What would happen if Van Helsing and his friends failed? What would happen if Dracula not only succeeds in surviving the attempt on his life, but takes over England by marrying Queen Victoria?
This is the premise behind the book, it’s Van Helsing that ends up dead, his head on a spike and Count Dracula now rules as Prince Consort, leaving no reason for vampires to remain in the shadows. In fact it soon becomes the height of fashion to become a vampire, with society dividing along the lines of Vampire and Warm (not vampire). The vampire elite rise rapidly taking the status positions, but society doesn’t change that much – the slums are overflowing as usual but now added to the mix are the un-dead poor, trying to eke out an existence on a diet of pigs blood, or by pimping themselves in exchange for a quick bite. With the vampire gene now in ascendency and the warm either dying or choosing to become vampires (which is the same thing), you’d be safe in thinking all was well for vampire-kind, but there’s an individual stalking them – Jack the Ripper aka The Silver Knife, is prowling the streets of Whitechapel, murdering vampire prostitutes with a silver scalpel. Into this tale steps our hero, Charles Beauregard (non-vampire) agent of the secret & yet infamous Diogenes Club, who have given him the task of tracking down the killer, whose name we, the reader, know from the beginning as Doctor John Seward, best friends with Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood (all three propose to Lucy Westenra the same day). He is also the administrator of an insane asylum not far from Count Dracula’s first English home, in the original Dracula (Bram Stoker) in fact it’s Seward who calls in Abraham Van Helsing. We also have the beautiful Geneviève Dieudonné who remains looking as she did at sixteen, although she’s an elder of the vampire world at around four and a half centuries of living(?). All of this book is played out against the backdrop of a grimy, dirty, Victorian London, a London immersed in the thickest peasouper (fog), overseen by a bloodthirsty ruler. Here’s a couple of segments from Doctor John Seward/Jack’s diary for the date the17th September….
“Last night's delivery was easier than the others. Much easier than last week's. Perhaps, with practice and patience, everything becomes easier. If never easy. Never ... easy.
I am sorry: it is difficult to maintain an orderly mind and this marvellous apparatus is unforgiving. I cannot ink over hasty words or tear loose a spoiled page. The cylinder revolves, the needle etches, and my ramblings are graven for all time in merciless wax. Marvellous apparatuses, like miracle cures, are beset with unpredictable side-effects. In the twentieth century, new means of setting down human thought may precipitate an avalanche of worthless digression. Brevis esse laboro,* as Horace would have it. I know how to present a case history. This will be of interest to posterity. For now, I work in camera and secrete the cylinders with what remain of my earlier accounts. As the situation stands, my life and liberty would be endangered were these journals exposed to the public ear. One day, I should wish my motives and methods made known and clear.”
““'I have some mistletoe,' the dead girl said, detaching a sprig from her bodice. She held it above her.
'A kiss?' she asked. 'Just a penny for a kiss.'
'It is early for Christmas.'
'There's always time for a kiss.'
She shook her sprig, berries jiggling like silent bells. I placed a cold kiss on her red-black lips and took out my knife, holding it under my coat. I felt the blade's keenness through my glove. Her cheek was cool against my face.
I learned from last week's in Hanbury Street - Chapman, the newspapers say her name was, Annie or Anne - to do the business swiftly and precisely. Throat. Heart. Tripes. Then get the head off. That finishes the things. Clean silver and a clean conscience. Van Helsing, blinkered by folklore and symbolism, spoke always of the heart, but any of the major organs will do. The kidneys are easiest to reach.””
Anno Dracula, was first published in 1992 by British writer Kim Newman (my copy published May 2011), and is an alternate history fiction, set in a 19th century England that differs from our version of reality and yet still uses settings and personalities from that period, along with characters from popular fiction. In fact half the fun of this book is finding these individuals, whether they existed or were fictitious, for example;
Bram Stoker (author of Dracula) is in a concentration camp for revealing censored material, as is Sherlock Holmes, who fell foul of the gov’t, due to differing opinions, as is Lewis Carroll. Oscar Wilde’s in it, though skating on thin ice, obviously Dracula, Van Helsing and most of the original characters. Beatrice Potter (not the writer of Peter Rabbit) but the one from the Fabian Socialist movement, William LeQueux, John Reid (from the Lone Ranger), Inspector Lestrade (A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle), Ivan Dragamilloff (The Assassination Bureau Ltd., Jack London), Annie Besant, Sergeant Dravot (The Man Who Would Be King, Rudyard Kipling), Basil Hallward (The Picture of Dorian Gray,Oscar Wilde)W. S. Gilbert, Henry Wilcox (Howards End, E.M Forster),Orson Welles, Catherine II of Russia, George Bernard Shaw, etc. In fact for a more comprehensive idea of the range of the characters check here.
This is the first in a series of books depicting an alternate history, all featuring characters both historical & fictional of the period. The metafictional style was inspired by the Wold Newton Universe of Philip José Farmer. Neil Gaiman helped develop the series (and was originally going to be its co-author): Neil Gaiman is also the reason I read this book, to be honest I found this in my favourite Charity Bookshop*, whilst looking for some books for my daughter, because Gaiman’s name takes prominence on this book it was placed in the same area as the rest of his work. I saw the reviews and purchased it, and although it proved unsuitable for a ten year old, I loved it, romped through it, like one of its blood-crazed characters, here’s a couple of the reasons for original decision to buy it.
“A marvellous marriage of political satire, Gothic horror and Alternative History. Not to be missed” The Independent
“A tour de force which succeeds brilliantly” The Times
“A Brilliantly witty Parallel-World saga… Builds sure-footedly to a bravura climax which entirely redefines Victorian values” Daily Telegraph
*Brevis esse laboro - Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio; sectantem levia. Nervi deficiunt animique.When I try to be brief, I become obscure. Aiming at smoothness, I fail in force and fire. From Ars Poetica, by Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) who was instructing writers that it may be difficult to achieve brevity without sacrificing clarity.
* Oxfam Charity Bookshop, Canterbury UK.