters are diary entries mimicking the style of many Victorian novels. The fog filled landscape of the seedier parts of old London town is beautifully described and detailed and never becomes cliché.
The story is a dark tale, tense and filled with action. The events of the real Jack the Ripper killings are with some poetic license followed fairly accurately, the victims are the same and the main real life suspects are also mentioned. Even though we discover the identity of Jack the Ripper within the first few pages of the novel it doesn't matter, like a 'Columbo' episode (or to give it a more literary comparison like 'Crime and Punishment') the pleasure in the reading lies not in discovering the identity of the criminal but in examining how the crime will be solved and the psychological interplay between the murderer and those hunting him.
Although not strictly fitting in the genre I think 'Anno Dracula' can be given some credit to having influenced much of the 'Steam Punk' literary genre and may have enabled many other authors to reinvent their own versions of the Victorian novel in a variety of forms.
If you like classic horror, if you like Victoriana, if you like a good mystery, if you like a good gothic novel or simply if you like a 'bloody' good read then Anno Dracula is a must for you!
'LITERARY' BONUS MATERIAL
Probably due to Kim Newman's cinematographic sensibilities this novel just like a DVD includes extras!
The book includes annotations by the author explaining some of the more obscure references in the story. There is an afterword relating how the novel came to be written as well as an excerpt from the novella "Red Reign," which preceded the novel. Most interesting of all are extracts from Newman's unproduced film screenplay, which includes some new sequences and some changed characters. "Drac the Ripper," is an essay on other Ripper/Dracula stories and "Dead Travel Fast," is a short story featuring Dracula explaining some of the less well understood qualities of the vampire. All are worth reading and do add to the overall context of the story, a great idea and welcomed bonus.
I was surprised to find that the original version had been out of print for a number of years and the new edition with the added material only came out recently. 'Anno Dracula' can be bought from Amazon.co.uk for in paperback (560 pages ISBN-10: 0857680838/ISBN-13: 978-0857680839) for £4.79 at the time of writing this review. Three sequels have also been written; 'The Bloody Red Baron', 'Dracula Cha Cha Cha' (or Judgment of Tears) and 'Johnny Alucard'.
© Mauri 2011