Anno Dracula (Anno Dracula #1) by Kim Newman Book Review

Write on: Thu, 06 May 2021 by  in Charles' Reviews Read 693


ANNO DRACULA is a book that I didn't initially think I would read for reasons that now escape me. It certainly is the best book I've read in 2021 and that's a pretty big deal since I read Fevre Dream just recently. Given I loved that book, I find that to be high praise indeed. Of the various works I've read over the years, I'd have to say this is closest to The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. I mean this in the most literal sense as it invokes the kind of surreal Wold Newton shared universe of literary characters that Alan Moore created as well as its relentless cynicism yet peculiar sense of hope. It really must be experienced to be understood what I mean.

The premise is a simple but novel one: what if Van Helsing lost? We've had hundreds of stories where Dracula pops up immediately after death or returns to bedevil the Van Helsing and Harker families after his initial defeat. I, myself, was first introduced at a tender age of eight to the world of Dracula by the old Tomb of Dracula comics that I happened to find some reprints of. There, Dracula battled Rachel Van Helsing and Quincy Morris. However, are there many stories where Van Helsing and company just flat out botch the job?

In the original Dracula, particularly if you are familiar with the Powers of Darkness edition, the Dark Lord wasn't interested in Lucy or Mina's necks as his primary goal. Indeed, he wanted nothing less than the domination of England itself then the British Empire. Indeed, there were some proto-fascist elements that made him a proper template for the coming supervillain as well as the true-life dictators that would dominate the 20th century. Here, Dracula successfully takes over the British Empire and makes Queen Victoria his vampire bride. The domination of the undead happens and, ironically, the best social satire Kim Newman displays is how little changes as a result.

Dracula rules as a dictator and has installed numerous infamous vampires in various offices throughout the United Kingdom but most of the wealthy are willing to collaborate with the new regime. After all, vampires can convert the local leadership of any nation to immortal undead parasites, so they have an advantage over most conquerors. Indeed, soon Britain is overrun with vampires with some of the lower classes (GASP!) having become undead as well. Whitechapel is overrun with vampires and a parallel is drawn between the undead and the spread of disease as well. Which is another nod to the original handling of vampirism by Stoker.

I could go on about the plot for pages but the heart of it is an adaptation of Jack the Ripper's murders. I'm actually kind of iffy about using those as I don't feel they're usually done with taste toward the man's real-life victims. We also know, at last, the identity of the killer in Aaron Kosminski. However, this is an alternate version of reality so making it a vampire prostitute hunting Jack Seward (this is revealed in the first chapter), isn't a bad thing. Killing vampires, even impoverished and diseased ones, is a threat to the Prince Consort and must be stopped at all costs!

This isn't so much a mystery novel, the killer being revealed at the start, but a slice of life story that shows the rise of Dracula's effect on the Victorian world. We get to see it from the perspective of centuries-old vampires, rich gentlemen, impoverished young women, and more. Kim Newman throws together Sherlock Holmes, Polidori's The Vampyre, James Bond (or at least his 19th century predecessor), Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu, Doctor Moreau, Henry Jekyl, and other more obscure sources to make a bizarre but authentic feeling Gothic Horror London.

There are some elements of the book that don't quite land for me. I don't think Fu Manchu is really a character who can ever be used, no matter how you adapt him, and his unrionic presence here doesn't help the book. I also think the attempt to vilify Dracula by making him violently homophonic accidentally has the opposite effect as it seems to revel in his cruelty to gay men. It doesn't help that the one mass execution we see by Dracula’s forces has a rapist and pedophile be among those executed. However, the rest of the book is fangtastic (forgive the pun) with some deep character development. I also feel like the book was interested in Lucy Westerner’s story but cared little for Mina Harker’s. She’s barely a footnote.

The world-building regarding the role of vampires and pedigree is all well done. Kim Newman prefers his vampires to be divorced from religion so while they have a "touch" of magic, there's no aversion to crosses or other supernatural origin to their powers. Silver kills them because they're allergic to it. Dracula's bloodline is also diseased so only a handful of his creations don't become insane monsters like the Bloofer woman or die from imperfect transformations. Other bloodlines, like Lord Ruthven or Genevieve, seem to be a "superior" stock but looks can be deceiving. It also proves to be harder to get decent meals on the streets of London than you might think.

Perhaps the best recommendation I can give Anno Dracula is the fact that I cared about the protagonists. I wanted to see how Genevieve, Charles, Penelope, Mary Kelly, Doctor Seward, and Arthur Holmwood's character stories ended. Rare is the vampire story where I ponder the social ramifications of wanting to stay human versus turn into a vampire after an arranged marriage, but this is the case here. I would have easily read three or four novels in this setting without the subsequent books continuing to advance the timeline as Kim Newman chose to do. In short, I loved this book and I bought copies for two of my friends.

Available here

Last modified on Thursday, 06 May 2021 03:18
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.