Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
Originally published 1992
Avon Books, 1st printing, 1994
Genre: horror, alternate history
Synopsis & Review: It is 1888, and the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula did not fall out the way with which we are familiar. Rather, Dracula killed Jonathan Harker, turned Mina, and fled into the night past the Doctors Van Helsing and Seward. He continued a rise to power, reaching the apex when he wooed and won Queen Victoria, turning her into a vampire as well and ruling as Prince Consort of the British Empire. Vampires are now common, and London in particular struggles with the burgeoning new upper class. Political cronyism and corruption mirrors the turning of men and women into vampires. In the stews of the city, warm drabs sell their blood to vampires as they once sold their bodies, and those who turn take blood in exchange for their bodily wares. And there is a different kind of killer on the loose, one who targets these vampire prostitutes, ripping their bodies apart with a silver scalpel.
The protagonists are Geneviève Dieudonné, a French vampire older than Dracula himself, and Charles Beauregard, a gentleman of the Diogenes Club. The pair work with the London police force to track down the killer, but there are others searching, as well as those using the killer’s work for their own ends. Political and social struggles threaten to jeopardize the efforts of Dieudonné and Beauregard, who come to realize that their investigation may save or destroy the Queen herself.
I picked up Anno Dracula on recommendation of a friend (who, to be fair, has not yet read it). I do enjoy a good alternate history, and was once very fond indeed of vampire stories. Like Newman, I had an early exposure to Hammer films, and have a certain fondness for the vivid and atmospheric worlds portrayed in films like The Horror of Dracula or The Karnstein Trilogy, and hoped that Anno Dracula could satisfy in the same high camp Gothic way. It doesn’t quite. The characters and language are too modern in feel, and Newman only occasionally manages to create an eerie atmosphere. Worse, some of the dialog is just dreadful. However, there is great research, and the world of Anno Dracula is imaginative and fun to explore. Most enjoyable for me (thank you, Aristotle, for your validation) is the fun of recognizing many historical and literary personages familiar from my intermediate school reading; such figures positively litter the novel, making providing many pleasurable Easter eggs (though Newman is sometimes admittedly heavy-handed with it, as in the following passage). Overall, Anno Dracula is a fast, enjoyable read; I would probably re-read it on a beach or during an orgy of Hammer films.
Cover: Terminally dull, and reminiscent of the Phantom cover.
“But,” the Prime Minister said, turning, “of us elders, who else has the wit to mediate between Prince Dracula and his subjects?, to hold together this new empire of living and dead? That lunatic Sir Francis Varney, whom we have packed off to India? I think not. None of our Carpathian worthies will serve, either; not Iorga, not Von Krolock, not Meinster, not Tesla, not Brastov, not Mitterhouse, not Vulkan. And what of the hand-kissing Saint-Germain, the meddling Villanueva, the upstart Collins, the impenetrable Weyland, the buffoon Barlow, the oily Duval? I ‘hai me doots,’ as the Scotchman says, I ‘hai me doots’ indeed. Who then does that leave? The pale and uninteresting Karnstein, still mourning for his sillyskewered girl? Come to that, what of the women? God, the vampire women! What a pack of foaming she-cats! Lady Ducayne and Countess Sarah Kenyon are at least English, even it they’ve not an ounce of brain between them, But Countess Zaleska of Romania, Ethelind Fionguala of Ireland, Countess Dolingen of Graz, Princess Asa Vajda of Moldavia, Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary? None of these titled tarts would be acceptable, I think, either to the Prince Consort or to the peoples of Britain. You might as well give the job to one of those mindless woman-things Dracula set aside to marry plump Vicky. No. Of the elders there is only me. Here I am: Lord Ruthven, wanderer and wit. A land-poor Englishman, long absent from his homeland, recalled to the service of his country. Who would have thought I would ever occupy the office of Pitt and Palmerston and Gladstone and Disraeli? And who could succeed me? Après moi, le déluge, Godalming. After me, the shower.”
1 May – 2 May