Anno Dracula’s author Kim Newman is somewhat responsible for my love of horror fiction. He and Stephen Jones fostered my curiosity for the genre via their Horror: 100 Best Books review anthology. As you can tell from this site, that interest has evolved somewhat over time.
I picked up that book when I was thirteen, and for many years it was my guiding light in navigating the world of the dread literature. I still turn to it nowadays, twenty years later, for guidance and reflection upon various things. It is still now, as it was for many years as I wandered in the web-free-wilderness, a definitive horror-book guide.
You see, when I first picked up that worthy tome it was pre-Internet. I couldn’t just Google a book title and have it appear with breakdown of information, and opinions on whether it was a worthy read. Newman and Jones’ book was a fantastic break-down of reviews of books, carefully selected by leading authors and the book’s editors. It was like my own, private and personal Wikipedia for horror books.
It’s no surprise then, that he knows the genre in which he writes. To say that he has encyclopaedic knowledge wouldn’t be an exaggeration either. To say he knows Dracula extremely well, likewise, would be more than a fair approximation. Kim Newman is an expert in this field, and it shows in how much you’ll enjoy reading this book.
In Anno Dracula Newman has crafted a beautifully detailed alternate Victorian England. It’s one in which at the end of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the group of friends haven’t secured victory. In this world, Dracula has blazed a trail of victory and gone for full-on world domination.
And why not? At this time, England’s empire spanned across the globe, and so he has secured marriage with Queen Victoria, and rules the country with an iron fist. It’s something of a police state, people disappear, or are removed to concentration camps, and in this hybrid-metaverse such detainees include Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker.
It’s this richness of taking a dip in the literary worlds of others, in both fiction and non-fiction, that makes this book such a pleasure to read. In many ways, and at many times, I was reminded of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, in the pleasurably dense tapestry of a world created for the reader to take delight in.
In the same way that Clarke’s book had mass appeal, despite definitely dripping geek chic, so too should Anno Dracula. For there’s much going on here. In the same way that its characters are varied, some fictional, some historically flavoured, all are adapted to suit the author’s wishes of creating a highly charged, emotive backdrop in which to unfurl a kick-ass story.
The story lays down foundation for a number of threads. Vampires are being killed by ‘the Silver Knife’ in a style highly familiar to those of the Jack the Ripper killings. This has the vampire community up in arms, and the police investigating under pressure to get results.
To accompany this mystery (though it’s not such a mystery to the reader, as we learn early on who’s responsible) there’s another investigation of a most cloak and dagger nature involving political figures, spying and subterfuge. Meanwhile, other investigations are undertaken, but by opposing camps. The intrigues unwinding alone would make this a top flight book; that it’s taking place in this rich world makes it all the more delicious.
Anno Dracula is a celebration of both Stoker’s vampire culture, and the cultural creations of the era – imagined and otherwise. It’s also a highly enjoyable adventure yarn, and one in which the detailed and rich world nonetheless permit the fairly fast paced story to reveal itself. A melting pot of delicious literary allusion and bloody adventure, there’s nothing to hold this book back from achieving on so many levels.