Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book Review: The Anno Dracula Series by Kim Newman

In 1992, author Kim Newman began a series called Anno Dracula. The story was about the world being slowly overtaken by vampires, lead by Dracula himself, and the series progressed through three books over the years. After well over a decade, Newman releases the fourth volume in the acclaimed series (as part of their series of rereleases of the previous titles) and they sent us the new book, Johnny Alucard to take a look at. Given the scope of the series, I figured it would be a good idea to take a look from the very start. So come along with us through 500 years of vampire alternate history beyond the jump...

Anno Dracula needs to be put in a little bit of context now that the series is 20 years old. The book is a story about vampires from back when vampires were still scary and didn't sparkle, when the literary landscape was really different - we were right along the lines of Ann Rice, Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, and so on. It's weird to read a book from 1992, to be honest, especially in a genre that I'm not so into, considering the current vampire trends.

The book is...interesting. I don't know if I liked it, to be honest. I liked a lot of parts - there's different callbacks to different stories, both fictional and historical, that are nice little notes. The scene where one of the characters turns is easily the best scene in the book. The rest...I don't know. The chapters are really short, the story a little long in the tooth, and things are all a little jumbled from time to time, but it wasn't bad. I just didn't love it. A lot of it had to do simply with the setting - it's a definite alternate history in the time when you place most historical Dracula stories, and it doesn't always work. A lot of times, it does, but on a whole, it felt hit-or-miss.

With Anno Dracula being more of an alternative history than it initially let on, the second book, The Bloody Red Baron, takes place in Europe during World War I. Where vampires are fighting in the war.


It sounds more hokey than it actually ends up being, and I actually enjoyed this one a lot more than the first one, although it did suffer from similar, although not as significant, flaws. The best parts, unsurprisingly, were the vampy parts as well as some of the dogfight scenes. I ultimately may have enjoyed this more because I have some interest in World War I on a whole, but there's some elements of danger and distress to go along with the history of the war with the vampire setting.

Dracula Cha Cha Cha, to get it out of the way, might be the worst title for a book I've ever encountered. It was so odd that other editions of it went with the title Judgement of Tears, which is a better title, but doesn't really capture the fun and attitude of the era the book takes place in.

The title makes sense in the story, as it's a reference to something somewhat specific regarding the vampires and their relationship to Dracula, but the book actually completes (to a point, apparently) the story started back in the first book, where Dracula Cha Cha Cha takes place close to Dracula's impending wedding in the 1950s. A lot of loose ends created throughout the story are tied, some new ones created, but it's a complete story for the first time.

I liked this one a lot more than the first two books, in part because of the plot being more cohesive, in part because I liked the setting more, but mostly because a lot of things actually happen in this book, an issue of sorts with the previous two. Part of it may be this book's age, which is only about 15 years out as opposed to the 20+. Part of it might just be that it's a better book. Part of it might even lend itself to the fact that an endpoint exists and the plot actually moves toward it. Could be any of those reasons, but, regardless, readers should feel rewarded for sticking with the series (even though it wasn't bad for most of it). It doesn't take away from the series, but the continued improvements mean a solid buildup to the surprise fourth entry, Johnny Alucard.

Consider me surprised that the latest Anno Dracula entry is the best of them so far, especially given that the previous title felt like a logical endpoint.

Johnny Alucard takes place in a much more modern time, where John Alucard is looking to produce a movie about Dracula and the lineage. This means cameos and scenes with Francis Ford Coppola, Andy Warhol, Orson Welles, tons of crazy Hollywood drama, and some interesting modern results of the hundreds of years of history that has come before it.

Given that there was quite some time between Dracula Cha Cha Cha and Johnny Alucard, there are some short stories in here that have come out between now and then which help fill in some gaps, but what's surprising is that it has a decidedly modern feel while not abandoning what made the initial books stand out. For such a long time span in between titles, I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't this, and that's a good thing.

What's weird about Johnny Alucard, however, is not so much that it exists or that the story feels modern and current, but that it's really the first time Newman explores what the vampire-led world is like. That sort of flavor was missing throughout the earlier tales, and comes along quite well here.

Overall, a nice addition to the Anno Dracula canon. Given how things had appeared to end, this is a much more welcome bonus than one might have initially thought. Boing Boing has a short piece from Newman and excerpt from Johnny Alucard, and you can get the Anno Dracula series from Titan Books.

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