First published 1992, this edition 2011 546 page
Summary (from the book jacket)
A savage new era has arrived…
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 Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club are drawn together as they both hunt the sadistic killer, bringing them ever closer to England’s most bloodthirsty ruler yet.
Anno Dracula is the skilful re-imagining of a Victorian England where Dracula’s attempt to infiltrate English society was not only undefeated but an unqualified success. It is an alternative history of the literary world, a glorious mash-up of classic fiction and historical fact mixed with bloody horror and satire.
The mash-ups of monsters with literary classics is a sadly prevalent trend in popular horror fiction these days – Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte just two of many classic authors whose copyright free works have been mutilated – sorry, mashed-up – for the popular masses. Historical figures, such as Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria have also been mashed into vampire slaying alternative histories and personally, I haven’t been impressed. All of these books are mash-ups but comparing Anno Dracula to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is like comparing a thoroughbred race horse to a pit pony – yes, they are both the same species but that’s where the similarity ends.
Anno Dracula was originally published in the early ’90s. It’s the first part of the Anno Dracula trilogy by British horror writer Kim Newman which earned something of a cult status before going out of print. The 2011 edition, published by Titan Books, has been given a fabulous cover that shouldn’t fail to attract the eye of the most jaded book store browser. More than that, this edition contains nearly 100 pages of bonus material – including an alternative ending, article and short story by the author. The text of the story itself is unchanged from the first edition, barring a couple of discrete mistake corrections that escaped the original editing process.
No matter how nice the packaging and how much bonus material is included the most important part of any fictional book is the main story and it is the story of Anno Dracula that makes this book truly great. Newman transports readers into the fog shrouded Whitechapel slums of 1888, where a deranged killer, eventually known as Jack the Ripper, is murdering prostitutes with wholesale abandon. This isn’t a whodunnit, as readers from the outset know the identity of the murderer – it’s an exploration of Victorian London under Dracula as Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort.
Imagine Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula novel. Imagine Van Helsing and company failed to get Dracula to flee London, let alone stake him, and you have the setting for Anno Dracula. Into this world mix real historical events and characters, with as many fictional characters from the period as you can imagine and you have the cast list. Sherlock Holmes may have been shipped off to a work camp but his brother Mycroft is still in Whitehall, Dr Jekyll and Dr Moreau are working in their laboratory on disquieting science while a repulsive vampire named Orlok (think 1922 Nosferatu movie) is head jailor in the Tower of London. The cast of vampire players is enormous and yet they all work remarkably well together. This is one of the greatest strengths of the novel but it is also the source of my only irritation with the story. There are just so many named characters – while some are instantly recognisable others are obscure. For me, every time an obscure reference occurred I briefly left the world of the story as I searched my memory in order to place the character. This acted like speed-bumps in the narrative for me, jarring me out of the story every few pages. The smart reader would do well not to worry about it while reading but to peruse the author’s Annotations afterwards and get the references all in one go.
In addition to all the characters borrowed from other works or real life there are some originals. Anno Dracula’s main protagonist Charles Beauregard is an original invention although he borrows heavily from the established conventions of the gentleman action hero of the period. Genevieve, an elder vampire with a conscience, is another such original.
Dracula’s influence on Victorian England provides no shortage of horror elements for the story. There are parallels with 1930s Germany – you could easily interchange the word “Nazi” for “vampire” – with disappearances, harsh laws and deadly concentration camps it’s easy to see the connections. But, this is still England and an British mob of insurrectionists may prove to be harder to control than a few frightened Transylvanian peasants…
Utterly brilliant, Anno Dracula is a literary mash-up with pedigree credentials. This one’s a keeper for vampire fans, Dracula fans, Ripper buffs and just about anybody who’s ever enjoyed reading books set in late Victorian era London…
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