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Anno Dracula – Kim Newman: A Review

February 25, 2013

Anno Dracula cover

I read Anno Dracula last summer. Vampires are generally more suited to Autumn/Winter, but I was deciding what books to take on holiday based on the space I had in my bag and Anno Dracula fit the bill!

Anno Dracula: A Gallery of Rogues and Scoundrels is the first in a series of 3 (but soon to be 4) novels by Kim Newman on the Dracula subject. It tells the story of an alternate history that imagines that Jonathan and Mina Harker and their “little band” hadn’t defeated Count Dracula at the end of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. Rather to the contrary, the Count kills Jonathan, turns Mina, has Van Helsing executed and Godalming and Seward slope off. Godalming turns and returns an aristocratic vampire, and Seward becomes a Whitechapel doctor, tending to the poor. Anno Dracula is set in 1888, a world where Dracula, as per his original plan upon coming to London, has been turning all and sundry and spreading the vampire condition as widely as possible. He’s managed to make vampirism, and vampires, hard to oppose by turning and marrying Queen Victoria and becoming her Prince Consort. Vampires are everywhere, from the Prime Minister, Lord Ruthven (the nod to The Vampyre did not go unnoticed; more on that later) to common Whitechapel prostitutes being murdered by the infamous “Jack The Ripper”. This is a world of murder, of secret societies working to their own mysterious agendas, and of the whole spectrum of Victorian society.

Normally, having the interest in the original vampire texts of the nineteenth-century that I do, I’d think that what Kim Newman’s done with Anno Dracula and its sequels is an unforgivable bastardisation of Stoker and the many authors that predated him that contributed to the rich literary history surrounding vampires. However, I can’t even pretend to have forced myself to read it. Newman’s novel is remarkable for many reasons. The plot is driven and the chapters are just the right length, with each dedicated to a different perspective from within the story, secrets are shared with the reader and then we watch as the other characters figure things out, there are unexpected twists and turns… it has everything a good book should have, and it’s a wonder that considering it was first published in 1992 and has recently been revived (presumably off the back of the phenomenon vampires have become lately) that some Hollywood bigwig hasn’t already laid claim to the film rights. I hope they have! The themes that Newman explores reflect the times perfectly. As previously mentioned it’s a little while since I read this, but what I still remember is the preoccupation with bloodline and degeneracy, of defects and special skills that can be passed down between vampires as one turns another, and the thing called “the taint” that appears to have a polluting effect on vampires’ blood that makes them vulnerable to a number of usually fatal weaknesses of the vampire condition.

What impressed me most, though, was the way in which Newman, far from bastardising the rich literary history of vampires at his fingertips, embraces it and incorporates it into his novel. I spotted a number of literary vampires I’m familiar with through my academic study throughout. Lord Ruthven, Newman’s Prime Minister, first appeared in John Polidori’s The Vampyre. Sir Francis Varney originated in the mid-century Penny Dreadful series, Varney; The Vampire. Carmilla, from the 1870s novella of the same name by Sheridan Le Fanu. Barnabas Collins, from 1970s TV Show Dark Shadows even gets a mention, although I’m not sure if he wasn’t already holed up in a chained coffin buried deep beneath something or other by the late 1880s. Newman even manages to incorporate other prominent literary figures of the period – both Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde, of Robert Louis Stevenson’s creation, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, from the imagination of Arthur Conan Doyle, etc. The way it is done isn’t crass, either, it’s a very cleverly woven web that links together all these different, but contemporary, depictions of London to turn it into a single cohesive yet absolutely terrifying vision. The research Newman must have gone into to be able to combine and construct such an intricately put together literary world is astounding. He’s used everything available and then some. If there was such a thing as vampire/late nineteenth century Gothic character name dropping, you’ll surely find them all in Anno Dracula.

I enjoyed Anno Dracula enormously. I can’t imagine why, considering I read it last summer, it’s taken me so long to decide to write a review of it. Perhaps it’s because I’m coming to the end of the second installment in what I understand to be a 4-part series, Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron, which again I am enthralled by. Kim Newman is one of the better vampire writers around at the moment, expanding on what’s already out there instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. He takes away the romanticism of vampires that the likes of Twilight have inflicted on us in recent years (don’t get me wrong, I still love, love, love Twilight!) and returns it to the raw, barbaric and terrifying condition it was to the Victorians when the myth was originally perpetrated. A fantastic read and recommended to anyone.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2013 8:29 pm

    I saw this in a bookshop recently just after I hadd finished Dracula and was really tempted by it! The way you’ve described it makes it sound really great so I think I will put it on my wishlist. 🙂 I havn’t read Camilla or Varney yet though so I think I would want to read them first.
    I hope you enjoy the rest of the books in the series!

    • foxinabox1988 permalink*
      February 25, 2013 8:41 pm

      I’d definitely recommend Carmilla – it’s a great story and not too long, but Varney is very, very long and written in really tiny font! I found it quite hard to get a copy, too. It’s normally attributed to James Malcolm Rymer but because it was published as a serial originally, who wrote it is sometimes a bit of a question mark and it occasionally appears published under other names. I’d try Amazon for a copy if you want to give it a go. I’ve never seen it in any bookshops. Having read them both didn’t really make my reading experience any better though; they’re just names that get dropped rather than pivotal characters. Dracula is the only essential background reading you need to have done to really really enjoy Anno Dracula.

      The second one is just as good – based on events at the end of the First World War. I’ve nearly finished so keep an eye on the blog for a review popping up soon! Thanks for reading 🙂

      • February 25, 2013 8:45 pm

        Thanks for the advice! The tiny font sounds really annoying, I read a copy of Jane Austen’s Emma last year (I think) and the writing was so small that it gave me a bit of a headache! I don’t know why they do that, it’s really annoying!

        Oooh good to hear! I love the book cover’s for these as well, all the cool fonts just draw me in. 🙂


  1. Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron – Kim Newman; A Review | Artsy Does It

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