I’d heard about Anno Dracula for a long time before actually getting my hands on it. When I was in high school, one of the big genres I liked to read was alternate history. I worked my way through Harry Turtledove’s work up to that point (Guns of the South and Ruled Britannia were especially good), devoured Philip K. Dick’s masterwork The Man in the High Castle, and found one of my favourite short stories of all time in Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner’s “Mozart in Mirrorshades”. By far the best in my opinion was a novel by Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman called Back in the U.S.S.A., which chronicled the state of the world after America’s Communist revolution in 1917, where Eugene Debs takes the Lenin role while Al Capone is cast as the U.S.’s Stalin. In the back of that volume, I saw an ad for a book called Anno Dracula, which has only recently come back into print.
Anno Dracula is another work of alternate history from Newman, one that provides a lot of the same pleasures as Back in the U.S.S.A., where part of the fun was figuring out who was a real person and who was fictional. In the 1888 of the novel, Victorian England is in the throes of becoming a vampire-run state after the wedding of the Queen to Vlad Tepes, aka. Dracula, a couple of years earlier. As Prince Consort, Dracula has made vampirism fashionable amongst the upper classes, and the more physical advantages of increased longevity and strength have also filtered down to London’s poorest in an example of trickle-down necronomics.
Charles Beauregard, a still-“warm” spy working for an organization known as the Diogenes Club, is brought into an investigation into the murders of vampire prostitutes in Whitechapel by a maniac known only by the nom de guerre of Silver Knife. During the course of his investigation Beauregard meets Genevieve Dieudonne, a French vampire from a different bloodline than Dracula’s, who runs a halfway house/hospital for newly-turned vampires and joins forces with him to crack the case.
Much like the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, Anno Dracula is a rollercoaster ride through Victorian-era and Victorian-set genre fiction, although in this case primarily vampire fiction for obvious reasons. Unlike certain recent volumes of League (Black Dossier and Century: 2009 especially), I found Anno Dracula to be a coherent, engaging story and not just a list of knowing in-jokes waiting to be explained by footnotes.
I do feel, though, that I would have gotten more out of it had I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula recently, as many of the main characters are survivors of that book; hilariously in the AD universe Bram Stoker himself is declared an enemy of the state for his relationship with Abraham van Helsing, and is shipped off to a concentration camp. An extensive list of the book’s references can be found on its wiki page; I was especially pleased to have been right on the money with my guess regarding Blacula.
I enjoyed learning about the day-to-day workings of an England controlled by vampires in much the same way as I enjoyed the first part of the underrated film Daybreakers. It’s fun to see the restrictive Victorian mores and taboos opened up ever so slightly to accomodate feasting on blood, but still leaving things like handing your calling card to a footman, or gentlemen’s clubs where not a word is to be spoken. You can really tell that Newman has done his research, both into pretty much every vampire book and movie currently in existence, as well as general Victorian life.
The new printing of Anno Dracula comes complete with an extensive afterword, footnotes for the myriad references, an alternate ending, a short story set in the same world, and a snippet from a screenplay of the book. While a nice addition, I can’t say that any of these were really big selling features for me, but they might be of interest to those who read the original incarnation. I did really enjoy the short story, “Dead Travel Fast”, as it featured Dracula learning how to drive a car and that idea’s pretty damn adorable.
There’s three books that follow Anno Dracula in the series, and I’d like to pick them all up, starting with this world’s take on the First World War in The Bloody Red Baron. If you’re a fan of well-thought out vampire fiction and alternative history that respects the intelligence of the reader, I’d definitely recommend this book.