By Kim Newman
I remember reading the short story "Red Reign" about 20 years ago, written by Newman and published in the Mammoth Book of Vampires. This short story formed the basis for the novel and it's been on my list of books to read for some time. The imminent re-release of the sequel "The Bloody Red Baron" has prompted me to pick up the novel and see how it compares to that short story published many moons ago.
The book is set in 1888 and some years after the death of Prince Albert Queen Victoria has remarried, her new husband the immortal Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia and most (in)famously as Count Dracula. Following this marriage, vampirism becomes common throughout the country and these "cold" creatures of the dark exist alongside the "warm" human population.
The novel follows the vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and human Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they attempt to solve the horrific Whitechapel murders and the notorious, unidentified serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. The book is essentially a sequel of sorts to Bram Stokers Dracula but based on the premise that Van Helsing failed and as a result the Count has the freedom to pursue world domination.
The first thing that strikes you about this novel is the rich detail that permeats the prose, the author manages to combine real world people and events of the time with other well known fictional details - such as the Diogenes Club which was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and featured in a number of Sherlock Holmes tales - along with many other fictional and real people of the era like Oscar Wilde, Fu Manchu, John Merrick, Dr Moreau and Dr Jekyll (to name a few). This re-invention of the Victorian era is completely unique and quite compelling, describing a country more or less ruled by the immortal undead. This "occupation" is imagined quite effectively and there has clearly been a great deal of thought about exactly how Victorian folk would adapt to such a situation.
The author uses the titular character very sparingly and this manages to create an air of importance and power to the figure while we follow Geneviève and Charles. There is also a powerful social commentary running through the novel that examines the economic and social conditions present in Victorian London. The use of Vampires within a human society is used as a device to explore the class divide that played a large part in society at the time (and still does to a some degree, if less obvious than during Victorian times).
London of 1888 feels perfectly captured in all it's glory and gore, from the dark alleys of Whitechapel to the grandeur of Buckingham Palace. I loved the twist on the Jack the Ripper story, here he's known as "Silver Knife" and his victims are all Vampires. You may be forgiven for assuming that Anno Dracula is a steampunk novel, after all it's set in an alternative history Victorian era but that is about as far towards the genre the novel travels. there's no use of steam powered automata, no crazy inventions and the sky seems free of airships.
The idea of the two main protagonists being human and vampire is inspired and both characters are brilliantly portrayed. Genevieve Dieudonne is a world weary vampire who's even older than the count and is appalled by the way that Dracula's bloodline is corrupting society. Charles Beauregard is an agent of the infamous Diogenes Club - a secret society who are tasked with protecting the crown from the more "exotic" issues that Scotland Yard can't (or won't) deal with. The interplay between these two characters working together to catch the "Silver Knife" is the highlight of the novel.
It does however take these two investigators a damned long time to actually catch on to the identity of the the Ripper and I must admit that this was the only part of the novel that didn't quite work as well as it could have. I did however love how through the novel the author manages to almost humanise the Vampire which makes meeting Prince Dracula near the end all the more powerful.
Anno Dracula is a superb story brought to life with vivid prose and dynamic characters, set against a unique and compelling alternative London.
Written on 12th March 2012 by Ant .