Review: Anno Dracula

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

annodracula01Newman, Kim. (1992) Anno Dracula. New York: Simon and Schuster. 409pp. ISBN 0-380-72345-X

The joy of Anno Dracula, the first in a long-running alternate universe series in which Dracula defeated Van Helsing and rules over England, is in its use of fictional and real characters to populate Queen Victoria’s London. Dr. Jekyll (sans Mr. Hyde), Count Ruthven (from Polidori’s “The Vampire”), Count Orlock (from Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens), Carmilla, Lulu Schon (the temptress in Pandora’s Box) and other figures of literature parade around, make cameos or at least receive a mention.

Alas, this is also the novel’s downfall. Newman tries to cram in as many references to fictional characters as he can, and in the process, forgets that the novel is supposed to be a thriller, a murder mystery about the hunt for Jack the Ripper, who, in this version of history, hunts vampire prostitutes with a silver scalpel. However, there is so little detective work done that the Ripper case seems but a flimsy excuse to do a bit of sightseeing. The venerable detective, Mr. Holmes, would have done a much better job of solving this pickle. Alas, he is in prison in this universe and so, we must make do with Charles Beauregard, who is also a member of the Diogenes Club, but lacks Mr. Holmes’ detective powers.

For this reason, Anno Dracula reminded me of Anubis Gates, but without Anubis Gates’ edge. The investigation part of the tale is so dull that the novel – which is composed of very short chapters – seems to lose its flow at several points.

Despite the lethargic investigation, Anno Dracula introduces the reader to an intriguing world. In this Europe, Dracula has married Queen Victoria, risen to power and multiplied his vampire spawn, turning London into a city where “warms” and vampires fight for power and try to find a balance.

This new, blended society is the most interesting part of the story. We meet vampire prostitutes, detectives, aristocrats and journalists, and observe the emerging vampire society with curiosity. Interestingly, Dracula does not appear until the very end of the novel. His presence, however, ripples throughout the story.

Unlike Coppola’s Dracula, or other movie adaptations which have romanticized the famous vampire, Newman presents the Transylvanian count as a grotesque, cruel tyrant. One of the main characters of the novel, the vampire Genevieve, mentions that Dracula and his bloodline are diseased and contaminated. Thus, it is only natural that Dracula’s corruption should envelope London and figures such as Jack the Ripper should emerge.

In the end, Anno Dracula is a quick read and a good introduction into a compelling vampire universe which includes the sequels The Bloody Red Baron, Dracula Cha Cha Cha and many short stories, including Castle in the Desert: Anno Dracula 1977 and Who Dares Wins.

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IFPReview: Anno Dracula