BOOK REVIEW: Anno Dracula – One Thousand Monsters by Kim Newman

Book five of the much-lorded Anno Dracula series from Kim Newman and published by Titan books

 
Short review: More Gothic and Victorian literary intertextuality that you can shake a wooden stake at. Slicker than a tanto blade after seppuku with Nipponese references. Rich character driven plot, only faintly marred with staccato transitions into action scenes. So sharp it might cut itself with its own cleverness. 
 
If literary influences bit each other to create a super-vampire this book would be the get of: Dracula, Frankenstein, Lovecraft, Loan Wolf and Cub, the Tempest.
 
The longer reviewOne Thousand Monsters is the fifth in the much-praised Anno Dracula series by Kim Newman, which began back in 1992. It is set in a world where Dracula was real and survived his run in with Van Helsing, only to seduce Queen Victoria and ascend to the British throne. I haven’t yet read any of the other novels and was a little worried I’d be lost. However, unlike Dracula, that concern didn’t materialise out of the mist. Kim Newman handled the background of the vampire ascendancy with aplomb, without affecting the progression of the narrative. There were no clunky summary flash backs, instead we get what we need at the appropriate time and almost entirely in service of character and plot development. I was put off Ben Aaronovitch’s great Rivers of London series by the sixth and last book, The Hanging Tree, because he’d continued the story in parallel graphic novels and assumed everyone had read them, doing none of the back-filling to explain who the bloody hell this new major character is and what the Faceless Man had been up to. After a six-book investment of time in the damn series I came close to writing a strongly worded letter, I can tell you (yours disgusted over my humus and caffè macchiato…). Deep breath, apologies, and I’m back.

One Thousand Monsters follows the fate of a boat of refugees (oow, little bit topical) exiled from Dracula’s brave new world. Rather Tempest-esque, our rag-tag group of vampires wash-up in Tokyo and are given haven in Yokia town, a ghetto within Tokyo for Japanese exotic varieties of vampire. Yokia town is ruled over by a Lieutenant Majin, a servant of the Emperor with perhaps ulterior motives (he is Prospero). The whole Tempest template actually works quite well. Dracula is the tempest shipwrecking our protagonists. We have a Miranda (Geneviève Dieudonné), an Ariel (Dru), Caliban is embodied in many of the inhabitants of Yokia town, Alonso (Princess Christina), Antonio (Dorakuraya) Boatswain (Popejoy). We could maybe take this too far but the overall structure and most of the character roles seem to be there. We have battles for control of Yokia town, perhaps ultimately of Japan too, being waged on one side, and on the other a group who just want to survive this magical land and find a way home.

The detail of the supernatural variation in vampires, with different bloodlines having different capabilities, is engrossing, as is the depth of the implications of a world transformed by the reality of vampires. Stephen King of course did this in Salem’s Lot but with a hard edge of gritty realism. Whereas Anno Dracula is much more in a literary timber of Neil Gaiman. However, back to the point of this paragraph, it is the level of background knowledge and attention to detail that helps sell this story. I’ve been practicing martial arts, including Japanese martial arts for over twenty years. I’ve visited Japan and read on Japanese history, particularly of the period this is set in. And at no time did it feel Kim went half-measures. His knowledge of different schools of Japanese fencing (Kenjutsu) is good, with reference to the less common but better-known style of Miyamoto Musashi, legendary samurai, author of The Book of Five Rings and exponent of two swords in mortal combat. There is also a clever inter-language play on words here. The double sword wheeling vampire samurai in the story is called Dorakuraya, a Japanese pronunciation of Dracula. He is not the Dracula but rather styles himself on the King of Cats. Miyamoto Musashi’s Buddhist name was ‘Niten Doraku’. And Dorakuraya is an exponent of the two sword Niten-Ryu or Niten-Ichi-Ryu-School.


The narrative is split between three threads: one is a first person/vampire account of the groups tribulations from the vampire elder and perennial medical student and vampire doctor, Geneviève Dieudonné; there is an omniscient narrator in the present focused on the exiled soldier and former guard of Dracula himself, the reserved Kostaki; and a third is a retrospective, situating the present in the past by relaying Genevieve’s experiences immediately prior to and then at the rise of Dracula in England. 

The style of writing is Gothic and detailed, and this did affect my getting into the story. It is a slow burning narrative that once it bit in, it sucked in my attention completely, rising in suspense to a crescendo of a blood gushing ending. My only quibble, was that most pieces of action – fights, dramatic and violent appearances etc. – were a little clunky. They just appeared, with little build up, to a point where I would reread the lines several times to make sure I hadn’t missed read that someone had indeed just exploded or been killed. It’s a small point really but it happened repeatedly in a narrative full of action and violence. Once into those action sequences, they were excellent. Kim Newman writes with evocative description and imaginative zeal.

In sum, a great vampire romp, with depth and enough Gothic intertextuality to force the Shogun to open up Japanese boarders to trade with the smelly Gijin.
Anno Dracula – One Thousand Monsters is published by Titan Books and is available here.

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Kim Newman

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Kim James Newman (born 31 July 1959) is an English journalist, film critic, and fiction writer. Recurring interests visible in his work include film history and horror fiction—both of which he attributes to seeing Tod Browning’s Dracula at the age of eleven—and alternate fictional versions of history. He has won the Bram Stoker Award, the International Horror Guild Award, and the BSFA award.

Reviewed by Daniel Soule

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