Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman
September 19, 2008
Anno Dracula is a historical fantasy that starts with a simple premise. What if the story of Dracula had ended differently? What if the iconic count had defeated the small group of vampire hunters led by Van Helsing?
Count Dracula became the Prince Consort after marrying Queen Victoria, and vampirism spread through England. Some people wanted to be changed to advance their careers or preserve their youth, others were turned into vampires after being attacked. The story begins after these changes became an accepted part of life. When a brutal killer stalks the vampire prostitutes of Whitechapel, the simmering tensions between vampires and humans threaten to erupt. The authorities want the murderer found, and so do the top figures of the criminal underworld who resent the increased police presence on the streets. A powerful and mysterious gentleman’s club sends one of their own to investigate, and he joins up with a vampire best known for her charity work in the slums.
Their investigation takes them through a version of Victorian-era London where fictional characters mingle with historical figures. Florence Stoker’s parties are attended by both Oscar Wilde and Arthur Holmwood, and the outrageous Mr. Hyde’s activities are almost as feared as Jack the Ripper’s crimes. There are mentions of both legendary vampires and the pop culture kind, and thankfully they (just like the literary references) are handled well. It would be easy for all the name-dropping to come across as campy or dull, I’ve read plenty of books where that was the case. But the story moves along well enough that the references don’t overwhelm it or annoy me.
The vampires add a complicated layer to Victorian society, and there’s a lot of variety among them depending on their age, origin, and bloodline. The older ones aren’t all comfortable with the way that things have gone, and new-borns quickly learn that undead doesn’t always mean immortal. The class structure of the era still holds firm, becoming a vampire doesn’t necessarily help the status or income of the average Londoner. The remaining humans are afraid, but those who speak up too loudly tend to disappear.
This book is worth reading for the setting alone, though the rest of the book is also pretty damn good. There’s plenty of action, intrigue, politics, and just a touch of romance. It’s one of the most interesting things I’ve read in quite some time. Unfortunately, it’s out of print. But you should be able to pick up a copy at a local used book store with a decently-sized horror section, I usually run across a copy or two when I’m browsing at the ones nearby.