Anno Dracula

You know that old saying "never judge a book by its cover"? Well, I do it all the time. Hell, I judge people by the covers of the books they're reading. Sometimes, though, a publisher tries to cash in on a trend by slapping a misleading cover on a book and trying to draw in the wrong crowd. This phenomenon is certainly not limited to books - a while back there were reports of people walking out of Sweeney Todd in droves because the trailer never really made it clear that Johnny Depp was going to be singing all through it.

What I'm getting at is I've just finished what is possibly one of my all-time favorite horror novels and I very nearly left it in the 2 for $1 bin at a used bookstore because the cover made it look like something I wouldn't want to read. The book is "Anno Dracula" by Kim Newman, who is actually best known as a horror-loving film critic for UK-based Empire Magazine and as the author of "Nightmare Movies", one of the first serious studies of the horror genre. In the book store I thought I recognized the name from somewhere and when I found Terry Pratchett's "The Colour of Magic" in the bin as well I figured it was worth a shot even if the 'white gloves, blood and rose' cover art did make it look like it would be about tortured poet-vampires making love and playing in a goth band in an attempt to fill the dark cavern in their hearts.

"The Colour of Magic" ended up being my least favorite Discworld book but "Anno Dracula" was worth the whole dollar and then some. It takes place in an alternate Victorian London where Van Helsing and his band of fearless vampire killers failed and Dracula took England by storm, eventually marrying Queen Victoria and becoming the Prince Consort. As a result, vampires aren't just out in the open, but vampirism has become the latest fad. The book features cameos from just about every famous vampire from the old school (Lord Ruthven from the original vampire novel, Polidori's "The Vampyre") to the new school (Martin Cuda from Romero's "Martin" and Barlow from "Salem's Lot"). There's even a Chinese hopping vampire!

Much like Alan Moore's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (which "Anno Dracula" predates by a few years), you can play 'spot the reference' throughout the book. Dr. Jeckyll, Fu Manchu, and Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft all make an appearance (it's implied that Sherlock was impaled on one of the many pikes that ol' Vlad had put up around Buckingham Palace). Even chapter titles like "Dawn of the Dead" and "Mr. Vampire" (Parts I and II, no less) reveal Newman as a horror movie fan.

The story revolves around Dr. Jack Sewell, one of the two surviving vampire slayers from "Dracula" (the other, Arthur Holmwood, has since attempted to climb the social ladder by becoming a vampire himself). Sewell is so wracked with regret and grief that he couldn't save Lucy and stop Dracula that he has begun taking his frustrations out by killing vampire prostitutes in the seedy districts of London. At first he is called Silver Knife after his preferred weapon but soon the media comes up with a new name for him - Jack the Ripper.

The book is the first in a series of three (so far). The sequel "The Bloody Red Baron" is set during WWI and the third part, "Dracula Cha Cha Cha", follows a secret agent called Bond in 1959. According to Newman's website, there are also a number of short stories set in the "Anno Dracula" universe, including the interesting sounding "Coppola's Dracula" which is about Francis Ford Coppola filming a trouble-ridden take on Dracula in the 70s starring Marlon Brando as Dracula and Martin Sheen as Jonathan Harker (sound familiar?). I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but the whole story is available online here.

I'm surprised enough that as a lifetime reader of horror novels somehow I've never heard of these books, but to add insult to the book's poor (and presumably failed) marketing plan which was apparently aimed at Anne Rice fans, "Anno Dracula" isn't even in print anymore. Check your local used books stores and library and maybe you'll get lucky. "Anno Dracula" is a fantastic book that deserves a wider audience. In the right hands it also could be a pretty spectacular movie...

John Shelton

Writer/Podcast Host/Professor

Born and raised in the back of a video store, Shelton went beyond the hills and crossed the seven seas as BGH's foreign correspondent before settling into a tenure hosting Sophisticult Cinema. He enjoys the finer things in life, including but not limited to breakfast tacos, vintage paperbacks and retired racing greyhounds.