Book Review: ANNO DRACULA: JOHNNY ALUCARD by Kim Newman

Kim Newman’s latest novel, Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard(Titan Books) is, in my view, the first essential vampire book of the decade. It combines rollercoaster action with satire, mordant wit and scares aplenty. This fourth volume in the author’s cult, Anno Dracula series sees an undead waif called Ion Popescu on the run from communist Romania’s anti-vampire regime.

The boy’s journey to freedom and power truly begins when he joins Frances Ford Coppola’s film crew during the making of the director’s version of Dracula. Not the real Coppola, of course, since this is an alternate version of the narcissistic, indulgent 1980s. Popescu follows the film-makers to America, where he’s discovered by Andy Warhol. Warhol himself is a vampire – an essay about Warhol in the form of an appendix at the end of the book describes him as “white, empty, waiting to be filled, incapable of satisfaction.”

The portmanteau style of the novel has come about as a result of sections having previously been published, as Newman himself explains, “disguised as novellas.” Which makes the narrative episodic in character, almost like jump cuts in films. Mind you, Newman’s startling originality more than makes up for my very minor reservations on that score. Not only does he tell a series of gripping,  interlocking stories, but he leavens the mix with segments of original screenplays and essays. In this respect the book is postmodernist, the closest equivalent I can think of being John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

Three of the principal characters are former brides or acolytes of Dracula, Penny, Kate and Geneviève. All three from previous novels, with the latter working now as a Medical Examiner, while Kate is a leftwing journalist and Penny Coppola’s assistant. It is these women who are the most human of the vampires in the novel, and the ones with whom it is easiest to empathise.

There are other pleasures to be had besides the goodies I’ve already mentioned. Being a bit of a film buff myself, it was a great pleasure to spot the unnamed characters (Columbo, for instance, and even Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver), and to enjoy the alternate world in which real and fictional characters exist side by side – there are versions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Baron Meinster (from the Brides of Dracula film) and Sid Vicious, and countless others.

In one respect you could read the novel as a commentary on the vampiric nature of celebrity. It’s also a critique of Thatcherite and post-Thatcherite Britain, and how powerful figures influence the gullible – in particular the not-so-oblique reference to L.Ron Hubbard in Newman’s alternate version of his religion, here named Immortology.

As though we needed reminding, The American Dream has its dark side. Which Newman explores and exploits fully. One key invention is the drug called drac, extracted from vampire blood and processed into a red powder which imbues those who take it with short-lived vampirism. Those who take it are named dhamps, and they crave the drug more and more, which results in a netherworld of addiction, corruption and the accumulation of criminal wealth.

Newman, a film critic as well as an author, amply illustrates his love and encyclopaedic knowledge of films and popular culture in general. Though never in the form of info-dumps that a lesser writer might inflict. Rather these elements are cleverly woven into a book bristling with excitement and a deep understanding of how were are products of our culture, and the dangers inherent in letting the facile elements of  fashion and fame affect who we are as human beings.

You may dismiss vampire fiction in its most popular form these days (Twilight, et al), but these teenage fantasies bear no resemblance to Newman’s oeuvre. Tough and tender, funny and frightening, intellectual and poppy, Johnny Alucard is one vampire book that’s likely to put many others in its black and red-cloaked shade.

*Editor’s note: As part of our Coffin Hop Web Tour, every book mentioned will be part of our giveaway selection, ANNO DRACULA: JOHNNY ALUCARD included.

AISFP COFFIN HOP GIVEAWAY Details:

The Coffin Hop is an annual blog tour among indie horror authors and artists with over eighty sites offering fun content and giveaways. This year, they’re releasing an anthology by many of these authors, called Coffin Hop: Death by Drive-In, and proceeds will go to www.litworld.org. Every book title I mention until the end of the Coffin Hop Web Tour, on the 31st, will be available for two winners to choose from (one per winner; in ebook form; and US only, sorry). To enter, comment below, tweet a link back to a post with #AISFP, or share the post from our Facebook page.

Total Coffin Hop Posts so far:

SF Book Releases This Week: Oct. 29, 2013

AISFP 236 – Ronald Malfi and Kevin Lucia, Part One

Dystopian Horror

Top 3 Villains

Book Review: APOCALYPTIC MONTESSA AND NUCLEAR LULU

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John Dodds Article by John Dodds

John Dodds is the author of The Kendrick Chronicles crime novels (Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss ) and, under a pseudonym, JT Macleod, has written a collection of historical/paranormal/erotic/romance stories calledWarriors and Wenches, as well as the first novel in YA steampunk superhero series which he is shopping around agents.

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Comments

  1. Interesting post. I’ve tweeted every day, and I’ve posted onece on my FB about your Coffin Hop giveaway.

    • Thanks, Lori! FB is harder to track unless you share from our page, so thanks for letting me know that. I’m keeping track, thanks for stopping by and sharing with your friends!

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