by Kim Newman, 1992 Author Jonathan Green loves visiting a world where Dracula won
Jonathan green on Anno Dracula by kim newman.
In the early 1990s, Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula introduced me to a reimagined Victorian London, peopled with vampires, and a host of possibilities. The novel’s premise is both simple and brilliantly imaginative. Newman asks the question that all writers of speculative fiction ask – “What if…?” – but in the context of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Rather than being defeated by Van Helsing and his vampire hunters, Count Dracula escapes, and eventually marries the Widow of Windsor. With a vampire ruling beside Queen Victoria as Prince Consort, a host of undead emerge into the light, as it were, luxuriating in their new social status.
However, in 1888, the world’s most infamous serial killer stalks the streets, murdering vampire prostitutes. It is during the hunt for this “Jack the Ripper” that Charles Beauregard and Geneviève Dieudonné find themselves embroiled in a plot to rid England of Dracula’s malign influence, and we become mesmerised by the book’s involved and fast-moving, action-packed plot.
While echoing elements of Dracula, the book is also a veritable Usborne Spotter’s Guide of famous, and not-so-famous, vampires. We meet every kind of grave-leech, from Lord Ruthven (one of the first vampires to appear in English literature) through to the Chiang-Shih (or “Hopping Ghosts”) of Chinese mythology.
Just as many real historical figures also feature – including Inspector Abberline, Elizabeth Báthory, Billy the Kid, John Merrick, and Bram Stoker himself – some having been given a vampiric makeover. In fact, the only significant characters in the novel that are solely Newman’s invention are the vampire Geneviève Dieudonné (who first appeared in the Warhammer novel Drachenfels) and the non-vampire Charles Beauregard, although the latter is an agent of Mycroft Holmes’s beloved Diogenes Club.
And this is where the novel’s power and influence really lie – not in reinventing the vampire bloodline of horror fiction, but in bringing metafiction to the fore as a literary device. This is the reason I cite Anno Dracula as an influence upon the creation of my own Pax Britannia steampunk universe; it introduced me to the concept of a metafictional universe, with a story that shared characters from a host of different sources, both real and imagined.
Some consider Anno Dracula to be a steampunk novel, a supposition that both Newman and myself contest. But despite not being of the steampunk genre itself, the novel’s influence on many alternate histories – many of them steam-powered – cannot be ignored.
As well as being a work of postmodernist horror, Anno Dracula can be described as a recursive fantasy. Certainly, having previously only been exposed to horror through James Herbert and Stephen King, it was a revelation to me of what a horror novel could be.
The book spawned a glut of sequels, which inserted Dracula and his descendants into other historical settings, with Newman populating the books with all manner of real historical figures as well as famous fictional ones. But for me, none of them were quite able to recreate the thrills of Anno Dracula. It is definitely a novel worth sinking your teeth into, and drinking deeply of its heady mix of action-adventure, political intrigue and, of course, vampires.