Carroll & Graf, 1998, 291 pages, C$35.50 hc, ISBN 0-786-70558-2
Kim Newman’s 1992 novel Anno Dracula was, in many respect, a remarkable book. A perfect fin-de-siècle novel, it summed up the vampire genre of horror by combining it to alternate history, along with a lot of fun and potent horror scenes. What if the Dracula of Bram Stoker had escaped his hunters and lived on to marry, through imperial connections, Queen Victoria? What if that ascendancy had pushed vampirism in the open, creating a worldwide rift between the dead and the living? What if our history had been altered by the presence of this new type of humanity? Any way you looked at it, Anno Dracula was a masterpiece, an instant classic and an all-around wonderful book.
Naturally, it had to spawn sequels. Even though, according to a recent interview with Newman, a fourth book in the series should be published before the end of 2001, The Bloody Red Baron and Judgment of Tears complete what is essentially a trilogy of books about Dracula and his human nemesis Charles Beauregard. No, it doesn’t end like you’d expect it to; the Anno Dracula series is too smart to allow that.
After Victorian England, The Bloody Red Baron takes us to the trenches of World War One, where vampires fight on both sides, but the German vampires are predictably far more evil that their Allied counterpart. Here, an older Beauregard asks a capable younger agent, Edwin Winthrop, to investigate mysterious happenings related to the enemy fighter pilots. Of course, it’ll end up being somewhat significant.
The Bloody Red Baron reuses all the elements that made the success of the first volume, and if the brilliant originality is lessened, the sequel is clearer, more exciting and definitely as compulsively entertaining. Like all great follow-ups, it allows us to revisit characters and find out what happened to them in the interval, whether they’ve weathered their years well or not. (In Newman’s all-inclusive theory of vampirism, this is crucial, as “newborns” don’t have a very good chance of outliving their natural lifespans.) The biggest problem of the book comes at the very end, when we are to envision an endless series of stories without resolution of the Dracula/Beauregard conflict.
That worry is definitely put to rest in Judgment of Tears, which skips over the obvious WW2 setting to settle in La Dolce Vita’s 1959 Rome. This time, we get a resolution to both Beauregard and Dracula, as well as a none-too-comfortable expansion of the supernatural mythos. Suddenly, vampires aren’t the only fantastical creatures around, and then the book stops, almost as if it had just realized that it might be opening up too much of an X-Files-sized can of glowing mutated worms to continue. Hey, even die-hard vampire-haters might find themselves cheering for these undeads this time around.
On the other hand, Judgement of Tears is even more fun to read, almost daring us to laugh despite dramatic moments. The density of famous cameos is impressive, from Patricia Higley’s Tom Ripley to Lovecraft’s Herbert West to an italian named Marcello. The presence of an English secret agent named Bond is excuse enough to include spy movie theatrics. All your favourite scenes are there save for the outrageous gambling: Seduction/Assassination, Car chase, even the visit to the villain’s lair. At the same time, yes, there’s important serious stuff… but not only that.
Anyone who loved Anno Dracula will like the two follow-ups. While they’re not as impressive as the first one, they’re very good sequels and should quench the thirst of anyone who wonders whatever happened to the characters of the first book. And, needless to say, the whole trilogy is so much smarter than most of the horror dreck currently on the stands that it would be nearly a crime to give them a pass. Great stuff.