It is 1868, and a 22-year-old Bram Stoker has locked himself inside an abbey’s tower to face off against a vile and ungodly beast. He is armed with mirrors and crucifixes and holy water and a gun – and is kept company by a bottle of plum brandy. His fervent prayer is that he will survive this one night – a night that will prove to be the longest of his life. Desperate to leave a record of what he has witnessed, the young man scribbles out the events that brought him to this point – and tells an extraordinary tale of childhood illness, a mysterious nanny, and stories once thought to be fables now proven true.
A riveting, heart-stoppingly scary novel of Gothic suspense, Dracul reveals not only the true origins of Dracula himself, but also of his creator, Bram Stoker . . . and of the elusive, enigmatic woman who connects them.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 4.18 out of 5
18th October 2018 by Bantam Press
Bram stares at the door.
Sweat trickles down his creased forehead. He brushes his fingers through his damp hair, his temples throbbing with ache.
How long has he been awake? Two days? Three? He doesn’t know, each hour blends into the next, a fevered dream from which there is no waking, only sleep, deeper, darker –
I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The first thing you need to know about me (ok, not the first) is that I usually don’t do horror. The second thing you need to know about me is that, despite the first thing, I actually quite like vampires.
Not like as in I think they are a group of fantastic people who contribute to society but I find them interesting and varied in terms of their representation in fiction.
I would say that the most famous of all vampires is Dracula. However when I asked my husband who he thinks of he says, ‘Tom Cruise.’ Disclaimer: Tom Cruise, to my knowledge, is not an actual vampire but a Hollywood actor who once played Lestat.
I’m still sticking with Dracula as the vampire of all times.
My interest with this book was piqued by two things:-
- It is a Dracula prequel of sorts
- The name of one of the co-writers
That’s right… there is a Stoker on the cover. Dacre Stoker is the great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker himself.
This also drew me in.
Now we can either look at this optimistically or cynically. The optimist is telling me that if anyone is going to try and do the best job they can do at a Dracula prequel it will be the individual that shares blood and a name with the original author. There’s a lot riding on the reputation of that name.
The cynic is telling me that it doesn’t always matter if someone shares kinship – it doesn’t mean that a good job will be had and sometimes the name can be used in place of effort. You may have an automatic readership but that readership could be reading with a wryly raised eyebrow.
I have judged this book the best I can on its own merits but it’s pretty impossible to disentangle it from Dracula completely, but then – you’re not actually supposed to.
The premise is an interesting one. Apparently back when Bram Stoker offered Dracula to his publishers he prefaced the text with saying, ‘it’s a true story.’ The publishers didn’t exactly want to print that, so didn’t.
‘Dracul’ takes this statement and plays with it. In this story Bram Stoker is a character, beginning as a young boy and growing to be a young man and, along with his frankly awesome sister Matilda, encounters the supernatural and some rather horrifying events.
The suspension of belief is that these events actually happened and inspired Bram to write it all down in an altered version that became his most famous novel.
Does it work? Yes and no.
The writing is solid. It isn’t anything exceptional but it does lend itself to some wonderfully creepy sections at times. Events get intense but at no point turn horrifying. That’s fine with me because like I said, I don’t do horror. Dracul is still written in a Gothic style and what I do like is Gothic unease.
The treatment of the characters is an interesting one. If you’re writing about people that actually existed (and that you are distantly related to) you can’t exactly be overtly critical and go overboard with character flaws. Well, you can but it may make some people un-invite you for Christmas.
What does this mean in terms of Dracul? Well it means that most of the characters are not that developed. Bram is very much the ‘hero type’ and anything negative is due to him being a victim of circumstance (and vampiric lure) rather than any inherent character flaw. Matilda, his older sister, is interesting but does fulfill the role of ‘brave and feisty older sister.’ But you know what? I liked her and I adored their sibling relationship.
The other Stokers are footnotes, aside from when Thornley, the eldest Stoker sibling, has more of a part in the second half. Even then his character is introduced more as a way to include his wife Emily. Emily is clearly supposed to be the inspiration for Lucy Westenra.
The most interesting character is Ellen Crone, the mysterious nanny to the Stokers who has a link to an even more mysterious Count. To be blunt: Count Dracula is boring and one dimensional and a villain just because. Ellen is complex, contradictory and her motives remain constantly unclear.
When Ellen’s story has more exposition it does get a tad more boring but that’s because it begins to include more of Count Dracula. Can you believe that? That a prequel to Dracula has Dracula being a dull character? I would have gladly taken more Ellen.
And this is where the story unravels for me. The beginning is just… superb. As I read I kept thinking, ‘this is a four star book’ because the sections with Bram, Matilda and Ellen when the siblings are children are just wonderful and eerie and it feels like all bets are off.
Unfortunately this brilliant start is not continued throughout the book. During the second half there are still moments of ‘wow’ but the inconsistency has well and truly kicked in.
Among sections which still contain 4 star brilliance we are also treated to some 2 star passages where the chilling, uncertain motivations of characters become replaced with moustache twirling villainy and where the unsettling atmosphere of Gothic horror become action packed showdowns.
The best bits of Dracul is when there is more ‘freedom’ surrounding the original or little-known characters (i.e. Ellen Crone) as this is where the story is at its strongest.
As stated, the premise is that the events of Dracul are true and that Bram Stoker wrote it all down and used key events/ people as inspiration. This means that what occurs in Dracula must also, in some part, occur in Dracul. If not in an overt manner than at least in a passing nod.
The passing nods and the originality work best. Oddly, the sections where it doesn’t work is where the story borrows so heavily from the source material that you feel that you’re reading Dracula V2 but a less well written and less complex version.
It’s strange to say that but Dracul works at his best when there is no link to Dracula whatsoever. Unfortunately what we get is sections where the writers try to emulate Dracula so hard that they borrow too much and water it down to boring.
If this was an original vampire Gothic story based on Ellen and a family that she has ‘joined’ then this could possibly have been a more interesting book. But then maybe I’m done with your typically evil male vampires and I am here for complicated, maybe evil/ maybe not female ones.
Dracul was a 4 in some places and a 2 in others but overall the inconsistency with quality meant that I went middle ground and gave this a 3. I did enjoy this but didn’t love it.
Aside from Matilda and Ellen. I actually loved them very much.
Ok, I clearly totally want a female vampire and a female human and a complex bond between them.