Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t posted one of these in a while – grad school and all that. But have no fear – I return bearing good literature! This time, I’m talking about the first book in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series, the eponymous Anno Dracula.
It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction, the novel follows vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders.
Anno Dracula is a rich and panoramic tale, combining horror, politics, mystery and romance to create a unique and compelling alternate history. Acclaimed novelist Kim Newman explores the darkest depths of a reinvented Victorian London.
I could give you quotes praising this book from sources like the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Neil frikkin’ Gaiman and leave it at that, but what kind of reviewer would I be if I did that? (Though seriously, if Neil Gaiman recommends it, what more do you need to know?)
Also, in the interests of full disclosure, I’m referring to the 2011 Titian Books reprint edition, as that’s the one I have.
So, do you like Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Do you love that mulit-media cross-over setting, where characters like Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Fu Manchu, the Lone Ranger, and frikkin’ Dracula are all real? Well, that’s basically what the world of Anno Dracula is.
A bit of set-up. In this world, Dracula was never driven from England, eventually turned an aging Queen Victoria into a vampire and became Prince Regent, exposing the existence of vampires to the world. Now vampires are an accepted part of life, integrated into every level of British society, from prostitutes who take payment in blood, to the police of Scotland Yard, and of course the upper class. And if you’re familiar with the history and literature of the Victorian era, you’ll probably recognize most of them. (But don’t be afraid if you don’t – the new edition comes with annotations explaining most of the references.)
But one of the things that I really love about this series is Mr. Newman’s (yes, Kim Newman is a guy) approach to vampires. Rather than deciding on a single version of vampires, Newman decided to toss in every type of vampire from folklore, literature, film, and television. There’s obviously Dracula, but there’s also Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, Orlok from the film Nosferatu, and even a jiangshi (“hopping corpse” or “hopping vampire”) from Chinese folklore and other sources.
This isn’t really surprising, considering that Newman is also a film critic and has published several non-fiction books about horror in print and film, as well as quite a bit of his own fiction under his own name and under his pseudonym, Jack Yeovil.
So, if you’ve finished Moore’s League books and are looking for something to scratch that particular itch, pick up Anno Dracula. I think you’ll be satisfied.
And if that whets your appetite, pick up the sequels and see how this new, vampire friendly world develops. Further books jump ahead to the First World War in The Bloody Red Baron, then to the late 1950s in Dracula Cha Cha Cha, and Johnny Alucard, a collection of stories mostly covering the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, was released last year.
All the reprints also come with additional stories set in the Anno Dracula universe: “The Dead Travel Fast” in Anno Dracula, where Dracula tries out an early car; “Vampire Romance” in The Bloody Red Baron, a Nancy Drew-style mystery that also nicely eviscerates Twilight and it’s followers; and the novel Aquarius comes with Dracula Cha Cha Cha, which I can’t tell you about because I haven’t read Dracula Cha Cha Cha yet.