In these days of vampires, werewolves, steampunk, metafiction and slipstream novels seemingly everywhere, it is perhaps difficult to think back nearly twenty years, when such tales were much, much less commonplace.
But here we have the welcome re-release of one of the first, from the early 1990’s: an alternate Victorian history that deserves a read.
Kim these days is perhaps better known as an erudite commentator of the genre, whose knowledge of film and horror is one of the best in the UK. His first books published were in fact non-fiction.
Although Anno Dracula is Kim writing fiction, it has many of the trademarks of Kim’s other work. It is well researched, immersive, fast paced, and knowledgeable, and it drops sly and subtle genre references into the plot in almost every paragraph, and is very, very clever.
The plot is thus: In 1888 the widowed Queen Victoria remarries, to Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia. Tepes is better known to some as the renamed Count Dracula and as Prince Consort is one of the prime movers in a new repressive police state determined to maintain order between the vampires and the humans (‘Warm Bloods’).
When Whitechapel in London becomes the place of a series of horrific murders, each side is suspected by the other. Vampire Geneviève Dieudonné (from Kim’s own Warhammer series) and Charles Beauregard (of the Diogenes Club (itself a reference to a fictional club created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) are involved as they are given the job of the mystery of the Ripper murders.
As the victims mount up and riots begin on the streets of Victorian England, the trail becomes complicated. Dieudonné and Beauregarde find themselves chasing leads and tracking down the murderer. Dracula unveils his strategic plan: to take over a mortal Great Britain with immortal vampires.
Kim manages to keep a tight focus on the exciting plot whilst also using his trademark encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre for fun. Mashing-up his own Warhammer characters with fictional and non-fictional sources as varied as Sherlock Holmes, Carnaki the Ghost Hunter, HG Wells, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Fu-Manchu, an Anne Rice vampire, Jack the Ripper, and Oscar Wilde, it does sound like a rather unholy mess. The fact that it is not, but instead a lively, funny, sinister and engaging tale is very impressive. You don’t have to get all the references, but for the fan it’s part of the entertainment.
It is a real rollercoaster ride which leads to a cracking ending.
This edition puts the book back in print after well over a decade in the UK. Previous fans will want a new copy, especially as it also can be seen as a ‘directors cut’ of the novel, having a new Afterword by Kim, alternative endings, extracts from the author's unproduced screenplay, notes and articles that all add to the Anno Dracula experience.
Though there have been many imitators since its original publication, if you want a vampire novel steeped in genre and with depth and intelligence, not to mention great fun, this is the one to read. A very welcome re-release. Highly recommended.