Friday, 27 July 2012

Stories and Storytellers #1

As a novelist who finds it rather frustrating that most people’s definition of “artist” begins and ends with visual arts, I’ve decided to attempt to bring some literary treats to your attention. I'll try to make this a semi-regular thing, kind of a mixture of reviews, recommendations and ramblings about why I love certain authors or books. So, without further ado, I bring you…

The Anno Dracula series, by Kim Newman.

A series of horror/pop culture stories, comprising three novels (a fourth, Johnny Alucard, is due to be published this year and will be set in the 1980s) and several short stories set at various points in history. I'll stick to the novels here, which are:

Anno Dracula (1888)

The Bloody Red Baron (WWI)
Dracula Cha-cha-cha (1959)

What’s the story:

The Anno Dracula series starts the questions "what if Van Helsing and his comrades had failed to stop Dracula in Bram Stoker’s seminal novel?" Kim Newman’s answer is that the Count (who is also presented as being the same person as Prince Vlad Țepeș of Walachia, also known as Vlad The Impaler and one of the primary models for Stoker’s character) would have integrated himself into the British nobility and eventually married Queen Victoria, ruling the British Empire as a tyrant.

Just to bring even more fun to proceedings, Newman doesn’t stop with Dracula. Every literary and cinematic vampire that can feasibly be used in the period settings is present, but he goes even further than that and also incorporates countless numbers of fictional and historical figures. There are fairly complete lists of these characters here , but for now let’s just say there are lots.

The Author:

I'll get this out of the way quickly: Kim Newman is a bit of a hero of mine. Not only has he written these three wildly imaginative and inventive books, but he’s also one of the few film critics out there that I genuinely believe loves films, and is capable of enjoying them for their own merits (see his monthly Movie Dungeon section in Empire magazine if you want to see what I mean). On top of it all, he dresses like a Victorian dandy on a daily basis.
Kim Newman: Dandy

Why you should read them:

For a start off, they’re generally brilliant. On top of all the vampire/horror/pop-culture/alternate history fun, the first and third books are excellent mystery stories while the second is an absolutely top-drawer World War I adventure story.

The sheer scale of the novels, in terms of their inclusion of characters both fictional and historical, is really quite staggering. Some are only fleeting mentions, such as Prince Mamuwalde (A.K.A. Blacula), some only referred to by description, while others, like Lord Ruthven (from John William Polidori’s The Vamprye, the first recognisable literary vampire) play major roles. The most admirable thing about Newman’s use of such characters is the degree of respect he treats them with. Few, if any, are included for the sake of having yet another recognisable character, and all of them retain their key characteristics even if they have been altered in the Anno Dracula universe (Kent Allard’s appearance in The Bloody Red Baron is a particular treat).

It goes without saying that I think Kim Newman’s writing is absolutely first-class, but a couple of highlights for me include the ancient mist-vampire in The Bloody Red Baron and the relationship between Inspector MacKenzie  (from The Amatuer Cracksman) and the vampire Kostaki (from The Pale Lady) in Anno Dracula is far better than most buddy-cop movies can come up with.

Newman’s most enduring and prominent characters throughout the series are more or less his own creations (Charles Beauregard and Geneviève Dieudonné are, while Kate Reed was in one of Bram Stoker’s very early drafts of Dracula but not included in the novel) and definitely hold their own against a host of better-known names, and in Beauregard he manages to create that rare thing: a character who’s flawed enough to still be very human but selfless and honourable enough to be a genuine hero. I'll leave the (almost) last words to Mr. Newman, describing Beauregard:

“…he wasn’t a Boy’s Own Paper goodfellow, no muscular Christian hero, but a man who tried always to do the right thing even when there were no right things to do.”

I told you he was good.

So read the Anno Dracula series, even if it’s just to play spot-the-character.

1 comment:

~T~ said...

Been reading your blog for a long time now. Keep up the great work! These books look awesome and I look forward to reading and play spot the character something similar I have played around with for an RPG I am working on.