By Marty Mulrooney
The Bloody Red Baron by British writer and film critic Kim Newman is the sequel to the critically-acclaimed alternate history vampire novel Anno Dracula. Set 30 years after the end of the first book during World War 1, the Diogenes Club investigates a secretive German flying operation that exchanges aircraft for monsters, the most fearsome of which is known as the Red Baron. Titan Books reprinted Anno Dracula in a brand new paperback edition in 2011 that included a wealth of extra material. They follow suit with this new version of The Bloody Red Baron, which includes a lengthy new novella, detailed annotations and an action-packed film outline.
Remembering Beauguard’s briefing, Winthrop explained, ‘Diogenes wants to snatch a look at something special. A lone spotter can get over the lines above cloud, then dip down to take photographs.’
’Sounds a doddle,’ Cundall said. ‘Probably win the war, this show.’
It’s 1918 and the world is at war, but not as we know it. In the world of Anno Dracula – The Bloody Red Baron, Dracula has fled England and is now commander-in-chief of the armies of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Vampires fight alongside warm men down in the trenches and above in the skies. Edwin Winthrop – protégé of Charles Beauguard – is tasked with investigating the Chateau de Malinbois, the headquarters of Jagdgeschwader 1, aka JG1. A ‘Flying Circus’ led by the fearsome Baron von Richthofren, the vampires that comprise the unit are being researched and improved upon by Professor ten Brinken.
Charles Beauguard features less in The Red Baron than he did in Anno Dracula, although he is still an important character that is constantly moving behind the scenes. In his place, the younger Edwin Winthrop takes centre stage. Although this new character is just as likeable as Charles, he isn’t as unshakable and is prone to following his heart rather than his head. Investigative vampire reporter Kate Reed also returns from Anno Dracula, causing trouble as always, teaming up with Winthrop and Beauguard as she digs deeper into the mysterious experiments of JG1.
‘After the war, then what?’
For the first time in Poe’s experience, Richthofen laughed. It was a brief bark, like a branch snapping.
‘“After the war”? There is no “after the war”.’
Offering an insight into life on the other side, the book also features Edgar Allan Poe, a writer turned vampire who is tasked with ghost writing the Red Baron’s autobiography by Dr Mabuse, The Director of the Press and Intelligence Division. He journeys to the Chateau de Malinbois and witness firsthand the dreams – or perhaps more accurately nightmares – that are being realised there. As was the case in Anno Dracula, the ruling powers of the enemy are present in name alone – Dracula is running the show and this time, he could potentially rule the world.
Kim Newman does a brilliant job of presenting the story without it seeming black-and-white. In 1918, vampires are now an accepted part of life and Newman makes them just as complex as the warm who fight beside/against them. Guns are loaded with silver bullets and even a vampire can’t survive exploding in a ball of flame or falling thousands of feet. Likewise, the entire book offers a neutral observer’s outlook. Although Dracula is obviously evil, characters such as the Red Baron himself and Edgar Allan Poe are shades of gray. It’s refreshing to read a book that doesn’t try to clearly define heroes and villains – as a result, The Bloody Red Baron reads authentically and believably despite its outlandish and fantastical subject matter.
The formations passed through each other. Winthrop smelled the shape-shifters’ musk and felt the cold rush of their wings. Wheeling in the air, he tried to draw a bead on a black shape darting past. He nearly fired, but managed not to waste precious bullets.
The amount of research that Kim Newman undertakes for each book is truly staggering. Anno Dracula – The Bloody Red Baron features aerial dogfights that place the reader right there in the cockpit alongside the co-pilot, as eyes burn in the night and fangs lengthen, drawing closer… It isn’t as fresh and exciting as Anno Dracula and the story is slightly less focused, but don’t let that put you off. Kim Newman writes fantasy like reality and the result is a glimpse into a world that is both horrifying and fascinating. Geneviève Dieudonné’s absence is a pity, but this new edition gives her a lengthy novella all of her own. The Bloody Red Baron is alternate history as it should be – real and riveting.
9 OUT OF 10