Newman’s Anno Dracula rocks. The premise is pretty simple — what would the world be like if Dracula conquered England? Vampires across the world would be forced out of hiding as the Prince of Wallachia conquered the hearts and minds of the English Empire. (ETA: I should’ve typed “British” there. :P) Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Moreau’s unhealthy fixation on the potential of the human body would seem cutting edge. Dr. Moriarty would have an eternity to contemplate math after Holmes was ushered off to a prison camp for living humans (“warms”) resistant to Dracula’s rule.
Several things made this a fun read. I’ll highlight three.
First — Dr. Seward (who, you might remember, was one of the party working against Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel) is slowly going insane. He’s secretly killing vampire women. The prostitutes he meets at the clinic he volunteers at are particularly vulnerable. What I especially liked about this is that Newman is very clear that this isn’t an act of resistance against the new regime. Seward is committed gendered acts of terrorism against female vampires — his crimes are sexualized and predatory. Even though the work of this Silver Knife becomes part of the anti-vampire movement, it’s not because he’s a good person, or has a political agenda. He selected his targets because they are vulnerable, and he hurts them because he can, and it’s satisfying for him.
Second — Genevieve is awesome. At first I was a bit annoyed that she’s a character the author has used before in his Warhammer series, but she soon won me over. She’s the oldest vampire in the joint, and is a dynamic, charming, useful, and believable female character. I love that she’s engaged in charity work, and I love that she emerges as a compassionate, generous humanitarian struggling to maintain that in the face of her great age and the mounting madness in the world around her.
Third — Penny, Penny, Penny. Okay, so the plot of this novel is that Silver Knife (Dr. Seward) is cutting up prostitutes in Whitechapel (sound familiar?). Charles Beauregard (who is like an early James Bond) has been commissioned by the Diogenes Club to find the killer and stop him/her. He’s also engaged to Penny, his dead wife’s cousin. Penny is very aware that she’s pretty much her cousin’s replacement. She’s also been trained by society to ignore that, and to be a carefully crafted upper-class lady, who laughs when she’s supposed to. She’s got a will of steel, though, and while she’s not the nicest character ever, she’s incredibly believable. When she turns into a vampire, it’s amazing. It’s a total return to the subversive power of vampires — she doesn’t sparkle, she doesn’t inspire weird cryptic lust, and she doesn’t pine. Instead, this chick puts on some dang PANTS and sucks the blood of CHILDREN because guess what? When you’re a vampire and you have money, it doesn’t matter if you’re a society lady. You are a rich child of darkness, and you have the power to HURT SOMEONE if they look at you funny. It’s a nice reiteration of the theme Seward’s murder began — you can tell the hierarchy of a society based on who is able to cause hurt and who is hurt. Penny, bless her evil, rich, power-hungry heart, now knows she is able to cause hurt.