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Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron – Kim Newman; A Review

March 8, 2013

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It’s no secret that I’m a fan of vampire literature, and that I loved Kim Newman’s first Anno Dracula novel. You can check out my review here. I couldn’t wait to get my teeth stuck into the much anticipated sequel, Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron to see what plans Newman had in store for Count Dracula and those who dare to go up against him.

To set the scene, The Bloody Red Baron takes place in 1918, at the end of the First World War. Since expelling Dracula from England in the 1880s, Charles Beauregard has risen to be a member of the Ruling Cabal of the mysterious government agency and gentlemen’s club, the Diogenes Club. Dracula, on the other hand, popped off to Germany, found a way in with the Kaiser and became Graf von Dracula, commander-in-chief of the armies of the Austro-Hungarian and German empires. Vampires are part of armies on both sides of the war, with weapons contrived to inflict mortal damage not only on the living, but the undead, too. Immortality never looked so short-lived. Caught up in the conflict, Charles Beauregard must go up against Dracula again, this time with his protege Edwin Winthrop and with the occasional help/interference of intrepid vampire journalist Kate Reed (who featured in the first novel, too). However, to get to Dracula, they must first discover the secrets surrounding the Chateau de Malinbois and Baron von Richthofen; the Bloody Red Baron himself.

Like Anno Dracula, The Bloody Red Baron is impeccably researched, featuring a wealth of characters taken from the period. Edgar Allan Poe (or, as he insists on being, just Edgar Poe in the novel) features as a writer famous for pieces he wrote before turning vampire, and keenly feeling how his creativity has been sapped since turning. Albert Ball, the celebrated war pilot who was tragically killed when his plane was downed in 1917 features too, as a vampire who, because he turned, was able to survive that accident, although he seems to have some physical difficulties. Baron von Richthofen, too, was a real, accomplished German pilot during the War. Newman also pays great attention to the flying machines of the day, such as the “Harry Tate” RE8 aircraft. The man’s capacity for minutae and constructing a completely plausible alternative history seriously knows no bounds and is incomprehensibly impressive.

Plot-wise, although still a dazzling novel, The Bloody Red Baron lacks something next to the first Anno Dracula, perhaps simply because, being a sequel, the concept isn’t new any more. However, there’s far more exploration of the vampire condition, from the healing properties of vampire blood through to the variations of bloodline and the exploration of sort of selective breeding, encouraging certain qualities and skills available to vampirism through blood in much the same way as farmers try to breed in and out certain qualities in livestock. I won’t spoil the ending by saying how it goes, but, it’s predictable and leaves the series open to further sequels. For as long as Newman allows Dracula to slink off disgraced, the series can continue.

What is a little gem in this volume, though, is the inclusion of the novella Vampire Romance, set in 1923 and featuring as main character Genevieve, who is conspicuously absent from The Bloody Red Baron. In Vampire Romance, Newman spins a classic murder mystery – a group of elder vampires are gathered at a gloomy English country house, trapped in by the weather, to discuss matters of vampire ruling hierarchy and elect a new leader. Being older than even Dracula, Genevieve is included as one of the elite vampires included in the meeting. Gradually, members of the group begin to be killed, with the murders attributed to notorious political criminal, The Crook. How did he get in, with the roads to the house made impassable by the weather? Or, if he was in already, how did he escape? Or, could he be one of the group? The ending to the novella calls again upon Newman’s extraordinary knowledge of history and he spins a masterful yarn here that isn’t always present in The Bloody Red Baron.

Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series is completely addictive. It’s so easy to get lost in his alternate world and forget that vampires don’t really exist. Aside from everything else, the inclusion of Vampire Romance fills beautifully a pretty wide gap between The Bloody Red Baron and the next installment in the Anno Dracula saga, Dracula Cha Cha Cha, which is set in the 1950s. I’m just about to crack into it, and it surely can’t be long until I’ll be back here reviewing that.

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