Book Club

by Kim New­man, 1992 Au­thor Jonathan Green loves vis­it­ing a world where Drac­ula won

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Jonathan Green’s Alice’s Night­mare In Won­der­land – a dark steam­punk reimag­in­ing of Lewis Car­roll’s clas­sic chil­dren’s novel in which the reader de­cides the course of the ac­tion – is avail­able now from Snow­books.

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.

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