Tuesday, April 10, 2012

All the Bloody Vampires, and All Their Bloody Stories

I am delighted that Titan Books is reissuing Kim Newman’s wonderful Anno Dracula novels. Anno Dracula manages to be wickedly smart, full of horror, and a delightful read. It was shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Vampire Novel of the Century Award, and if you haven’t read it, you really should.

You needn’t have read Anno Dracula to enjoy Anno Dracula 1918: The Bloody Red Baron. The Bloody Red Baron takes place thirty years after the events of the previous novel, in the thick of the blood and tragedy of World War I. One of the things that I most enjoy about these books is that Newman does such a terrific job creating a society full of vampires. These books are an alternate, fanged history, and he shows how personal interactions, pop culture, and even war would be changed by the vampiric presence, and he does so in a manner that adds to the story he is telling.

In this instance, the story is that of the aerial war. Newman’s vampires come from different bloodlines, and each bloodline has unique characteristics, much like human genetics do. Dracula’s bloodline carries with it the ability to shapeshift, and this ability is used to create biological weapons in aid of the German cause.

Because of the social change that the presence of vampires in society causes, most of the generals on both sides of the field are vampires themselves. War is made much more horrific when the people strategizing cannot be easily killed and those in the trenches are all too mortal. The division makes very clear that, as awful as he is, “Dracula was hardly Europe’s last monster.” Thankfully, Newman’s
wit and literary allusion (a section of annotations explaining these Easter eggs is part of the new material packaged in this edition) keep the darkness of the story from overwhelming. I recommend The Bloody Red Baron to any fan of traditional vampires.

But my favorite part of the book was in the new material. Included in this new edition is a brand new novella, Anno Dracula 1923: Vampire Romance. It is a delight, one worth reading just for the following: “Otterbourne’s Nitelite Saga novels had so much swooning Lydia wondered if the authoress was prone to fits. Her hero glittered like a Christmas tree and her heroine was unconscious for at least seven chapters in each book, even though she was supposed to be telling the story.” Gentle reader, I did actually laugh out loud.

Vampire Romance brings back Genevieve Dieudonné, the ancient French vampire who fought alongside Joan of Arc, and places her in an English country house for the weekend. Imagine if Downton Abbey met Dark Shadows as directed by Quentin Tarantino, and you’ll be close to the reading experience.