Today it’s one of my all time favourite books, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, first published in 1992 by Simon and Schuster. Alternative history with vampires!
In the world of Anno Dracula, Van Helsing lost and Dracula triumphed, killing Jonathan Harker and taking Mina Harker into his harem of vampire brides.
Uncontested, Dracula continues to spread his vampire virus across Europe and a class of undead vampires emerges. Then Count Dracula takes the ultimate bride, the widowed Queen Victoria and Britain is increasing dominated by vampires both socially and politically.
The relationship between the two groups is on a knife’s edge as the vampires gain more and more power, and many humans voluntarily choosing to ‘turn’ into the undead while the “warms” stand by, in resentment. And things get even more volatile when someone starts killing vampire prostitutes in Whitechapel.
Yes, that’s right – alternate history with vampires and Jack the Ripper.
The story mainly follows two main characters (although there are many viewpoints) – Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard.
Genevieve is a senior vampire, older than Dracula but she was turned as a young girl and is still in her original sixteen year old body. Genevieve works in a clinic in the East End helping sick and poor vampires and when a prostitute is murdered, Scotland Yard come to the clinic for advice.
Charles Beauregard is a “warm” detective with Scotland Yard, on the verge of getting married but his wedding plans are placed on hold after he is called to visit the mysterious Diogenes Club, a group which represents the crown in secret matters and Beauregard gets the assignment of identifying Jack the Ripper.
Beauregard and Genevieve get further into the mystery and meanwhile Beauregard’s social climbing fiancée is spending far too much time with the undead.
One of the fun things about this book is how it blends historic and other well known literary characters into the plot. For example when Genevieve and Beauregard appear at an inquest for the murder victim, other testimonies are heard from Lestrade of Scotland Yard (character from Sherlock Holmes universe) and Dr Jekyll. Other recognisable names are scattered throughout the book including Fu Manchu, Beatrix Potter and Oscar Wilde.
Anno Dracula explores history, politics, horror, mystery and a little romance within the confines of a gaslit, handsome cab style Victorian London. It’s a cleverly constructed homage to all the fun things about gothic horror without glossing over the dirty squalid truth of Victorian life.
I’m going to admit that I probably missed some or many of the historic and literary references but it didn’t matter. Even if you ignore the nods to the Victorian greats, the plot moves swiftly with all the power games, action and the crime to solve, it carried me all the way to the end with a big smile and a touch of sadness that I was leaving this world as I turned to the last page.
Anno Dracula is like it was written especially for me, with many of my favourite worlds in one place. Dracula and the undead combined with the buttoned down world of Victorian morals, frocks and horse drawn carriages with mysterious pea soup fogs and the eternal mystery of the Jack the Ripper.
Anno Dracula is the first in a series which follow Dracula into other historical periods – The Bloody Red Baron during WW1, Dracula Cha-cha-cha in 1950s La Dolce Vita style Rome and Johnny Alucard set in 1970s Manhattan. Although for me, Anno Dracula is by far the best.
So if you like gothic horror, vampires, Jack the Ripper, alternative history and the smug feeling you get when you recognise literary references, I heartily recommend Anno Dracula.
This book review first appeared as a part of Madeleine’s Speculative Fiction Review radio show on artdistrict-radio. You can listen to the podcasts here.
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