"Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard" Book Review
Written by Lauren Jankowski
Published by Titan Books
Written by Kim Newman
2013, 407 pages, Fiction
Released on September 17th, 2013
The novel Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard is the fourth book in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series. It's an alternate history that takes place in a world where vampires (sometimes referred to as "vipers" or "nosferatu") co-exist with humans (often referred to as "warms"). Ion Popescu, later called Johnny Pop and then Johnny Alucard, is one of the few remaining direct descendants from the Dracula line, meaning he was turned by Dracula himself. After escaping from Romania, he re-invents himself as Johnny Pop, a dealer of the vampire drug "drac" and later, as John Alucard, he is a major movie producer. Travelling through the decades, from the late '70s to the early '90s, from the New York art scene to Hollywood, Alucard leaves his mark wherever he goes. His more sinister motivations remain hidden, but needless to say, the legend of Dracula may not be as dead as many believe it to be.
I must admit, I had the lowest expectations for this book. I had my fill of vampires so, so long ago. Most modern vampires are neutered shadows of the creatures of the night. The best vampires come in one of two varieties: pure predatory instinct (best exemplified by Steve Niles' series 30 Days of Night) or the sophisticated aristocrat with that dangerous edge (your classic Dracula). I'm happy to say Johnny Alucard was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. To put it simply: this is a remarkably well-written and well-executed novel. Though it does have its problems, they are very few.
The one thing I really wasn't expecting was how woman-driven the novel turned out to be. Alucard is practically a secondary character. The main characters are three female vampires, leading a different sort of life, all of them quite old, and they are refreshingly strong. Each had some hand in Dracula's downfall and the subsequent years have not dulled their abilities or independence at all. The novel starts with Kate Reed, a journalist working on Francis Ford Coppola's troubled production of Dracula. In this alternate history, Coppola is filming Dracula instead of Apocalypse Now (and every issue he had in Apocalypse Now happens during the filming of Dracula). Reed is an Irish vampire from the Victorian era. Alucard, at the time called Ion Popescu, uses her to get to America. As a result, she disappears for a bit into Ceaușescu's turbulent Romania.
Popescu, changing his name to Johnny Pop, next travels to New York. The first scene in the big apple involves him with Sid Vicious and Nancy. Needless to say, that encounter doesn't end well. Johnny Pop gets in with Andy Warhol and his girl of the moment, Penelope (Penny), an ancient vampire. Penny kind of fades to the background, which is really hard not to do in Warhol's New York. She eventually returns to the story, but of the three vampire women, she's likely the one you'll care least about. As a character, she's quite distant and really more concerned with doing what it takes to blend in. In New York, Johnny Pop is like the Walter White of drug dealers. He builds an empire on a drug called "drac," which is powdered vampire blood. It turns people into temporary vampires, called dhampires. Addicts are referred to as "suckheads" and business is thriving. Perhaps things are going a bit too well, because as the addicts multiply, they become more aggressive and desperate to get their fix. After an attack that nearly kills him, Johnny Pop decides it's time to leave town.
Early in the book, there's a small noir-ish short story about a private eye who is helped by a woman vampire. The private eye later convinces her to go into the business. We later find out this vampire is Geneviève Dieudonné and she is my favorite character in this book (possibly my favorite character in contemporary fiction at the moment). Geneviève, the vampire private eye, is hired by Orson Welles to look into the financer of his adaptation of Dracula: one John Alucard. Geneviève discovers that Alucard, a big-time producer, only seems to finance movies about Dracula (he's also producing a Dracula porno).
Perhaps my enjoyment of this particular character is why I was so disappointed that one of the book's few faults occurs during Geneviève's portion of the novel. A vampire slayer turns up and the story becomes a bit heavy-handed. This particular plot goes on for way too long (we get it: slayers are bad and misguided in this world). Because it is so overplayed, the twist in this plotline can be seen a mile away. However, it also leads to the funniest scene in the book involving Geneviève fake fainting in shock to throw off a couple of cops. The way the scene is executed will make the reader chuckle. Geneviève is rather adept at turning gender roles on their heads.
I haven't read the other three books in the series, but I plan to look them up in the near future. Newman has crafted a remarkably entertaining story and found a way to breathe new life in the tired old vampire tropes. I particularly love the final scene, which I found to be rather beautiful and a perfect way to end this story. This book is one I highly recommend looking up, whether or not you're a fan of Nosferatu.