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August 31st, 2011, 06:07 PM #1
- Join Date
- Jul 2001
- Hobbit Towers, England
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Fantasy BotM: October 2011: Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
I'm pleased to say that October's Fantasy Book of the Month is Kim Newman's Anno Dracula.
This is the recent rerelease of a book that's been out of print for about 20 years here in the UK.
Here's what I said when I reviewed it in May 2011:
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.
Last edited by Hobbit; September 30th, 2011 at 03:14 PM.Mark
October 3rd, 2011, 08:14 AM #2
- Join Date
- Sep 2005
Boy, do I ever agree.
I had hoped to reread this before now, but other projects interfered. From what I recall of the novel, Newman puts all his knowledge in a blender, hits puree, and creates a great Victorian smoothie.
Possibly that's pushing a figure of speech too far. On the other hand, you can see this as an early example of urban fantasy, as continuance of the history of London ala Gaiman's Neverwhere and perhaps even more so, Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and as one of the best in a long line of faux Victorian adventure stories like the Gaiman, the Moore (graphic novels), or Jonathan Barnes' The Somnambulist. Newman did a great job, I thought, of staying true to the fictional characters he appropriated (the ones I recognized, anyway), as well as to the real life people he chose to use.
Anno Dracula was one of the most entertaining fantasies I read at that time, and I'm pleased to see it back in print.
October 3rd, 2011, 08:18 AM #3
I haven't started this yet, and I may wait until closer to Hallowe'en itself before digging into it due to the vampiric themes and a few other books deciding to sit in the way.
That said, you both have given me a bit of confidence with it. In all honesty, I bought it simply to complete a 3-for-2 offer in Waterstone's although the little I'd seen about it on the forums probably helped.
I'll certainly be looking forward to this now, though.
October 10th, 2011, 02:01 PM #4
Well, this book took me longer than anything I've read in the last year or so. I can't remember the last time I took two weeks to read something. That said, I can't blame the book. Illness, friends in from out of town, gigs out of town myself. But I finally finished.
All that said, I think this definitely wasn't a book I would have enjoyed if I had read it at my usual pace. I did tear through the first quarter of it in one day and was on pace to do the same on day 2 and I just hit a wall. It was a wall of historical and literary personages flying past my pages at an incredible pace without much intro or context at all...and at that pace, it was just too much. I looked up the Wiki page on the book and it cites something like 140 different characters pulled from various sources, most of which I'm not familiar with. So I was a bit discouraged by all that.
But then, due to my schedule, I started reading in smaller chunks and it became a much "better" book. More fairly, I think I was reading it in a way that worked better for the book.
What I ended up with was an enjoyable read that I thought was pretty interesting. I didn't quite hit the magic mark for me, though. To do that it would have had to do one of two things: more or less. I either wanted it to be a straight-up mystery (hunting down Jack) or a more fleshed-out tapestry of this alternate 1888 London. I felt the book tread too much of a middle-ground for my tastes. The mystery felt undercooked (and not much of a mystery since Jack was revealed halfway through) and the politics felt thin and tacked on.
That said, I quite liked some of the personal relationships and the "world-building" of the different lines of vampires and what we got to see of how the introduction of vampirism was affecting different slices of British society.
So, the sequels: Are they as much of a mish-mash but in different times, or are they trying to accomplish something else?