Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
Published in 1992; novel published in 2011
Genre: Fantasy, historical fiction
“Dr Seward’s Diary (kept in phonograph)
Last night’s delivery was easier than the others.”
So begins the diary entry of a methodical killer. Taking place three years after the events of Dracula, by Bram Stoker, Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula takes the premise of its predecessor and asks the question, “what if Van Helsing had failed and Dracula was able to go through with his plans for England?” Filled with Victorian intrigue, vicious vampire fights, and a mystery begging to be solved, Anno Dracula blends fiction with the real.
Anno Dracula takes place in a world where Van Helsing failed to kill the eponymous vampire and, due to this, Victorian England has now come under the immortal’s control. He has begun turning people and vampires now roam the streets, often in either high stations or low places. He has become the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria and uses this power to make England a nation for vampires. While the undead and the “warm” mingle, one man has begun targeting newborn vampire prostitutes and viciously murdering them, earning the name “Silver Knife” because of the metallic implement that vampires are allergic to. These ghastly murders attract the attentions of many parties; Lord Ruthven, the vampiric Prime Minister, Scotland yard, and the mysterious Diogenes Club all send in their chosen proxies to stop the murders.
The story primarily follows five characters: Dr. Seward, Arthur “Lord Godalming” Holmwood, Captain Kostaki, Geneviève Dieudonné, and Charles Beauregard; the first two of whom are characters from the original Dracula who survived in this world despite being there when Van Helsing attempted to kill Dracula. Dr. Seward is the hunted killer (believe me, it isn’t a spoiler), taking out his revenge on women vampires with a silver scalpel. He mostly works in a sick ward with Geneviève; a vampire elder who is older than Dracula and very powerful. Charles works as an agent of the Diogenes Club, a shadow government organization that purports to serve the Queen in all things, and is trying to get over the death of his wife by marrying a young woman named Penelope. He is friends with Lord Godalming; a social rising vampire who has no qualms about following his desires. Godalming is being groomed by Lord Ruthven, and his paths intersect with Captain Kostaki of Dracula’s elite Carpathian Guard.
Anno Dracula contains a veritable who’s who of fictional and real characters of the era Just a few that are easy to spot include Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft, Bram Stoker, Dr. Jekyll (his brutish alter ego makes an appearance as well), Oscar Wilde, Basil Howard (the painter from The Picture of Dorian Gray), and Elizabeth Bathory. These characters and more are thrust into now vampire-filled Victorian England.
The new world order in London has created fresh social strata – there are vampires and those who have not been turned. Since Prince Dracula is in power, most powerful officials and socialites are vampires who work toward ensuring that any and all advancement will go to those who have turned. Humans are now considered lower class in a world of emerging immortals, though not all of the undead are created equal. New vampires, called newborns, are the lowest in this hierarchy since they are outclassed by vampire elders (those who have lived a century or longer). It is important to note that Dracula is not the original vampire in this story, and his bloodline has all sorts of peculiar quirks.
Anno Dracula’s short chapters that switch viewpoints between the five main characters helps to build the pace of the novel and slowly builds connections between each story until the final confrontation at the end. Newman’s writing is evocative of the literature of the time (with a little more cursing thrown in near the finish) and creates a compelling murder mystery that is refreshing in its use of vampires. Though some typical attributes and weaknesses of the creatures of the night are present, they are used to great effect in the story itself rather than being items on a list that need to be checked off because of the genre. Though there are sequels to this novel, I believe it to be the best entry in the series because of how fresh its references and use of English literature are in creating an interesting narrative.
Verdict: 3 thorough descriptions of sensual blood letting out of 5
Recommended for: Vampire enthusiasts, those who enjoy literary and historical scavenger hunts focusing on 19th Century England, people who like the “I understood that reference” Captain America meme, and fans of 19th century English literature.
Not recommended for: Hemophiliacs, people who dislike vampires, Jack Seward, Arthur Hastings, those who are afraid of silver, people who don’t like getting literary and historical references, or people who dislike 19th Century English literature.