Halloween reading–Anno Dracula, Kim Newman’s masterwork mash-up

Review by C.J. Bunce

As horror novelists are concerned, nobody is better at the craft.  As alternate history novels go, nobody is more creative.  Anno Dracula is horror master Kim Newman′s original introduction to what has become 30 years of storytelling in an alternate world where Count Dracula rose to conquer England and establish a world where the living and undead live together almost in harmony.  Back in print for its 30th anniversary, Anno Dracula is a perfect read for fans of vampire stories.  In fact it’s the best vampire story since Bram Stoker penned his original novel of the bloodthirsty monster.  This is also the tenth anniversary of our interview with Kim Newman (here at borg).  Newman is the master of mash-ups, and this novel is a master class in world-building.

Anno Dracula mixes historic people with characters from pop culture, along with tangent characters from literature, TV, and movies.  The year is 1888 and Queen Victoria gets remarried (sort of)… to Count Dracula.  That’s just the starting point, because this is really a detective story.  The crime is the infamous Whitechapel murders, and the victims are vampire prostitutes.  The key players are Genevieve Dieudonné, an elder vampire from France who appears young because she was turned early in life centuries ago, Charles Beauregard, an agent of the Diogenes Club who works for Mycroft Holmes in the Queen’s Service, Dr. John Seward (a fictional doctor borrowed from Stoker’s novel), Lord Ruthven, the current prime minister (a vampire character from the 1819 story “The Vampyre,” which pre-dates Stoker’s novel), Inspector Lestrade of Sherlock Holmes stories, and several others, including Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Henry Jekyll and H.G. Wells’ Dr. Moreau.  All seek to discover who is killing these women and bring the murderer–or murderers–to justice.  The story also introduces key personalities from later stories, including Beauregard’s fiancé Penelope Churchward, and newshound Kate Reed, a character plucked from an early Bram Stoker draft of Dracula (it’s that kind of obscure character usage that made Newman the master of the genre).

Newman artfully ties in hundreds of supporting characters, including fictional creations from stories of Rudyard Kipling to Charles Dickens and Ian Fleming to Stephen King.  Other characters include Nosferatu’s Count Orlok, The Lone Ranger’s John Reid, Dark Shadows’ Barnabas Collins, and The Night Stalker’s Carl Kolchak.  William Morris, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, and Joseph Merrick and others from the real world weave their way into the story, too–some overtly, others by implication.  A series of backmatter content provides author commentary on some of the hidden gems inside the story.

The Whitechapel murders are over-used in fiction.  The last time anyone created a worthwhile fictional story was writer-director Nicholas Meyer’s H.G. Wells mash-up Time After Time.  Usually the victims are vilified and Jack the Ripper is lauded as some sort of brilliant mastermind for evading the finest sleuths and historians for all time.  Newman takes a savvy risk by telling readers upfront the identity of his killer.  He also drafts the victims as real people, even reconfigured from real women to vampires.  The sensitivity is important, even in a fictional setting.

Newman, known as the world expert in vampires and horror as a writer, broadcaster, and reviewer, covers vampire stories from around the world as he peppers his narrative with Victorian style history, and popular fiction.  This tale is full of blood and gore and violence and sex–it also has a strong Gothic romance thread for its leads a la Crimson Peak.  The scenes sometimes come off the page as the stuff of vivid nightmares, the best of which is saved for the last–a spectacular setting and shocking imagery that could have been a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape.  It’s the kind of imagery that probably is best left for books–could anyone possibly do this deftly layered book justice on the silver screen?

Newman includes so many Easter eggs in his books that finding them all–probably impossible for anyone that isn’t Kim Newman and even he acknowledges he probably can’t list them all–should be part of some kind of international contest.  One scene is a brilliant reflection of a key moment in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

The best of it all is Newman’s one-of-a-kind heroine.  Genevieve Dieudonné is fantastic, taking on non-standard roles in the Victorian era, while also taking on some of the typically male duties in the detective noir novel genre.

But Anno Dracula is only the beginning.  Newman continued the stories of his key characters in later books in the series, including the James Bond send-up Dracula Cha Cha Cha, the Genevieve Dieudonné stories in Genevieve Undead, the WWI story Bloody Red Baron, the son of Dracula tale Johnny Alucard, the recently published turn-of-the-millennium Japan story Anno Dracula 1999: Daikaiju, and even Newman’s otherworld Harry Potter-esque The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange SchoolThe exploits of a later-introduced character Christina Light can be found in the comic series Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem and novel Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters, and more horror mash-up fun can be found in Newman’s alternate Hollywood horror noir story from last year Something More Than Night (reviewed here).

Get ready to get hooked.  Published by Titan Books and great for Halloween reading, don’t miss Kim Newman’s first great alternate history horror novel, Anno Dracula, available in paperback or hardcover here at Amazon.  Note: This edition has all the extras, including author commentary, extra stories, a movie script excerpt, and an alternate version of the ending.

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