Nottingham, October 31st 2009.
It is with heavy heart and light hand that I lay down this novel and attempt to compose my thoughts on this latest story of the great Un-dead, Dracula. Knowing the precious hours spent reading cannot return fills me with a sense of longing for innocence. Yet what has been read cannot be unread. What permits me to set this book aside lightly, rather than hurling it with great force as Dorothy Parker suggests is that it has not been penned by Dan Brown. That I fear would be a burden beyond endurance but it perhaps is an expectation of fidelity and pedigree that make this horror seem less than it is.
Stoker's great-grandnephew Dacre has with the help of Ian Holt, elucidated events twenty-five years after in what is described as the 'official' sequel to the novel and the return of vampires to London. Yet there is no respect for those characters, the literary style that Bram Stoker used or geography (Carfax Abbey being in Purfleet, near London not Whitby). It reads like a modern re-imagining with vampires with entirely black eyes who have forgotten their mesmering stares, whose mouths fill with fangs and who become reptilian brutes in the mode of the movie Van Helsing.
The essential nobility of the survivors is destroyed by ensnaring them in vices and despair. Almost nothing of the original people survives, fast friendships eroded and frayed, familial and marital bonds now bitter burdens resentfully born by all involved. Mina Harker is transformed from the resolute muse of her band to vacillating, guilt-ridden ingenue. Jonathan Harker is a controlling sot trying to numb Mina's love for Dracula with visits to prostitutes, Arthur Holmwood is bitter and loveless with a death wish and Van Helsing palsied and helpless while posturing before Dracula's portrait. Surely they deserve better.
And it appears talent skips a generation. Quincey Harker has grown into a wilful trust fund baby obsessed with acting rather than inheriting a lawyer's practice and resentful of family secrets. Bram Stoker himself plays a part in this book and historical figures take a bow as do with knowing nods to actors who have played Dracula in cameo. The pall cast by Jack the Ripper offers red herring relief from the bloody massacre of those who killed Dracula. Or did they? For it appears a vampire is stalking the night and killing again.
Inevitable comparisons, particularly to Kim Newman's Anno Dracula and Fred Saberhagen's Dracula series will be made and I fear this book does not come out favourably. Another sequel seems certain and a movie treatment almost inevitable. My heart is filled with foreboding as a result, the book indeed elaborates on the backstory of characters yet falls victim to tropes pervading modern horror including a token lesbian scene and casual violence. It attempts to explain the inexplicable, renders consistent the mystery that hangs around the undead and in doing so fails to honour the mythos of the original.
Those who fancy a vampire story are welcome to try Dracula The Un-Dead - it achieves it's goals with some finesse. If you're expecting a story faithful to the original then be tolerant of the creative liberties taken herein. For a book that prides itself on provenance and pedigree, it is ironic the story takes a divergent approach from the original. The story is good and well-constructed using modern sensibilities and if it were not touting itself as an official sequel would stand on it's merits. Yet the book makes a big play of it's provenance and it's lack of faithfulness to the original is jarring.
Score: Three stakes (out of five). Some nice interplay between characters but while the homework is done in some areas, it surprisingly lacks in others and the heroes of the first tale are almost beyond recognition.
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