One of the great delights of being a bibliophile is the discovery that a long out of print book is returning to the shelves. Another is the news that the next volume in a long running series is finally appearing. So then you can imagine my joy in discovering that at long last Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula saga is finally being reissued and furthermore the long awaited Johnny Alucard is going to hit the book stores. And fans of this remarkable series, as well as obsessive collectors of books, will doubtless also be thrilled that the new editions not only are being reissued in matching formats but contain new material too.
Now as long-time readers of my scribblings will know, I am a huge fan of Mr Newman’s works and I written before on how I consider him to be as a great unrecognised master of fantastic fiction, and the fact that his Anno Dracula saga has been out of print for so long is one of the great crimes of the publishing industry. Especially considering that in recent years the shelves have been veritably groaning with countless other vampiric series, none which take the undead to the literary heights of Mr Newman’s saga.
Grown from a short tale Red Reign in The Mammoth Book of Vampires (ed. Stephen Jones, 1991), Anno Dracula (first published in 1992) and its following tomes are a series of sequels to Stoker’s classic novel. Now there have been many such continuations of the Dracula’s adventures; most obviously the Universal and Hammer cycles, Marvel Comics’ Tomb of Dracula and even a follow-up from one of Stoker’s descendants (Dracula - The Un-dead by Dacre Stoker).
But all these countless sequels have the Count returning from the grave after his defeat as laid down by Stoker. Anno Dracula however takes a different and original tack. The books are an in-depth exploration of a deceptively simple question – what would have happened if Van Helsing and the rest of the fearless vampire hunters had failed at the climax of Dracula?
Now we all know that Dracula is part of the gothic tradition, but Stoker’s novel also belongs to a subgenre of ‘Britain invaded’ stories that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. And with this in mind, Newman takes Dracula’s reasons for moving to England to their logical conclusion: having defeated Van Helsing and his band of vampire slayers formed from Lucy Westenra’s ex-suitors, the Count turns his attention to bigger targets – vampirising Queen Victoria, becoming her consort and effectively taking control of the British Empire...
And in addition, as the ruler of the largest empire in the world is openly a member of the undead, all the other vampires have come out of hiding and a brave new world is established where vampires and ‘the warm’ jostle for positions in the new society. Hence Lord Ruthven, the Byronic monster from Polidori’s The Vampyre is now the Prime Minister, while Varney the Vampire from the noted penny dreadful A Feast of Blood is in charge of the Raj, and this novel abounds countless other fictional vamps; from the hopping horror of Mr Vampire to the eponymous Martin from Romero’s classic. Nearly every bloodsucker you can think of gets a mention at some point, although Counts Duckula and Chocula are understandably absent. And those who don't get a mention here, appear in later volumes.
Similarly the book teems with a multitude of historical personages and fictional characters; it’s a veritable who’s who of Victoriana. Hence in this alternate world, Scotland Yard may call on the services of both Fred Abberline, who headed the Jack the Ripper investigation in our history, and Inspector Lestrade, who Sherlock Holmes so frequently annoyed.
However it’s not all having fun with other peoples’ creations and the history books, as the novel actually centres on a trio of new characters. Firstly we have Kate Reed, a young reporter, who originally was a character in an early draft of Stoker’s Dracula but was cut from the final version. Then there is Genevieve Dieudonne, an elder vampire who has learnt that vampirism all too often shortens life rather bestowing immortality, and is consequently dismayed by the new regime and the fresh breed of undead it spawns. Finally we have Charles Beauregard, gentlemen adventurer in the employ of the mysterious Diogenes Club, a shadowy agency of the British government that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle alluded to in The Greek Interpreter.
This triumvirate are the lynchpins of the series and continue to occupy leading roles in the following instalments of the Anno Dracula saga (and Beauregard and Genevieve also reappear in several of Mr Newman’s other alternate continuums, such as the Diogenes Club series and the Jack Yeovil Warhammer books, which future articles in this series will tackle).
So while the myriad of references are great fun for the well-read reader, those who don’t possess an encyclopaedic knowledge have three excellent guides to this world, who present differing views of the great changes the reign of Dracula is bringing to Victorian England. For as well as exploring the fates of the lead characters from Stoker’s novel, we discover the radical restructuring of society that the emergence of the vampires brings. And this is nothing as simple as the usual undead dystopia where the undead are farming humans; Newman presents a far better thought out and more realistic scenario where vampirism is sending shockwaves through the political, legal and social structures of the day, in many respects having an effect not dissimilar to the new technologies that were driving the Empire’s expansion at the time.
But as well as setting up a vividly realised and immaculately imagined alternate world, there is a thumping great story at its heart. In this universe Saucy Jack has become Silver Knife, and his slayings of assorted vampire ladies of the night is not only plunging London in terror but escalating tensions between ordinary humanity (the warm) and the new social class, the undead...
It's a grand gothic adventure takes us from the opium dens of Limehouse, and the rookeries of the East End to the well mannered rooms of respectable gentlemen’s clubs and the corridors of power, with horror, thrills and intrigue a plenty along the way.
The new edition, aside from providing a chance for new readers to discover this wonderful saga and for old hands to replace their tattered copies, contains a pleasing amount of extras. There’s annotations, an afterword, alternate scenes, excerpts from an unmade screen adaptation, an article on the connections between Jack the Ripper and Dracula in fiction, and a related short story The Dead Travel Fast, all of which clocks in at an impressive hundred and nineteen extra pages!
1995 saw the first sequel appear, The Bloody Red Baron. However rather than taking the lazy route and just wheel out more Victorian vampirism, Mr Newman moves the time line forward to the First World War for the second instalment in the Anno Dracula series. And needless to say, it’s also jam-packed with assorted cameos from the fiction and history of the period, with Edgar Allan Poe taking a lead role in the proceedings.
However it is also a very fine novel about the Great War, which if anything is bloodier and more protracted with the involvement of vampires on both sides. The world built in the first tome is admirably expanded and again here vampirism can be seen a metaphor; for both the technological advances that changed the face of warfare and the ruthless inhumanity that directs such progress at any cost.
You can read the first chapter here
Taking its UK title from this forgotten European Sixties hit, the third volume Dracula Cha Cha Cha, aka The Judgement of Tears: Anno Dracula 1959 in the USA (1998) sees the action moving to Rome. And naturally in such as a setting, we have numerous references to Italian cinema; with nods to Fellini while the Crimson Executioner stalks the streets, and an appearance from the Mother of Tears which not only appeared before Argento’s but is far superior. But also this being the dawn of the Swinging ‘60s, there is a certain suave secret agent on Dracula’s case too…
Probably the most underrated of the series, it is perhaps the most intriguing as now the world of Anno Dracula continuum has come to terms with the existences of vampires. And just as at the close of the '50s in our own universe we saw society beginning to sweep away the long lingering effects of the Victorian Age, so too in this world where the warm and the undead now co-exist, there is a growing friction between the old and new as society is increasingly shaped fashion, fads and consumer luxuries rather than the turn of the century blueprints of our forebears. It’s a far more personally focused book in many respects, focusing on the lives of individuals and how changing times affect us all.
The long awaited Johnny Alucard will see the Anno Dracula saga reaching the last years of the twentieth century and possibly may be the last book in the series, although I suspect this alternative world is simply too intriguing for Kim to let go of any time soon and a further volume detailing the early 21st century may well be on the cards. A section of this forthcoming tome has already made it to print as Andy Warhol’s Dracula in 1999, but considering the length of time the novel has taken to reach us, this section may well appear in a radically different form in the final complete edition.
However in the meantime, you can read the following tales which may (or may not) turn up in the final text in various online libraries...
Overall, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. They are all cracking tales that also work on a multiple of levels; and the combination of literary depth and highly entertaining narratives mean that they repay numerous re-readings. Not only a must for any self respecting vampire fan but also for all who love intelligent fiction.
For all you collectors out there, here are the details of the various editions of the saga...
UK = Simon & Schuster 1992 (hardback), Pocket Books 1993 (paperback)
US = Carroll & Graf 1993 (hardback), Avon 1994 (paperback)
Resissued by Titan with additional material in 2011
The Bloody Red Baron
USA = Carroll & Graf 1995 (hardback), Avon 1997 (paperback)
UK = Simon & Schuster 1996 (hardback), Pocket Books 1997 (paperback)
To be reissued by Titan with additional materials in 2012
Dracula Cha Cha Cha aka The Judgement of Tears: Anno Dracula 1959
US = Carrol & Graf 1998 (hardback), Avon 1999 (paperback)
UK = Simon & Schuster 2000 (hardback), Pocket Books 2001 (paperback)
To be resissued by Titan with additional materials (date to be announced at time of writing)
To be published by Titan (date to be announced at time of writing)
Andy Warhol’s Dracula
PS Publishing 1999 (hardback)
Reprinted in Binary 2 Millennium Books 2002 (paperback)