Khairul H.'s Reviews > Anno Dracula

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
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Aug 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: horror
Read from August 16 to 20, 2011

First published in 1992 and reissued in 2011 no doubt because of the interest in all things vampires nowadays, Anno Dracula takes place in a late-19th century Britain where Dracula was not killed at the end of Bram Stoker’s novel but instead wins his battle against Van Helsing and his cohorts of vampire killers. It is a Britain where vampires are the dominant class after Dracula marries the widowed Queen Victoria, in effect making himself Prince Consort. In this alternate world, those who wish to advance anywhere have to ‘turn’ and become vampires because Dracula made sure that all levers of power are in the hands of vampires. Anno Dracula however isn’t so much about Dracula. In fact he doesn’t make an appearance until the final chapter. Even the central plot about capturing the serial killer Jack the Ripper who goes around Whitechapel murdering vampire prostitutes is just a MacGuffin since his identity is conveniently revealed (to the readers at least) in the very first chapter. No, what I took from this book was the fun in spotting historical and fictional character references as if they all existed and interacted with each other. In Anno Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw have all been detained in a prison camp for refusing to obey to the new power structure in Britain. Oscar Wilde and Rupert of Hentzau chose to be vampires while Dr Jekyll and Dr Moreau are friends researching on vampire physiology. There are so many references given off hand that I know I’ve missed more than I’ve noticed. Although there are annotations at the back of the book where author Kim Newman points out some of the references, he only points out some. There are two pop culture references that I was surprised to find and thought it was clever of Newman to include them in his book. The first one is where one of the main characters, a female vampire, finds herself stalked by a Chinese vampire. This oriental vampire doesn’t walk or fly or turn into a bat but instead hops stiff legged towards his quarry and if you are even remotely interested in Chinese movies especially Mr Vampire, you would be familiar with the image of the pasty faced vampire in the long silk robe hopping into the night. The only way to stop them is to stick a piece of yellow paper inscribed with a prayer onto its forehead or to stop breathing to escape its detection. The hopping Chinese vampire is played for laughs in the movies but in Anno Dracula is actually a major threat and is later revealed to be some sort of a contract killer hired by someone to kill the female vampire. Yes, I’m serious.

The other one was when Charles Beauregard, a veteran secret agent tasked to capture Jack the Ripper, remarks that he’s thinking about running to Africa since there are no vampires there, his companion, the aforementioned female vampire, corrects him that not only are there vampires in Africa but Prince Mamuwalde is a respected vampire lord. From a storytelling standpoint, that casual remark reveals a lot of Beauregard and the skewed alternate world he lives in. That despite his reputation as an experienced secret agent he is quite ignorant of the world outside Britain (particularly Africa) and that Dracula has spread his influence just about everywhere. But what I found especially fun was that Prince Mamuwalde first appeared in the 1970s Blaxpoitation movie, Blacula.

That’s just awesome.

Anno Dracula, being the first book in a loose series of four so far, keeps a straight face while having fun mixing and mashing all these cultural references as if they all lived at the same time while telling a story about a secret agent trying to figure out who Jack the Ripper is in a vampire-controlled 19th century Britain. But is it any good? If you like to play the ‘spot the character’ game then yes. If you find it annoying then no. I do like reading literary mash-ups like this one so I love it. Love it to the point that I’m willing to ignore asking annoying questions like: how did vampires get to dominate Britain so quickly? Dracula made sure to populate Parliament, the police and the army with vampires, didn’t the human politicians, officers and soldiers resist in the beginning? Did they all bend over and turn vampire because the Queen married a vampire and became one herself? Seriously? You see, there is a flaw in Newman’s alternate world building and if you’re unwilling to ignore this flaw then all the pop culture references in the world would not make you enjoy Anno Dracula.

If, however, you’re willing to gloss over it and enjoy the story for what it is; a mixture of gothic horror and political intrigue, then you’ll absolutely love it. And have fun spotting all the names, historical and fictional.
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08/18/2011 page 188
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