By Kim Newman.
Anno Dracula is based on what might’ve happened if Dracula had defeated Van Helsing and his merry band, and had then turned Queen Victoria into a vampire. In this world, some people prefer to remain human (or “warm” as they’re called) while others, typically social climbers, are keen to become vampires. The vampires themselves are split between the elders such as Dracula and his bodyguards, and the newborns. At the same time, being a vampire doesn’t always convey fame and fortune, and a lot of vampires live in grinding poverty. In additional, those vampires who are descended (so to speak) from Dracula can have various birth defects.
The action centres around the activities of Jack the Ripper, who specifically targets new-born vampires. The killer is John Seward (one of the characters from Dracula), who was unhinged by the death of Lucy Westenra. (No, this isn’t a spoiler because Seward is revealed to be the Ripper very early on.)
Charles Beauregard is employed by the shadowy Diogenes Club to investigate the murders. During the course of his investigation, he falls in with Genèvieve Dieudonné, an elder vampire who even predates Dracula himself.
Their investigation reveals the killer, and enables Beauregard to enter the presence of the bloated Dracula himself, the intention of the Diogenes Club being to bring him down, though not in the way the reader might predict.
The book is essentially another take on the League of Gentlemen and similar tales. The cast isn’t entirely a mixture of characters of fictional and real historical people, but it is a who’s-who of certain sorts of Victorian literature.
While I like the underlying idea, I generally wasn’t much interested in the Seward chapters, and there were episodes in the story (e.g. Genèvieve being pursued by the Chinese vampire assassin) which seemed to serve no real purpose. The episode with Lily, the little girl who has been turned and dies trying to shape shift, is never resolved. Genèvieve may promise to track down the vampire who is responsible, but nothing happens.
The language is also repetitious. Where “warm” (i.e., human) might’ve added to the colour by being used now and then, it got too much airtime; and “newborn” was the same, being overused without any explanation as to when a newborn vampire might become an “adolescent”. Newman did have Lord Godalming take the next steps in his development, but the rest of the newborns seemed to be a a bunch of idiots, constantly getting caught out in the sun.
The ending was somewhat abrupt. When Beauregard uncovered who the Ripper was, it seemed there was a substantial amount of book left, but the visit to Buckingham Palace, and the confrontation with Dracula were relatively brief things, which were somewhat glibly cleared up, still leaving quite a lot of book.
The remainder, which could be safely ignored, was Newman explaining various references, listing the copious number of people who had read the manuscript, a short story, and an article he wrote for a magazine. He seems to be rather keen on explaining himself, but ought to start a Facebook group to cover this material for the fans. The appendices didn’t really add anything to the experience.
I liked the conceit that John Seward had gone stark raving mad and was Jack the Ripper, but the real reason for Beauregard to solve the crime and gain admittance to Buckingham Palace was less satisfying. The Diogenes Club, which was allegedly some powerful secret organisation, seemed to be quite widely known, and yet remained apparently immune to the attentions of Dracula.
Anno Dracula is not a bad story, but the style sometimes irks.