Saturday, February 11, 2017

What If Dracula Had Ruled England?

Alternate histories have become a staple of the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Authors like Harry Turtledove, Eric Flint & Orson Scott Card have penned successful series based on “what if” versions of United States & European history. One of the more entertaining & unique examples of this type of fiction are Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula novels, originally published during the 1990s, and now back in print thanks to the folks at Titan Books. The first book in the series, Anno Dracula (1992), takes place after the conclusion of Bram Stoker’s original tale; in this version, Van Helsing fails to defeat Dracula; the Count marries the widowed Queen Victoria, and becomes Prince Consort of The British Empire. A large number of vampires infiltrate British society, and take over the government. England now belongs to the undead. In Newman's world, many humans willingly allow themselves to be “turned” and become vampires to attain wealth or elevated social status. 

A mysterious killer is targeting vampire prostitutes, and it’s up to Charles Beauregard (a human agent of the mysterious Diogenes Club) and the vampire Geneviéve Dieudonné, to track down the killer and stop him. As the murders continue, anti-vampire sentiment rises; riots and public confrontations cause emotions to run high throughout England. Our heroes have both allies & enemies, many of whom have their own secrets and hidden agendas. Can this killer, dubbed “Jack The Ripper” be discovered and captured? Will the repercussions of these murders cause Dracula to lose the control he’s gained over England. Is there a plot to destroy him, and end the vampire's control over England?

Part of the fun in reading Newman’s engaging, deftly written & well-researched stories is that, in addition to his own original creations, he populates his saga with characters from a host of other fictional universes. It’s a kind of “mega-crossover.” Fans of fantastic fiction will enjoy appearances by and references to heroes & villains from many other books, comics and films, including Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Professor Moriarty, and Dr. Moreau. There are also real life historical personages appearing in the series, such as Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Billy the Kid and John Merrick, better known as The Elephant Man. You’ll find yourself going back over the pages to spot the famous or infamous characters you might have missed; was that The Lone Ranger who just wandered by? Did Newman just insert The Invisible Man, Fu Manchu & Sherlock Holmes into the story?

The series continued in 1995 with The Bloody Red Baron, a very different spin on the exploits of the famed air ace. In that book, Dracula sides with the Kaiser during World War I, and tries to help Germany defeat England. The third entry in the series, Dracula Cha Cha Cha (1998) moves the action to Rome in the late 1950s, as a large cast of characters gather for the Count’s latest wedding. One of the guests is an undead secret agent named Bond, and you'll notice that Barnabas Collins, Tarzan and even Michael Corleone show up for the festivities. The fourth book in the saga, 2013’s Johnny Alucard, features Martin Sheen, Andy Warhol, Orson Welles and Francis Ford Coppola, who’s working on his epic film adaptation of Dracula, that's set to star Marlon Brando. There are also appearances by or allusions to pop culture icons like Jim Rockford, Columbo & Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

All of the titles in the series feature appendixes, additional material and notes from the author as “extras,” which detail the various books & films he’s referenced during these "metafiction" adventures. There will be a new entry in the series featured in Newman's upcoming short story collection, Anno Dracula 1899 & Other Stories. The prolific author has also written additional stories about The Diogenes Club, and a volume of tales about Professor Moriarty entitled The Hound of The D’Urbervilles. If you’re a fan of books like Philip Jose Farmer’s Newton-Wold stories, Alan Moore’s graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or TV series such as Penny Dreadful, the Anno Dracula series is recommended reading.

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