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I just finished reading Kim Newman's Anno Dracula, which was an unfortunate affair. It purports to be an exploration of "what if Dracula won (and married Queen Victoria)?", but the author is more interested in exploring a rote human-vampire love story between his two undistinguished leads than he is in exploring what a slow spread of vampirism would mean in this unique setting. He has no respect for the original cast, who're all dramatically OoC here: Quincey is a dumb hick, Art a cowardly, collaborating fop, and Seward's voice doesn't remotely follow from that of the books, not even allowing for the aggrieved state in which he is here.

As has been pointed out earlier in the comm, one of the book's big problems is its cavalcade of cameos from other works. Newman wants this to be not only a Dracula book but also a Professor Moriarty book and a Dr. Fu Manchu book and an Everyone Who Ever Appeared in a Novel Set or Written in the Victorian Era book. It's not only wearying and distracting, but Newman doesn't do anything with these folks once they pop up - he's interested in references, not characters. The other issue is that the author thinks he's being really, really freaking clever - so clever that we might not understand how clever he's being without help, and so he includes really ridiculously obvious signposts as to their identities way past any need for them. At one point, for instance, Dr. Moreau appears (performing a vivisection with Dr. Jekyll). "'Man is inherently a brute,'" Moreau says, and the narration then takes note of his "hairy fists." OK, fine, he's the Moreau from The Island of, I think we got that already. But wait - then Moreau, talking of vampires, expounds on how the "'shapeshifters'" are "'an atavism...the first footfall on the path of regression to savagery.'" OK, OK, "atavism," shapeshifting, "savagery," it's the vivisectionist Moreau, we got it, thanks--"'Why,' [Moreau said,] 'we would...raise lesser beasts to human form.'" OK, OK, IT'S THAT MOREAU. SHUT UP ALREADY.

Other problems:

- The big mystery that's stymying Mycroft Holmes, Prof. Moriarty, *and* Dr. Fu Manchu (and therefore needs the hero's unique talents, you see) is ridiculously simple to solve, and anyone who takes as long as our own investigators to notice the vital clue needs to hand in his or her metaphorical badge. (Sherlock Holmes is indisposed, having been shuttled off to a prison camp for political malcontents with Bram Stoker.)

- I say that the cameo appearances have no purpose, but Newman brings on some characters (Lestat, for instance) solely to insult them and point out their alleged inferiority to his original creations. That's a really bald steal from the Mary Sue playbook and perhaps the biggest sign that Newman needed his cameo addiction reigned in.

- The book is ridiculously campy in its allegedly mature treatment of sexuality. Dr. Seward: "'Now I can find it in myself to feel sorry for the Art of those days, worried sick over his worthless girl, made as big a fool as I by the Light of the West, who would submit by night to the Beast from the East.'" So, did the Beast from the East win by pinfall, or was Lucy "The Light of the West" Westenra counted out? I hope Drac snapped into a Slim Jim after his big victory.
(I also hope everyone cut a promo with Mean Gene Okerlund beforehand.)

- Every homosexual character is a sniveling, predatory fop (or, in the lone female case, a mannish, overly-solicitous false friend). The book's portrait of Oscar Wilde is pretty bad.

- Speaking of noxious stereotypes: Did Newman realize, particularly in the final chapters, how much he was playing into the unsavory miscegenation theme that runs throughout the original Dracula, the atavistic Eastern Bloc ape running roughshod over the fair English by defiling its chief woman, with only the pureblood noble Frenchwoman who "has no equal" able to gainsay his rule? It seems that Newman's playing into a clear Hierarchy of White Culture.
(Also: the thoroughly incompetent light in which the book casts Queen Victoria and the fate it holds for her struck me as really disrespectful, even at over a century removed from her death.)

The book had a good premise but made abysmal use of it. I would've rather read a book about Sherlock Holmes breaking out of that vampire concentration camp, actually.


( 4 pithy comments — Say something pithy! )
Mar. 4th, 2012 03:48 am (UTC)
Great review. I've had this on my TBR pile for three years now. I haven't had the faintest desire to read it since it was purchased, but still I lug it from one apartment to the next. We'll see how this goes.

Thanks for the reminder!
Mar. 4th, 2012 11:26 am (UTC)
Thank you for the kind words!
Mar. 4th, 2012 02:33 pm (UTC)
Wow. I haven't read this book yet but this is a really good review if only for your passionate dislike for the subject. Everywhere else I look people are raving about Anno Dracula and I bought it mainly because of it's inclusion in so many "Have-to-read-vampire-books" lists and that it had been nominated for vampire novel of the century, however the homophobia is really disappointing as is the idea of excessive cameos. I'll keep this in mind when I do get around to reading it!

Edited at 2012-03-04 02:33 pm (UTC)
Mar. 5th, 2012 04:59 am (UTC)
I think folks might be wowed by the concept and overlooking the execution. There's a lot of chatter about vampirism eating alive the lower classes (left to their own defenses, they're ignorant of how to conduct themselves and end up getting killed by sunlight/bad shapeshifts/etc. easily; they have problems getting blood) and (of course) famous figures are invoked in the debate, but the whole social situation and issue of Dracula ruling Victorian Britain ultimately goes nowhere but a few impalings on Cleveland St. and some off-the-shelf 1984-style lawmaking at the end.

Regarding the homosexuality, to give Newman the benefit of the doubt, it seems like he might have just included a number of incidents that were questionable but somewhat overlookable taken by themselves but paint an ugly picture in the aggregate; he just neglected to step back and look at the larger picture, I think (though he does pretty plainly find Wilde skeevy). There's no excuse for the endless cameos, though.
( 4 pithy comments — Say something pithy! )



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