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Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman

May 30, 2012

Imagine London, 1888. Imagine Jack the Ripper. Imagine the Diogenes Club, politics and societal upheaval. Now imagine all that with Dracula as the Prince Consort.


Thanks to Newman’s extensive knowledge of the vampire mythos, this books serves as a heady corrective to the vampires of True Blood and Twilight. Newman’s vampires are stronger than humans but can still be hurt by silver or sunlight. They are not immortal sex-pests (though there is a lot of that going on, this being set mostly in Victorian Whitechapel) and they do not sparkle. Newman goes to some length to explore the changes society might undergo if a sizeable number of the populace decided that they were bored of their reflection.

The plot revolves around the Jack the Ripper killings in the autumn of 1888. The murderer is Dr Jack Seward (It’s not a spoiler – It’s revealed in the prologue), part of van Helsing’s troupe from Stoker’s Dracula. In part continuation of van Helsing’s work, in part reparation for Lucy Westenra’s death, un-death and second death, he goes after Whitechapel vampire prostitutes with silver scalpel. The book follows several protagonists as they attempt to track him down.

These includes Charles Beauregard, a spy in the service of the Diogenes Club (the eminence grise); Genevieve Dieudonne, a centuries-old vampire in a youthful womanly body; and Arthur Holmwood, Lord Godalming, another character borrowed from Dracula, a recently-turned vampire in this book. Each have their own reasons for tracking down the Ripper. Around them, society reacts with horror and fascination to the murders, with the added friction that it puts on vampire-warm relations. One such reaction is Prince Consort Dracula’s imposition of martial law on the citizens of London. You can imagine how well that goes down.

In some ways, Anno Dracula is an elegantly constructed fanfiction. Three of the major players are taken straight from their exploits from a modified version of Dracula while other literary and real-life notables make their appearances. Inspector Lestrade leads the investigation on the Ripper and Mycroft Holmes is at home in the Diogenes Club. His irascible younger brother had been shipped off to a labour camp before the start of the book – Newman explained that this was a get-around. If Sherlock had been in London, he would have caught Jack the Ripper before teatime. Oscar Wilde and Florence Stoker (Wife to Bram) both appear in high-class gatherings with Beauregard and Godalming. As well as giving a minor thrill of spot-the-reference! all these characters blend together to give a most lively London.

The book paces well. Each chapter covers a different character, in their perspective. Sometimes, other protagonists appear in the background of the current character’s narrative incidentally. Truth be told, there isn’t a great deal of criss-crossing fate. But, like I said, it reads well. I wouldn’t quite call it unputdownable but I certainly devoured it in a handful of sittings.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel the plot is somewhat lacking. There’s a lot of movement, especially, to, from and around Whitechapel but not much in the way of cumulative revelations building on each other. Knowing the murderer from the outset doesn’t help – I’m left to sit and read as characters wonder who the Ripper is as Jack Seward walks past them. Apart from a bit of cat-and-mouse in the last few chapters, no-one seems to be trying at all. I guess this isn’t a detective novel.

The protagonists eventually work out the identity of the Ripper after recalling some exposition halfway through the book. Everything else, while interesting, doesn’t really seem to serve a purpose other than filler.

Anno Dracula paints a rich world of vampires and Victoriana. Rather than navigating through it in a complex and rewarding plot, Newman explores it via a series of tangentially related ‘A day in the life of…’ This is a good book, certainly what I was looking for, a strong bolt of good fiction. It’s just not the great book I feel it could have been.

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