Review: Anno Dracula, and thoughts on Vampires, generally

I'm not hugely into vampire novels generally.  I think there is a lot of potential in a character, generally a villain, who is inhumanly strong and powerful but also maintains a wide swath of vulnerability.  That combination of power teetering on deep insecurity is compelling whether it is found in Dracula or Regina George. The need to feed off the lives of others to survive also has potentially interesting implications.  Does this make vampires automatically evil, or tend them to become so due to cognitive dissonance (often dependent on whether or not the author allows them to survive on other animals, or how much blood they actually need)?  Are the changes from human to vampire strictly physical or is the a spiritual aspect (a la Buffy where becoming a vampires involves losing their souls and becoming part-demon)? Also immortality, as a character trait, has a lot of potential. What do they do with their infinite years?  Does it ever get boring, and why do we so often assume it would?*  In the right hands, and with solid world-building these characteristics make vampires pretty potentially interesting characters, but for whatever reason, it doesn't seem like you run across that very often.  I don't think I need to go into Twilight and all the wrongness, but suffice it to say, you can have a basically invulnerable villain and have a good story (although it kind of defeats the purpose of vampires if you ask me), but having a basically invulnerable protagonist is thunderingly boring (and of all the things you could do with immortality, going to high school over and over again? really?).

That meandering intro is just to say, despite not being a big vampire fan, I really enjoyed Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. The basic premise is that instead of being killed at the end of Dracula, Dracula escapes and meets and woos an older widowed Queen Victoria, becoming the Prince Consort and re-making London as a vampire paradise.  I have a pretty major soft spot for well done alternate history so I went in inclined to like this book. Caveat aside, it is really well done.  The characters are all intriguing, and in fact there are many I would have liked to know more about, and the world building is really solid.  One of the greatest challenges for a writer seeking to lay out a whole mythology (what are vampires? how does one become such? how do they survive? what is their moral/spiritual orientation? what are their weaknesses) is how to avoid being really pedantic about it, such as by having the narrator or any character just explain it all.  Authors often use novices or ignorant characters, such as in Harry Potter, where Harry was raised in the muggle world and had to have everything about magic explained, but that can get pretty pedantic too if you aren't careful.  The world of Anno Dracula is filled with vampires, so some of the main characters are vampires, become vampires over the course of the story (in a pretty nice bit of showing not telling, actually), or are friends/rivals/acquittance with such and there is plenty of opportunity for natural observations, with little straight out explanation necessary and easily worked into small chunks throughout the novel.  Anno Dracula is also deeply morally complex and interesting.  While vampires don't need to kill to survive, only to take what seems to be pretty trivial amounts of blood, there are beginning to be some, shall we say, supply and demand issues as the vampire population begins to rival that of the living.  That fact really complexifies the morality of vampire hunters, you know.  No worries though, Dracula himself is still a monster.  I am completely against reforming Dracula as a Byronic hero.  Dude was called "The Impaler" in life, so I don't see how a transformation to a creature that feeds on the life of others would be an improvement.  You can do it, but it's going to take a lot of justification before I am willing to go along with it.

Now, some of you may be thinking "okay, so it has technically good writing, but is it interesting and fun to read?"  Technically good writing is its own justification!  *ahem* Yes, yes it is. [possible spoilers ahead]  The main thrust of the novel is in the re-framing of Jack the Ripper as a vampire hunter, with an agent of the Diogenes Club and a pretty awesome lady Elder vampire (who is always careful to emphasize her utter lack of blood relation to Dracula) acting as detectives.  There is plenty of Victorian name-dropping, side references, and such to amuse the history buff, and the ending is just fantastic and surprising in ways I refuse to even allude to.

*On a sidenote, my favorite fictional immortal is Hob Galdling from Sandman who finds the world just so constantly intriguing that he continues to love living in it (even if Renn Faires make him cranky)


Post a Comment