The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman
Volume Two of the Anno Dracula series
Published by Titan Books, April 2012, in a revised format.
Originally published 1995.
ISBN: 978 085 768 0846
Review by Mark Yon
The second novel in this series sees us move on from the events of England in 1888 and Jack the Ripper (reviewed HERE.)
It is now 1914. The Great War is underway between Germany and the rest of Europe. Count von Dracula has fled England after The Terror (in Book One) and is now Graf von Dracula, commander in chief of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Fighting against England and his old enemies Charles Beauregard and the secret Diogenes Club, vampires and humans (‘warm bodies’) are dying in the trenches though the latest technologies mean that the conflict is fought most keenly in the air. The Flying Circus, a vampire squadron, led by Baron Manfred von Richthofen, The Bloody Red Baron, seem unstoppable. Beauregard’s young protégé Edwin Winthrop, and vampire reporter Kate Reed try to defeat the German onslaught. But will they succeed?
In this second tale, the set up of Anno Dracula becomes international. We spend most of our time here not in England but in France, following the actions of heroic pilots, both vampire and human, as they struggle to cope with the stresses and slaughter of such desperate battles. When not flying, the pilots would live life almost as dangerously on the ground trying to make their sacrifices worth it.
The cold calculating Baron is pitted against English vampires, such as Albert Ball. Though in the real world Richthofen was killed, there is no such guarantee here in this alternate-world meta-fiction. The use of vampires in combat has had some unusual developments, such as night flights with their enhanced vision, for example.
Attempts to find out the reasons for Richthofen’s success in killing Allied pilots are dealt with so effectively that there are usually no survivors to tell what happened. Victims’ corpses are often discovered totally drained of all bodily fluids. It is clear that the Germans have a big secret at the headquarters of the Vampire Circus and that Richthofen and his men are more than human. There’s something creepy going on at the Chateau de Malinbois, and for the sake of the Allied survival it is up to the Diogenes Club to find out.
Kim here steps it up a notch. The story is as detailed and yet at the same time as much fun as ever. Anyone who has thrilled to stories of WW1 aerial combat and the heroic actions of aviators on both sides will love this, as such events are described in brilliant action sequences. We have dogfights, Zeppelin raids and trench battles which tell in thrilling detail how deadly such fighting must have been. Elsewhere, on the ground, the effect of the War on the French civilians and their towns and cities are told but with the added effect of the war being fought with some un-human elements.
As ever, though, with Kim’s work it is the mixing of people, both real and fictional, that provided me with most fun. From the exiled vampire Edgar Poe, who finds himself helping the Germans by writing the autobiography of The Red Baron, to the sad demise of secret spy Mata Hari and the exploits of imaginary character Bigglesworth (W.E. Johns’ legendary Biggles) not to mention Doctors Caligari and Mabuse, there’s enough of these little ‘easter-egg’ style touches to keep the knowledgeable reader entertained.
If that wasn’t enough, this re-imagined ‘Director’s Cut’ version includes a new novella, Vampire Romance, authors annotations showing where some of characters both real and imagined have originated from, and a film script outline for a film called Red Skies written for Roger Corman. Though never used, it is interesting to see how a film version of Red Baron could have turned out.
Vampire Romance, written especially for this edition, tells of the events of vampire Genevieve Dieudonne, last met in Anno Dracula, as she encounters a vampire group whilst working for the Diogenes Club in 1923. In comparison with the main novel, it is a deliciously dark tale of romance and death, just as much fun as the wartime tale. Though written over fifteen years later than the original novel, it dovetails nicely between The Bloody Red Baron and what will be the next novel, Dracula Cha Cha Cha, to be published later this year and set in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Both Bloody Red Baron and Vampire Romance are recommended. You don’t have to have read Anno Dracula to enjoy this one. But if you did, and enjoyed it, you’re going to love this one as much, if not more, as I did. Bravo to Titan for republishing this underrated series.
An SFFWorld interview with Kim about this series is HERE.
Mark Yon, April 2012