the Little Red Reviewer

Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman

Posted on: June 20, 2012

Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman

published in 1992, reprinted by Titan Books in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

(and don’t you just adore that  cover art?)








If you’ve never read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I’m going to spoil the ending for you – the good guys win. Dracula and his brides are destroyed by the silvered weapons and quick thinking of Van Helsing and his friends. (If you’ve never read Dracula, you really should. I don’t do so well with the classics, and even I found it highly engaging.)

But what if that wasn’t how the story ended? What if Dracula won? What he traveled to England to be “among the teeming masses”,  married Queen Victoria, and set London up as a safe haven for vampires? What if being reborn as the undead became acceptable, even fashionable? This is the premise of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, and a brilliant premise it is. The story has many of the trappings of Victorian literature, but with a number of deliciously dark twists. This was a book I absolutely couldn’t put down, Newman had me on page two. The premise was fascinating, the plot was engaging, and I adored the characters.

Under Dracula, who now styles himself the Prince Consort and Lord Protector, more and more businesses and society in London run from dusk to dawn, with socialites hosting “after-darks”, banks and merchants only being open at night, and a massive upswing in the sales of luxury coffins.  For many, receiving the dark kiss allowed them to rise even higher in society, but for others, the opposite has been true. Those of the lower classes still starve and prostitute themselves, drunks still beg for money (but to buy pig blood, not booze).

Anno Dracula is jam packed with characters both historical and fictional, but Newman introduces them slowly and in their natural habitats, making the various plot lines easy to get into. We first meet government agent Charles Beauregard as his engagement to the lovely Penelope is being announced at an after dark.  Penelope is continually pressuring her fiancé to  turn, as a way to cement their rising social standing, but he’s nervous about the permanent change.  Across town, we’re then introduced to elder vampire Genevieve, who works as a charity nurse at a clinic run by Dr. Seward in Whitechapel.  In vampire culture, age is everything. Genevieve may look like she’s in her late teens, but she’s nearly 500 years old, even older than Vlad Tepes, and she’s of a competing blood line as well.

And there is a killer on the loose. Known as “silver knife”, the killer (or killers, as some believe) goes after only vampire prostitutes in Whitechapel, and soon becomes known by the moniker Jack the Ripper. And the first twist? The reader knows who the killer is right away. We get to watch Silver Knife in all his demented glory, and of course we learn his reasons. Did I sympathize with Silver Knife? Not really. Did I understand his mental break from reality and why he felt like he needed to do the things he did? Yes.

It’s not that the government much cares about a handful of dead prostitutes, but they do want to stave off general panic, and the Diogenes Club has their own agenda. Beauregard is tasked with catching Silver Knife, and with Genevieve’s help he may just succeed.  or, perhaps not, as happy endings are never a guaruntee.

If you’ve been following my reviews, you know my favorite things to find when reading a new author are world building and characterization, and Anno Dracula provided both, in droves. Through switches in point of view, we get a ton of background on all our major characters, from what drives Beauregard and Doctor Seward, to Genevieve’s dark journey to her current inner peace. Everything in this world is very much connected, from the tension between Dracula’s savage Carpathian  Guards and the local constabulary to the rising classism between the “warm” and the “reborn”. Even between the undead, life can be a game of manners.  For me, Anno Dracula had the ideal balance of Victoriana and dark supernatural adventure.

I’ve always enjoyed a good alternate history or historical fantasy, but until now I’ve had a tough time getting into Victorian literature and a lot of the heavily Victorian steampunk that’s available. I’m not saying Victorian inspired speculative fiction is bad (quite the opposite, in fact), I’m just saying I haven’t much experience with it and often feel lost while reading it. Well, one more high five to Newman, Anno Dracula is the perfect gateway drug for me to feel like I can successfully read and enjoy Victorian lit. Sure, there is plenty of surprisingly gory kill-the-undead action and some vampy eroticism, but there’s also plenty of Victorian sensibilities, forwarding of the British Empire,  betrothals of convenience between people who barely know each other,  the awkwardnesses of being alone with someone of the opposite gender who you have no clue how to properly and innoffensively speak to, and general societal expectations and assumptions of different classes. Also, a bucket of characters who will give a chuckle to any reader already familiar with Victorian literature.

Bottom line is if you enjoy vampire historical fiction that’s on the darker and more violent side, Anno Dracula was written for you.  And the best news of all? Newman has written two more books in the series, The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha Cha Cha, along with a small handful of other historical fictions which I hope to explore as well

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24 Responses to "Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman"

Sounds like an interesting plot, I will have to check it out. Thanks

Kim Newman is a major horror film critic here in the UK and it shows in the way his books read like films. Genevieve shows up in a tale with Orson Welles making a vampire movie in one of his short stories.

hmm, usually “reads like films” isn’t a positive thing?

I think he has a whole ton of interrelated short stories with different recurring characters. Would be fun to read a whole volume of them some time.

I’m not sure, I’ve heard it used in a positive way and as a cinephile any book that is evocative and post-modern makes me imagine the film adaptation :P

The short stories I have read have been very entertaining. They crop up in volumes of Mammoth Book of Best New Horror every so often.

oh, ok, we’re using the phrase differently, but now I know exactly what you mean, and in this instance, it is a very good thing!

Sounds good. :)
I’ve been looking for some serious vampire fiction (not the usual YA that is everywhere these days).

I’m looking for exactly the same thing, and this perfectly fit the bill. the younger vampires haven’t quite lost their humanity yet, many of them still live with their families, but you can tell that as the years go by they become more and more savage. and even if you are immortal, who would want to live like that??

This is another I’ve been meaning to pick up. Thanks for your interesting summary

I really like the sound of this – might try and pick up a copy for Carl’s RIP – I checked the author out at my library and there’s also a book called Moriarty: the Hound of the D’urbervilles (or something like that – don’t quote me!)
Must pick up both.
Lynn :D

this would be perfect for RIP! and yes, he wrote that Hound book, Newman talks a bit about it at the end of this one. There are some crossover characters, but also some characters who have the same name, but are more like parallel characters instead of crossover. regardless, if it’s as good as Anno Dracula (and I have no reason to believe it isn’t), I think you’ll really enjoy it!

I do like that cover!

Are you on facebook? I have a book I’m hoping you would take a look at, but can’t seem to find an email address for you.

you can contact me on twitter, click the “follow me on twitter” button on the sidebar.

Red, in case you didn’t see my reply to your question over on my blog about Brin’s new one, here is the lowdown:

The long awaited fourth (and supposedly final) book in the series is coming out this year. Supposedly it’s going to be the first time Dracula himself is a major character, and I know it at least partly takes place on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula film.

Trevor, thank YOU for talking this book up so much! now I just have to get you hooked on Steven Brust. ;)

a Dracula book, starring Dracula, that takes place on a movie set of a Dracula movie? umm, Meta much? and SIGN ME UP!

This one’s going on my tbr list :) I just read God Save the Queen, which had a few similar ideas but sloppy execution. This sounds like a much better-written, more exciting read.

He also wrote a series of Warhammer fantasy novels that star an alternate version of Genevieve. I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet, but you can get them all in an omnibus edition now, called “The Vampire Genevieve”.

do I need to be literate in the Warhammer world to enjoy them? i know less than zero about warhammer. but yeah, i’m at the point where if it’s got Kim Newman’s name on it, I’m interested in reading it.

I haven’t actually read them yet, so I couldn’t say for sure. But in my experience, most Warhammer books walk you through anything that would be confusing to a novice. Also, he wrote the books under the name “Jack Yeovil” for some reason, so it doesn’t actually have his name on it. He still talks about it in interviews, and how it relates to other Genevieve stories, it just has a different name on the cover.

neat! I’ll keep my eye out for those, especially under the other name.

[...] reviews: Founding Fields ; Little Red Reviewer ; Speculative Book reviews Metafilter [...]

I’ve just read this one, it was a great fun read. Loved the mixture of real and fictional, all worked really well. I’ll have to go look for the rest in the series now.

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