Not a review of Anno Dracula

I read Anno Dracula when it first came out. It has since apparently acquired legendary status – something which slightly surprises me as I had assumed that the reason it had been out of print for so long was simply because it had been forgotten.

Anyway, if you don’t know, Anno Dracula is a counterfictional novel that explores what would have happened if, instead of being chased around Eastern Europe and eventually killed in Bram Stoker’s original novel, Count Dracula had actually won? Newman posits that Dracula’s intention was really to take over the British Empire – and the only way he could do that was to marry Queen Victoria. The book explores the consequences of this and how Dracula would have influenced late Victorian society – particularly when the vampires come out of the shadows and into mainstream society. And in telling his story, Newman features cameos from pretty much every fictional vampire and figure from Victorian literature you care to mention. It sounds a lot more cheesy than it is, due to Newman’s superb writing and sense of plot.

The reason I came across it was due to being around in the right time and the right place. You can draw a pretty straight line between me getting the Warlock of Firetop Mountain back in 1982, getting into roleplaying and Games Workshop hobbygames, buying Drachenfels (the Warhammer world-based novel from which Genevieve Dieudonne, one of Anno Dracula‘s main protagonists, originated) and getting Anno Dracula as soon as it came out. I suppose you could add the other following factors: I’d got into Vampire: the Masquerade; Copolla’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula had made Dracula particularly fashionable again; Sandman was starting grow exponentially in popularity – and I was aware that Newman and Gaiman were past collaborators. Essentially, I was the prime audience for this book.

This isn’t a review for the simple reason that I haven’t read it in 20 years. It is a testament to its quality however that I have repeatedly sought it out, only to be repelled by the huge prices it commands on the second hand market (I leant my original copy to a friend and never saw it again). It is also notable that Newman’s work was of sufficient quality that when I first read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the latter seemed a little old hat (to give Alan Moore his due, he’s since taken League off in an entirely different direction).

What I can tell you is that from last summer through to the new year, I ploughed through Kim Newman’s short story collections. I don’t really understand why I bought so many of these yet failed to read them until 12 months ago; I think I had a slightly irrational snootiness, believing that somehow Newman’s Derek Leech “world” was somehow inferior to his Anno Dracula “world” [1]. Suffice to say that it turns out I was utterly wrong. Not only did I read through all the books that I had but I scooped up his entire back catalogue and read all of them too. The main thing stopping myself from rereading Anno Dracula is that my next task is to read his other novels I haven’t read. Thus far, I’ve read two: Jago and Life’s Lottery, a truly awe-inspiring novel written in the style of a choose-your-own-adventure gamebook (which takes me all the way back to the Warlock of Firetop Mountain).

Anyway, despite having no intention of reading it again any time soon, I picked up the latest edition of Anno Dracula as soon as it came out, and it is a fantastic edition. As well as sporting an excellent cover, it has over 100 pages of “extras” including a list of annotations, an afterword, an alternate ending, extracts from Newman’s own adapted screenplay and the short story The Dead Travel Fast which serves as a prequel. According to the blurb at the back, the republication of the existing sequels, The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha Cha Cha, will be receiving a similar treatment (the promised bonus “novellas” sound exciting). And of course, we will finally be seeing the publication of the fourth book in the series, Johnny Alucard, which takes the story right up to the present day.

Of course, that depends on this republication not being a crashing disaster. Somehow I doubt it – the buzz online has been very positive and Titan have even invested in an advertising programme on the tube – but just in case, please do yourself and me a favour by picking up a copy.

[1] A short explanation for the terminally lost: not only does Newman have fun with the shared universe concept in Anno Dracula, but he has interlinked pretty much all of his own output over the past 20 years (and some before that). The Anno Dracula cycle of books constitute one “world” while world depicted in The Man from the Diogenes Club, Secret Files of the Diogenes Club and Mysteries of the Diogenes Club (along with most of his other short stories and novels) constitutes another. I’ve called this the “Derek Leech” world because, taken together, he is the main recurring villain in the cycle of stories.

Just to add to the confusion, the Diogenes Club – borrowed from the Sherlock Holmes books – is a major player in the Anno Dracula series. On top of that, Genevieve “exists” in both Anno Dracula and in Newman’s Warhammer stories (written as Jack Yeovil). With Eugene Byrne, Newman has written series of stories around a third world, in which the communist revolution happened in the US instead of Russia, the bulk of which can be found in Back in the USSR. For completeness’ sake I should also mention “Pitbull Brittan” – a short story about a rather idiosyncratic British superhero, which features at least one of Newman’s other recurring characters (not Pitbull himself, thankfully).

This promiscuity even extends to Newman’s Doctor Who novella, the main antagonist of which appears in Secret Files. And finally, the aforementioned Life’s Lottery takes the whole thing much further by telling a story across several different counterfactual worlds.

The result is a series of books which don’t only read well but provide plenty of grist for the geeky male brain and its tendency to want to catalogue everything. Perfect fodder, in other words, for me!

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