Vampires are real. And the biggest, baddest, best known of them all, that Transylvania tramp himself, is not simply Vlad the Impaler, but rather is something much older, darker, and even more evil. At least that’s what horror writer Dacre Stoker, great-grand nephew of some dude named Bram wants you to believe. Dracul, an official prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, binds hidden pages and notes handed down amongst the family claiming that not only are vampires real, but Bram as a young man encountered them, thus unleashing his historical inspiration, and his ultimate desire for cremation.
Dracul is well-written gothic horror, mimicking the manuscript style of collected letters and diary entries, which is what made Dracula so captivating. The tale within has Bram, out of university but before his time with the Lyceum Theatre, along with his sister Matilda and brother Thornley, fascinated that their childhood Nana Ellen never seems to age. When Thornley’s wife, Emily, begins acting irrationally, not mention the sudden appearance of two puncture marks on her lower neck, their search is escalated into all things creepy and undead. Ellen is, of course, a vampire, seeking to break away from her dark, dread master. A sharp, pointy stake to those who might be able to guess his identity.
Stoker perfectly captures a 19th Century rhythm and environment. The cadence of the letter writing. The usage, and then complete disregard, of the scientific method. All are cleverly and professionally placed. The narrative itself is what takes a while for the reader to fully sink their teeth into. Bram and Matilda’s inquisitiveness as children make for a charming scene setting, but it is not until the hunt is on that the blood of this novel truly gets flowing. Stoker, along with co-author J.D. Barker, do indeed heat up that action to a boiling point. Be patient during that slow simmer.
Bram as an historical action hero certainly works, as Robert Masello in his latest, The Night Crossing, clearly proves. Yet as a prequel, Vlad himself is auspiciously absent through much of the chase. Relegated to shadows and rumor, his origins are mere whispers. He is not the xenomorph from Prometheus coming to birth only to attack and kill its creator, rather, an established evil already reigning as the Big Bad and well on his way to his Carpathian Castle. A true prequel, the story of this Dracul as well as that of Vlad the Impaler, is the story history is demanding.
Another, richer story of narrative significance would be that of the Stoker family history involving Dracula’s initial publication, which was all-too quickly mentioned in the author’s notes. The editing of Stoker’s original manuscript to include those original notes back into the original story would make a fuller, more compelling work of horror than the fiction presented within these covers. Alas, as Coppola displayed in his 1992 film, the sun always rises, sometimes too easily, chasing away those scary shadows into the recesses of our imagination. Dacre Stoker’s Dracul, follows a similar path, this one laden with silver.
Fangs so very much to Netgalley and Putnam Books for the howling-good ARC.