The year is 1888 and Queen Victoria has abandoned her widow's weeds and remarried, taking as Prince Consort Vlad Tepes, also known as Count Dracula. London is filled with vampires and the ravens are rumoured to have left the tower as Dracula has his political enemies impaled in the streets or sent to concentration camps. A killer known as Silver Knife stalks the streets, murdering vampire prostitutes. It is up to Charles Beauregard, a spy of the Diogenes Club, and his associate Genevieve Dieudonne, a centuries old vampire who still looks sixteen, to solve the mystery and attempt to restore the Empire to its former glory.
First published in 1992, Anno Dracula, is part alternate history and part fan fiction. It contains scenes from Bram Stoker's Dracula which head off in a new direction from the way things turned out in Stoker's book. For example, in Newman's version, a confrontation with the count leads to Dracula turning Mina Harker into a vampire (which ties in nicely with her role in another alternate version of the story, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). The book is a Who's Who of the inhabitants of Victorian England, both historical and fictional, including as characters or mentioning in passing Doctor Henry Jekyll, Doctor Moreau, Sherlock Holmes, his brother Mycroft and nemesis Professor Moriarty, Bill Sikes (from Oliver Twist), Bram and Florence Stoker, Varney (Varney the Vampire), Carmilla (Le Fanu's Carmilla), Count Orlok (Nosferatu), Lestat de Lioncourt (Interview with a Vampire), Frederick Abberline (the chief inspector of the London Metropolitan Police and the protagonist of Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore's graphic novel From Hell) and of course, Jack the Ripper. You don't have to have to know a lot about the period, or have read all the books these characters come from to enjoy Anno Dracula, but the book wouldn't be nearly as much fun to read without at least a passing familiarity with a few of them, especially Dracula.
The parts of the story centred on the killer were horribly misogynist, but I suppose that's to be expected in a story featuring the Ripper murders. Newman doesn't dwell too much on the gory details, and the murders aren't really the main focus of the novel. The plot has more to do with political disagreements between the “warm” and the undead and various factions in government and criminal organisations. There is also the question of whether vampires are inherently evil or as capable of moral or immoral actions as a living human. These vampires are not the modern, sparkly variety. There is real horror to be found here, both in the shape shifting, blood sucking fiends and the base acts that desperately poor or insane humans are driven to. The older vampires are truly supernatural and at times almost unrecognisable as former humans.The Chinese hopping vampire assassin who hunts Genevieve is particularly creepy.
Anno Dracula is the first of a series of novels, including The Bloody Red Baron and Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard. Newman has also written series of novels about Genevieve under the name Jack Yeovil. It's a ripping yarn (no pun intended) which should make fans of vampire stories, alternate histories or Victorian fiction very happy.
Price: $8.10 in paperback from The Book Depository, though being an older title you could get it second hand.
Available From: Titan Books