Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman
Posted June 20, 2012on:
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