Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. His polluted bloodline spreads through London as its citizens increasingly choose to be vampires.
In the grim backstreets of Whitechapel, a killer known as ‘Silver Knife’ is cutting down vampire girls. The eternally young Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club are drawn together as they both hunt the sadistic killer, bringing them ever closer to England’s most bloodthirsty ruler yet.
Anno Dracula is a novel that has been on my ‘to read’ list for years. Mrs Cheesecake has mentioned it in passing many times. She read the short story version when it was first published as Red Reign, in the collection the Mammoth Book of Vampires in 1992. Her enjoyment of this prompted her to seek out the novel when it was released later that year. Mrs Cheesecake suggested that I give this a whirl when the re-release appeared again recently.
I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula many moons ago, what self respecting horror fan hasn’t? Anno Dracula is pitched as a direct sequel based on the premise that Van Helsing and his group failed. Dracula has survived their encounter and wormed his way into the highest echelons of Victorian society and marries the Queen to become Prince Consort.
Charles Beauregard is an agent of the Diogenes Club, a secret cabal tasked with protecting the crown. He is ordered to bring Silver Knife to justice and protect new-born vampires from the serial killers’ wrath. Charles is the very definition of a Victorian gentleman. He comes across as single minded and driven. He is willing to sacrifice his private life in order to get results.
Genevieve Dieudonne is an elder vampire, older than Dracula himself, who works as a doctor in a charitable hospital in the heart of Whitechapel. She is appalled with the way the Count’s bloodline is corrupting society. Genevieve is quite a mysterious character. She has been a vampire for hundreds of years and travelled the world but the reader only gets a small glimpse of her experiences.
The two characters meet at a crime scene, and discover they have a common goal. The two find themselves working together to stop the killings, and their partnership is one of the highlights of the novel for me.
The cast of additional characters in Anno Dracula is a veritable who’s who of Victorian fact and fiction and this adds a depth and richness to the narrative. Everyone from The Elephant Man and Oscar Wilde, to Fu Manchu and Dr Henry Jekyll make an appearance. As a fan of old vampire/horror movies, I was also delighted at some of the other names that appear. For those uninitiated there are appendices at the end of the book where Newman details the various sources the character names are taken from. There is also information highlighting the differences between the original short story and the finished novel. There are even some scenes from a proposed movie script. All these extras were a nice added bonus.
Hiding just under the surface there is a strong social commentary running throughout that novel. Newman uses the vampire plague to illustrate the societal and economic problems of the Victorian era. The divide between the different classes is made that much more obvious with the additional split of humans and vampires.
I enjoyed the novel but I have to admit I was a bit surprised by how little page time the character of Dracula actually receives. He only shows up in the final chapters. Don’t get me wrong his presence is writ large throughout but I expected him to appear a bit more often. In fairness, however, there are another two novels already published in this series, and it may be the case that he is a more central character in these.
From the dimly lit alleyways and opium dens of Whitechapel, to the throne room of Buckingham Palace, Newman captures the sights and sounds of Victorian London. There are some fantastic moments when the reader follows Silver Knife out on the prowl. If you have never read Anno Dracula before I strongly recommend that you seek it out.
Anno Dracula is available now. The second novel in the series, The Bloody Red Baron, is due for re-release next year.