Monday, February 22, 2010
Book review: Dracula the Un-dead
Dacre Stoker (with Ian Holt)
Link to Amazon for Purchase
Billed as the only authentic sequel to Bram Stoker’s masterpiece, “Dracula the Undead” hails from the pen of one of Bram’s own descendents, along with assistance from Ian Holt. The book is entertaining to a point, but disregards what made the original a time honored classic.
Set twenty five years after the events of Stoker’s work, Undead does an admirable job of depicting how the tragic and horrific encounter with Dracula has left each of the key participants scarred. Rather than painting a portrait of “and they lived happily ever after”, Undead demonstrate the lingering and damaging effects of the group’s encounter with Dracula. Dr. Jack Seward has become a barely functioning morphine addict, stripped of his prestige and medical license. Arthur Holmwood has withdrawn from his former social circle, bitter over the loss of his true love Lucy. Mina Harker has not aged a day since her blood mingled with Dracula’s and her youthful appearance serves as a reminder of her husband Jonathan’s own failures and inadequacies. He harbors hatred and resentment towards her and has devolved into an alcoholic that relies on the company of prostitutes to mask his sorrows. Caught in between them is their son Quincey, a young man desperate for the stage, but under his father’s thumb to study law at the Sorbonne.
Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt forgo the original work’s narrative style. Instead of unfolding through journal entries, the new work takes on a more blunt action movie aesthetic. It has more in common with modern cinematic stories such as Dracula 2000 than the original gothic tale. Every scene seems intent on upstaging the previous one with regards to placing its characters in near inescapable mortal peril or careening through action set pieces. The brooding, nightmarish tone of the original has been lost in translation.
Where the novel fails is in its portrayal of Dracula. While certain interpretations of Dracula have gone on to make him more sympathetic at times, none have completely dropped his ultimately evil nature and desires. This new novel completely rewrites the events of the original work by portraying the Count as a misunderstood hero that attempted to assist Van Helsing and others in destroying the true vampiric menace-Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Recasting Dracula as a misunderstood hero is a colossal misstep that attempts to fix a problem that never existed. One of the traits that made Dracula such an endearing figure was his ability to seemingly orchestrate events from behind the scenes. His handiwork seemed to spawn continents. In this new work, the chess master has been replaced by an aged warrior, too quick to rush into battle despite odds stacked against him.
There’s also too much teen-inspired romance at times. The Count gets so moon eyed over Mina at times I thought there’d be descriptions of how he sparkled.
While the book has its moments as a bedside page turner, anyone looking for a spiritual successor to Stoker’s original novel should read Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Like Stoker’s original work, the novel unfolds through journals, letters and memoirs as three generations hunt for Dracula’s tomb. Kostova superbly blends the fictional vampire lore with the historical menace of Vlad Tepes. The result is a far more terrifying work, where the implied presence of Dracula (he doesn’t show up in earnest until well into the third act) invokes true fear and terror.
I don’t mean to be too harsh on this new follow up. Again, as a modern story, written for today’s ADD addled generation, it’s a fine enough action novel-something that’d be a perfect read for a beach holiday. In reading about Mr. Dacre Stoker’s background I learned he was previously a track and field coach. The pacing of this new novel suggests he specialized in the 100 meter sprint, and not in the more deliberate pacing of a long distance runner.