Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

30 July, 2012

Anno Dracula

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

My summer reading post didn’t list all the books I aimed for this summer. I have a long list of books that sit in my shelves waiting for me, and one of these sneaked into the pile for this year: Anno Dracula by Kim Newman.

Anno Dracula is a pastiche which takes Bram Stoker’s Dracula as its starting point, and posits a world where Count Dracula’s plans in England succeeded. He has married Queen Victoria, placed his own people in all positions of power, has spread his vampiric bloodline far and wide in British society, and placed Van Helsing’s head on a spike outside Buckingham Palace.

In addition to Dracula, Newman draws on a wide variety of other works, as well as on history, placing it in the same sort of genre as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In addition to the Count we encounter characters like Lord Ruthven, Inspector Lestrade (now a vampire) and Dr. Jekyll. Sherlock Holmes does not make an appearance, he’s been imprisoned due to ideological differences with the new regime. Set in 1888, the novel focuses on the investigation into a series of grizzly murders, where poor vampire prostitutes are killed and mutilated by a figure known as Jack the Ripper. Several people, high and low, take an interest in the case, which speaks to the tensions between the vampires and the living in Dracula’s London, and could potentially spark open conflict.

There’s a lot to like in this book – almost all the ingredients seem tailor made to suit my tastes – so I am honestly a bit puzzled as to why I didn’t like it better than I did. Maybe the problem was that I never really connected with the central pair of original characters – the vampire Geneviève didn’t really feel as weighty as I think she was supposed to. Perhaps the parts I liked were carried more by the familiarity of the appropriated character rather than the strength of the narrative. Wow, that sounded harsh, I did after all like the book! Since the identity of the killer is known by the audience from the very first chapter, the murder investigation didn’t really grip me either. The conflict between vampire regime and general public kept being focused into the murders, however, and only at the very end did we get a few rushed pages of action on that front.

The world was very well crafted, stitching the various borrowed elements into a coherent and quite exciting whole. I do think it a bit unlikely that the title of Prince Consort would give Dracula enough authority to push through his sweeping changes so unopposed, leaving the resistance movement idle until the book gets going. Having Dracula in charge is pretty much a necessity for the story, but if there had been some mention of opposition beyond Van Helsing, I’d be better satisfied. I also wonder that vampirism should become so fashionable, especially since it seems to be common knowledge that Dracula’s bloodline is diseased. That’s minor quibbles, though, I was always turning the page wanting to know more about this world, and some of my dissatisfaction with the book stems from not getting to go as deeply into it as I desired.

I think perhaps my expectations were unrealistic going in – my edition had a really brilliant cover, and a ringing endorsement from Neil Gaiman printed on it twice. Combined with the fact that I loved the idea of the setting, I doubt any book could have lived up to what I imagined. I would still recommend it to anyone who found the cover blurb intriguing, though. It was a fine example of mash-up pastiche.


  1. I have a hard time seeing Sherlock Holmes letting himself get imprisoned (nor, indeed, his omniscient brother leaving him there to rot), but I suppose that’s just something I have to accept in the premise then.

    Do we ever see Mr. Hyde?

    Comment by Loki — 30 July, 2012 @ 18:05

  2. His omniscient brother is pretty busy keeping himself afloat in the power struggles of Dracula’s empire, but he does have a significant, if minor part in the book. Sherlock had to go because he’s just too competent, really, would make the story end too soon.

    We don’t see Hyde directly, but he is mentioned as the next big scandal catching London’s attention post-Ripper.

    Comment by Obdormio — 31 July, 2012 @ 23:21

  3. Heh. Fun. Is Newman setting up a sequel, or is this intended to stand alone, tall, fast and stalwart?

    Comment by Loki — 1 August, 2012 @ 10:21

  4. I believe there are three sequels so far (Anno Dracula‘s from 1992), the first one set in WWI. Don’t really plan on reading them.

    Comment by Obdormio — 1 August, 2012 @ 13:27

  5. I see. Well, what settles it, then, clearly you don’t like the book enough for me to make it a priority any year soon. :D

    Comment by Loki — 1 August, 2012 @ 15:27

  6. Neil Gaiman will endorse anything, man.

    By this, I don’t mean that if Gaiman says something is good it doesn’t automatically mean it isn’t. but that his endorsement of it needn’t necessarily mean it’s actually good.

    Comment by David — 23 August, 2012 @ 17:01

  7. Could you name examples? Because I agree that you can hardly buy _anything_ these days without a Gaiman blurb, foreword, recommendation, link, write-up or, I dunno, crayon-drawing telling you that you were smart to do so. I’m pretty sure he might have endorsed my bus card at this point. But I’ve not yet then been disappointed by whatever it was I read/saw/listened to/rubbed all over my body afterwards. At least I don’t think so.

    Comment by Loki Aesir — 23 August, 2012 @ 17:42

  8. I can’t really remember when last I read something endorsed by Gaiman and didn’t like it, but I have a suspicion that it has happened to me on several occasions.

    Besides, who knows if I mightn’t mention something and you’d say “oh no no, what are you talking about, that was a fantastic book!”.

    Comment by David — 24 August, 2012 @ 17:56

  9. Depressingly unlikely, keeping my puny reading pace of the past decade in mind.

    I’ve seen Gaiman recommendations on things and thought they were “okay but not great” (though as with you, many examples are not springing to mind. Dark Horse’s recent “Alabaster Wolves”, perhaps. That started out very promising, but got weird and convoluted very quickly), and on others where I thought they were absolutely fantastic, but perhaps a notch too intelligent for me (anything Gene Wolfe, really). But I’m pretty sure I’ve never been outright disappointed, hence my curiosity at your statement.

    Comment by Loki Aesir — 25 August, 2012 @ 11:31

  10. I usually don’t read books because of blurbs and never ever take blurbs seriously, my statement was really just meant to be kind of tongue-in-cheek about Gaiman-blurbs being on so many books.

    I just realized, the one writer I can remember reading on Gaiman’s recommendation is Roger Zelazny, who has become one of my all-time favorite authors, and is the writer of my favorite novel, Lord of Light, so I feel bad about what I said now.

    And I searched on google for “Neil Gaiman blurbs”, found this on Gaiman’s journal, and now I feel even worse:
    “I keep running into the problem of not knowing whether to say nice things about books here or not. Mostly I still do, because it’s fun to recommend books to people. But if I put something up here on the journal I tend to qualify statements, and write something like”If he’d paid more attention to details this would have been a perfect book. As it is, it’s only unmissable if you have nothing else to read. Still, the description of the Assassins Anonymous meeting is absolutely gripping and if the rest of the book were this good it would have been magnificent,” which publishers then leave out the qualifying bits of, and I find myself saying “a perfect book… unmissable… absolutely gripping and… magnificent!” on the back of someone’s book.”

    (but really, that quote just kind of exemplifies why I don’t take blurbs seriously, I just feel bad about blaming Gaiman for being on all those books)

    Comment by David — 26 August, 2012 @ 11:55

  11. I have to reply to my own bloody comment, as this web page doesn’t seem to allow the conversation to continue normally. Fie!

    Anyway, I do agree his blurbs are likely misused, as is likely the case with most blurbs from anyone, anywhere. He still is quoted on a LOT of stuff, though, and as I mentioned, he also tends to write a ridiculous amounts of forewords and prefaces for other people’s stuff. So you’re well within your rights to poke fun at it.

    I don’t think I, either, have ever checked out anything on his recommendation alone (I don’t think I’ve ever done that with anyone famous’ recommendation, save perhaps Joss Whedon’s foreword on “Identity Crisis”, but that was special circumstances as I was travelling and was quickly browsing for something to read), but I can list several instances in which it certainly didn’t hurt. “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell”, for instance, or the previously mentioned “Alabaster Wolves”, certainly took priority over other, otherwise equally interesting things, based on his word tipping the scales.

    Comment by Loki Aesir — 26 August, 2012 @ 14:19

  12. This web page only allows nesting comments in five levels, because there comes a point where the comment is just ridiculously narrow – and frankly, 5 is pushing it!

    Comment by Obdormio — 26 August, 2012 @ 14:26

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