Hello again to you all! It may seem odd – and it is – that I’m reviewing a vampire or horror based novel in June. But the mood struck me so why not? Anno Dracula is a famous 1992 horror and crime novel by a horror aficionado author known as Kim Newman who has won among other awards the Bram Stoker Award for Best Nonfiction work and the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel specifically for Anno Dracula.
Kim Newman is an author I’m somewhat familiar with through slightly unusual means. I am a frequent watcher of documentaries on the history of horror as well as behind the scenes and making of featurettes on my personal collection of Universal era (1920s – 1950s) horror DVDs. On these releases and others Mr Newman is often a frequent contributor giving wider context to what the horror genre was like during the course of its development and what effect the specified film had on the development of the genre such as the 1933 James Whale production of The Invisible Man reviewed by Sgathaich for example. [ Sgathaich: The Invisible Man]
The plot of Anno Dracula in simple terms is as follows: It is Victorian era London but not quite as we remember it. Grand society has changed. Queen Victoria has remarried Vlad Tepes or Count Dracula. On top of this many important figures have become vampires and there is a strong interplay between the Elder Vampires, the so called newborn vampires and the ‘warm’ humans. But there is a mad man going about town. The so called Silver Knife – or as we know him Jack The Ripper – who is going after vampire prostitutes. It is the task of Charles Beauregard – an agent of The Diogenes Club – and Geneviève Dieudonné an interested vampire to hunt down Silver Knife and stop the murders. But what effect will the murders have on the relationship between the vampires and the warm? Who can truly be trusted in this new environment? And just what was Charles’s designated mission?
Anno Dracula was a pleasant surprise! I went in expecting a slightly modernised take on Bram Stoker’s original classic or some kind of traditional horror tale – which I definitely got – but it was also interspersed with an entertaining mix of a Gothic crime novel and the slow change as England both upper and lower class begins to accept vampirism and vampires – even preferring them in some cases – and the grim and rather gruesome effects this has on Victorian society. It’s also quite fun to hear names ranging from fictional figures from the famous to the obscure like Mycroft Holmes, Inspector Lestrade, Count Orlok and Barnabas Collins and historical counterparts such as Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Báthory, Alessandro Cagliostro and Marie Corelli all being named and having various levels of involvement with the story.
On top of this the depictions of the murders are wonderfully vivid and disturbing. The kind of thing I’d expect from Hammer Horror at their best! So if the story sounds like your kind of thing? Then join the children of the night! It does feel unusually lewd at points (fitting for a genre with Le Fanu’s Carmilla in its heritage) but it is extremely entertaining for fans of horror. I also have to say that the wide variety of characters are well developed with Geneviève being my personal favourite but for various reasons I feel this is the kind of plot where I shouldn’t go into detail on the characters and it is better for readers and listeners to go in as close to blind as possible.
I do have a couple of issues however. Firstly sometimes the level of detail in the writing does get to a point where I start to lose focus about what exactly is supposed to be going on at this exact moment in time or who is doing what. When this happened one of two things would usually occur : Either I would zone out entirely and then refocus during the next scene when it became apparent we were following a different character out of the various POV characters and figure out what happened in the previous scene by context clues. Or during the next scene the new POV would directly address the events of the previous scene. Usually by either disparaging the previous focus character or becoming curious about them in some way. My second issue is something that might not be a problem for that many people. If you are aware of a decent selection of Mr Newman’s frequent literary and historical references, it can either be entertaining or annoying depending on your mood when you are trying to focus on the story but the sheer number of references ends up distracting you. Despite my few issues with Mr Newman’s writing I still found the story very worthwhile and a good read. Now for the audio side of things.
The audiobook edition of Anno Dracula is narrated by William Gaminara who does a fine job. He is able to give the various characters distinct voices and excellently captures that London society voice that is prevalent throughout the novel and capturing the dark mood throughout the tale. His best performances definitely being the three mains of Geneviève, Charles and Dr Seward. Gaminara is an engaging narrator taking an already very good story and making it even more grippingly Gothic! I’d be more than happy to hear from him again.
In conclusion Anno Dracula is a Gothic crime story well worth its excellent reputation for fans of horror and gruesome details. Should you enjoy it, it is the first of a several book series by Newman that has quite the bite to it! Especially compared to its successors and copycats. I look forward to returning to my readers soon. This adventure in ink, parchment and blood has been rather fun.