Anno Dracula was first published in 1992 and is now being released in a shiny new version from Titan Publishing. It’s written by Kim Newman (you know, the slightly scary looking long-haired film critic of Empire fame – often found on TV shows about horror films sitting in a plaster of paris crypt with lots of candles behind him) and is part of a series of three, a fourth of which is due out in 2012.
It’s 1888. We’re in an alternate reality in which Dracula has succeeded in the plan he laid out in Bram Stoker’s book to take over and rule England. And he’s married Queen Victoria (who’s also now become one of the undead herself). Vampires are no longer in the shadows and humans, or the ‘warm’, are fast becoming the minority. Almost all crimes, however minor, now end with impalements carried out by the Carpathian guards. England has become a police state. While Van Helsing’s long dead head looks down from its pike on London Bridge, in the foggy and gaslit streets of Whitechapel, Jack the Ripper stalks the night, ripping up vampire prostitutes with a silver knife…
Anno Dracula is an exciting, interesting and engaging read – I absolutely loved it. Although the ‘Silver Knife’ (or Jack the Ripper as he’s more commonly known) murders are an integral part of the plot, this isn’t a murder mystery – in fact Newman reveals Jack’s identity in the first chapter. What makes it fascinating is the fact that Newman has peopled his alternate London with reams and reams of characters from both history and fiction – you’ll be hard pushed to spot them all. Notable ones include Dracula (obviously), Dr Seward, Florence Stoker (Bram’s wife), Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Joseph Merrick (the elephant man), Frederick Abberline (policeman in charge of the Ripper case), Kurt Balow (Salem’s Lot), Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Elizabeth Bathory (countess who murdered lots of virgins) and others too numerous to mention. The fact that you already know most of the characters just adds to the interest when they’re plunged into a society in which vampirism is running rife. And as you’d expect from Mr Newman it’s pretty gross in places – Dracula’s bloodline has got polluted somewhere along the way and his ‘get’ are generally afflicted with some pretty hideous deformities. And turning into a vampire isn’t fun. There’s also a truly disturbing vision of Buckingham Palace post-Dracula and a vampirised version of one our most sainted monarchs which stayed with me long after I’d finished reading.
Not all the vampires are evil – our heroine Geneviève Dieudonné (from a different bloodline to Drac and, in fact, older than him) is good, pretty and a few hundred years old, but stuck in the body of a sixteen year old girl (every man’s fantasy?). She hooks up with warm Charles Beauregarde, an agent of the Diogenes Club (originally invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as Mycroft Holmes’ gentlemen’s club, Newman’s mutated it into a kind of Fringe/X-Files-type organisation which is part of the British Secret Service) to try and catch the Ripper.
This new edition comes packed with bonus material. I’m always a bit wary of ‘extras’ in books – a lot of the time authors just don’t have enough stuff and all you end up with is some questions for book groups and an acknowledgments page. So I’ve always thought they’re better kept in the world of visual media. But, the extra material rammed into this new edition of Anno Dracula (almost 150 pages worth) is all good value. It includes an interesting and useful guide to some (by no means all) of the literary, historical and cinematic characters that Mr Newman has borrowed and where they’ve come from, a film script, alternative ending, an essay and a short story. It’s also a lovely looking book with a well designed front cover and a nice layout.
I can’t wait for the next one.