Book Review: Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard

Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard

Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard - Credit: Archant

The long-awaited fourth book in the critically acclaimed Anno Dracula series

By Kim Newman

(Titan Books)

FOR a long, long time it seemed as though Johnny Alucard would join the legions of great unfinished novels like Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger and Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, with the obvious distinction being that the author was still alive. Yet, this fourth instalment in the alternative vampire history has been gestating for the best part of a decade.

The premise of the Anno Dracula series is a simple one, yet remarkably effective. Instead of being thwarted in his attempt to establish a foothold in Victoiran England, Count Dracula goes on to marry Queen Victoria, bring vampirism into mainstream society, and in subsequent novels go on to play a decisive role in the course of the 20th century, influencing a host of other factual and fictional characters along the way.

This fourth book brings the cycle almost full circle, spanning a period which largely takes place between 1976 and 1991, and traverses locations as far afield as London, Transylvania, New York and Hollywood. It features the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and Andy Warhol, and even more so than previous instalments, shows how vampires have immersed themselves in pop culture.

With the focus largely on America, Newman is able to cast an eye over the celebrity culture which developed there, introduces a new drug which confers vampire powers on its users, and also the association of vampirism with capitalism.

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Some of the material featured here has been seen before, but Newman ties the old and the new together with a flourish, showing a degree of inspiration which was not as evident in the other two sequels, and returning to the idea of Dracula as an allegory for all that is dark and twisted within society, as indeed he was meant to represent in Victorian England.

As with any sequel, your enjoyment will be maximised if you have read the previous books, but to an extent Johnny Alucard does stand alone as a commentary on the growth of vampires as a cultural icon in the past 50 or so years, something which continues today with the popularity of the True Blood and Twilight series, but never gratuitously and always with a relevance to the world he is striving to shape.

The saga has also offered the author’s take on many of the decisive events of the previous century, from the futility of the slaughter in the trenches during the First World War to the Iranian Embassy siege, and part of the enjoyment comes in seeing how vampires have changed what we would perceive as established history in this reality.

Newman has confirmed that there will be a fifth instalment in the saga, but has refused to be drawn on the setting. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take him another decade to write it.

• Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard by Kim Newman is published by Titan Books in hardback for £12.99