In our day and age, when people say vampire the first thing that comes to mind is a sparkling, sulky young lad with bad hair and his pasty belle who can’t seem to realize that to become a better person, one needs to learn to stand on one’s own…
I say, for shame. For shame.
Back in the years when I grew up and fantasy was still a wonderfully exclusive genre which took up only one book case in the bookstore, vampires were mean and nasty and cunning. They were the night dwellers, the beings of fear. They were blood thirsty and they were brutal. They were real. And they didn’t sparkle.
They were a piece of what could be found in Kim Newman’s books.
Recently I’ve been given Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron to read. I dove into this series with a touch of hesitance as I have become quite sceptical of anything blood sucking in nature. And, at first, I had a feeling that I was going to waste my time. I didn’t know what was going on in the books, I didn’t understand the lore of it (though I soon picked up that these vampires didn’t make like disco balls when slipped into sunlight) and I struggled. I struggled with the characters, with the plot, with almost everything. Of course, this was at no fault of the author’s; it was of mine because I soon realized that this book was the second in a series.
I took a step back, did some research, found someone willing to lend me the first book and waited. Upon its arrival, (titled simply Anno Dracula) I started with the same hesitation that I reserved for the first book that I received. My hesitation soon gave way to excitement as I found everything that I had been missing in The Bloody Red Baron in this one.
These books are incredible. I’m to review the second book but I feel that I cannot do it justice by only touching on its story. In the years when the word twilight still had a connotation with nature and the world around us, British author Kim Newman recreated this history of the world that we know and live in, in the hands of Count Dracula. I love history, especially the Victorian era, and what I love even more is if an author manages to recreate it to serve his own plot and purposes in a way that’s believable. What I appreciate even more is when I can see the work and effort that an author put into his story. This becomes apparent very quickly in Newman’s books. He positions the readers in a place where they have all of the tools that they need in order to enjoy his world without dumping them with unnecessary facts. With these tools, he takes us on a walk through history in which vampires are slowly overrunning London and needing to find their place in society, where Count Dracula has married Queen Victoria and, as in the second book, World War One is not only fought by humans but by vampires as well.
Newman uses the first book as a way to initiate you into the lore of his world, of the vampires and how life for them is being shaped. In the second book, he assumes that you know all this and doesn’t waste any more time explaining what had already been covered in the first. This was the reason why I struggled so much to get into The Bloody Red Baron the first time I attempted to read it. It was like trying to study a map without understanding the keys.
Something else that might also leave readers in the dark is if they do not fully understand which characters Newman brings into the story as well. Mycroft Holmes, Jack the Ripper, some historical figures and even other characters borrowed from the public domain make cameo appearances and I can’t help but feel that the joke’s on the readers if they don’t know what Newman is referring to.
The Bloody Red Baron is not the last book in this series and we can look forward to two more books namely Anno Dracula: Dracula Cha Cha Cha and Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard. These are the kinds of books that I will go out of my way to acquire and keep on my shelf to read over, and over again. I love the author’s style, I appreciate the intelligence of his story and mind and love the fact that he reminded me that vampires were more than just sulky teenagers or sexual beings as they have been painted to be by the ‘popular genres’ that now make their way to our bookshelves.