Bloody good vampire romp (groan) . . .
by Kim Newman, Titan Books
With the unprecedented popularity of literary vampires right now it was perhaps inevitable that someone would dust off Kim Newman’s series of Anno Dracula novels for re-release. (Site visitors will probably most likely know Newman as British movie magazine Empire’s chief horror genre contributing editor.)
Only problem is that it is doubtful whether the female tween crowd that made the Twilight books such huge bestsellers would actually be interested in them . . . (This is however a hearty recommendation for the rest of us!)
The Anno Dracula series imagines what would have happened if Abraham van Helsing failed in his mission to slay the vampire lord. In Kim Newman’s alternate steampunk universe Dracula goes on to rule England by proxy when he insinuates his way to Queen Victoria’s government.
In this 1997 follow-up to Anno Dracula it is the height of World War I. The vampire overlord is now, er, lording it over the Kaiser’s Germany, which is fighting it out with England and the Allies.
Vampires intermingle freely with humans and are fighting on both sides. It should of course come as no surprise that the famous German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen aka “The Red Baron” and his fellow aces are in fact all blood-sucking vampires. A major German offensive to end the war once and for all is being planned and it is up to some members of the top secret British Diogenes Club to figure out when and how the Red Baron’s group of fighter pilots fit into the greater scheme of things . . .
If Bloody Red Baron wasn’t a novel, then it is easy to imagine it being a circa-‘Eighties 2000 A.D. series (2000 A.D. is the British comic that gave birth to Judge Dredd for all you yanks out there). Comics is probably the best medium for it even though Newman adds a extensive plot outline for a possible movie version he did after B-movie producer Roger Corman expressed interest in the property. (It never got made though.) Once one however accepts it as a comic book without any pictures then you are guaranteed a swell time though . . .
Speaking of comics, Bloody Red Baron cleverly intermingle real historical and fictional characters in the same way Alan Moore does in his critically acclaimed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel. So it isn’t unusual to see, let’s say, both Biggles and Mata Hari feature in these pages. All very post-modern. Bloody Red Baron and Anno Dracula however actually predate League by several years! Included in this “special edition” reprint is a list of some of Newman’s more obscure references – proof that he certainly took his research very seriously!
This new edition of Bloody Red Baron also includes a brand new novella titled Vampire Romance that is set in the 1920s between the events of The Bloody Red Baron and the third novel in the Anno Dracula series, Dracula Cha Cha Cha. It plays out as part-Agatha Christie whodunit set in a secluded English mansion and part-Twilight spoof with its starry-eyed tween “heroine”.
Later this year will see the re-release of the third Anno Dracula book, which is set in 1959 Rome. All of which is to prepare the way for the fourth all-new installment in Newman’s series of books due next year.
It isn’t necessary to have read the previous book in this series to enjoy Bloody Red Baron, a fun alternate history vampire novel that reads a bit like a demented Boy’s Own adventure tale. A pity Roger Corman never made a movie out of it. It would have been ace (groan) . . .