By Marty Mulrooney
The official sequel to Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel Dracula, co-written by a direct descendant of Stoker himself (whom we interviewed in 2009 here), Dracula: The Un-Dead is wonderfully executed. It is a book that takes any whispered accusations of being a mere cash-in, throws them aside, and in the process provides a story that is not only worthy of being called an official successor to the classic novel, but is actually a brilliant tale in its own right.
Not read the original? Do not fear, I was a bit rusty myself (having not read Dracula for a number of years) yet the opening chapter, written in the form of a letter from Mina Harker to her son Quincey, does a brilliant job at bringing Dracula newcomers up to speed, whilst also refreshing the minds of long time fans.
My dear son, all your life you have suspected that there have been secrets between us. I fear that the time has come to reveal the truth to you. To deny it any longer would put both your life and your immortal soul in jeopardy.’
Those who did read the original will know that it was entirely written in this very style, via several people’s journal and diary entries. In other words, a constantly shifting first-person narrative. Yet The Un-Dead wisely moves away from this method after the opening chapter, conforming to a more traditional third-person narrative. It allows for a much more kinetic tale, set in 1912 yet modern in every other sense of the word… this is not only a horror story, but a thriller. And thrill it does.
The many characters the novel juggles between are varied and impressive, constantly leaping off the page. If there was a main protagonist as such, it would no doubt be Quincey Harker, repulsed by his father’s alcohol abuse (he seems to have hit the bottle pretty heavily after the events of the original novel) and striving to make a name for himself as an actor.
‘Bram was aware that he was in the last act of his life and had one last chance to make his novel a success. He needed the theatrical version of Dracula to be a hit to drive the sales of the novel. If the play failed, he was sure that his failing health would never give him the opportunity for an encore.’
Yet a new stage play, written by the legendary Bram Stoker, seems to be blurring the distinction between fact and fiction in frightening new ways. Furthermore, renounced stage actor Basarab has taken an unhealthy interest in both the new play, and attaining the staring role… whatever the cost. The past is racing into the present, fangs bared, eyes ablaze…
It is wonderful to see all of the original vampire hunters, 25 years after the apparent (?!) death of Dracula, dealing with things rather badly. Of course, such events would take their toll on anyone… the novel doesn’t hold back showing the sorry truth of our original band of heroes. Dr Jack Seward a disgraced morphine addict, Van Helsing a frail old man with a failing heart, Jonathon Harker a bitter drunk… Then there is Mina Harker, looking exactly the same as she did all those year ago. What is going on?!
‘Bathory was maintaining a steady momentum now as the metal lashes whined through the air. The force of each blow caused her young victim to sway like a pendulum. The blood dripping from the young woman had turned into streams. The Women in White, meanwhile, lay upon the floor beneath her, their mouths open to catch the precious crimson drops that fell like some hellish form of rain.’
The twists and turns present in this novel are delicious. Many have previously claimed that Countess Elizabeth Bathory (who in real life supposedly killed over 700 women and bathed in their blood) was an inspiration for the original novel. Here, she is shown as the main antagonist, dark and sexual, tying into Dracula in often surprising and unexpected ways…
It is hard not to give away the many twists and turns whilst reviewing Dracula: The Un-Dead, but I can promise that the story gallops along at breakneck speed for the duration. Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt have really done their homework here. They even manage to show the story from the perspective of a dogged police detective, haunted by his failure to capture Jack The Ripper all those years ago. How does this tie in to Dracula and Countess Bathory you may ask? Wonderfully.
‘To his horror, her eyes turned into solid black orbs. Her face grew wild as her incisor teeth elongated into fangs. Her mouth opened extraordinarily wide, as if her jaw had unhinged itself from its socket. With a hideous, inhuman growl, she threw her fanged mouth forward.’
Vampires have warped over the years into something of a caricature; it is refreshing here to see Bram Stoker’s original take on the creature being updated and made relevant again. The violence and bloodshed is horrific but necessary in context: vampires are no longer the dull, pure evil cut-outs we have had to endure for so many years. Whether Dracula will actually return again or not is the novel’s tastiest tease, never milked but openly titillating.
I read the first half of this book several months ago, then got sidetracked due to a new job and running this site, relegating my progress to literally reading snippets whenever possible. Shame on me. Once I picked it up again properly earlier this week (at roughly the halfway point where things get really interesting) I just couldn’t put it down. How I managed to endure snatched chapters being read on my late night shifts is a mystery to me: once I set aside the time properly, I couldn’t stop reading.
There are some niggles, certainly. Some characters are further developed than others, whilst the plot often reads like a film concept rather than an actual novel. I mean this in both a positive and a negative manner: the attention to detail and the writing itself is excellent. I just wanted things to slow down sometimes so I could get deeper into the characters and their souls. Also, the book occasionally repeats itself, with characters explaining their inner thoughts time and time again. However, this is but a minor blemish when the narrative as a whole is taken into account.
‘The prostitute’s body floated away on the current of the river. Her dead eyes stared up to the heavens. Bathory could never understand how wretched people like this whore could still find any love for God. What had God done for them?’
Dracula purists may balk at some small ret-cons certainly, such as the original Dracula novel’s events now being referred to as taking place in 1888 rather than 1893. I personally saw this as a somewhat necessary evil (it allows the new tale, taking place in 1912, to coincide with the year that Bram Stoker died in real life, as well as 1888 being the year that Jack The Ripper terrorised London) although I can still see it upsetting some hardcore fans.
Regardless, I loved this book by the end of its final page. It is a really good, old-fashioned adventure with enough twists and turns to keep any reader thoroughly engrossed. Small plot meanderings and underdeveloped character’s aside, Dracula: The Un-Dead is one of the finest horror novels I have read in recent years. It is also a sequel that can hold its head high with pride; no disservice has been done here. Furthermore, the ending is quite simply brilliant. Recommended.
8 OUT OF 10
You can also check out our earlier exclusive interview with Dacre Stoker here!