Publisher: Bantam Press
Publication Date – 2 October 2018
You think you know the story of Dracula? Prepare to have your understanding of one of history’s greatest horror novels completely turned on its head as Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew presents a captivating new story of horror based off Bram Stoker’s notes and his original version of the iconic book.
The year is 1868, and a young Bram Stoker has barricaded himself in the top room of an abandoned abbey. This room has crosses carved on every wall, mirrors hanging from every angle and garlic smeared around the door frame, while Bram himself is armed with roses, holy water and a rifle. Outside the room lurks an ancient evil, its greatest desire to enter the room and claim the man waiting within. As Bram waits for the sun to rise, he writes in his journal, desperate to describe the events that lead to this moment.
The tale he tells is an intriguing tale of horror and mystery set in the midst of 19th century Ireland. Bram was born a sickly youth whose constant illness stopped him from leaving his bed for most of his early life. One of the few points of comfort in his life was his nanny, Ellen Crone, who nursed him through the worst of his maladies. Bram seemed destined for a short life, until one day a miracle occurs and Bram’s sickness is cured by the mysterious intervention of Nanny Crone. But as Bram and his sister Matilda investigate the suspicious behaviour and abilities of Nanny Crone, she disappears, leaving behind questions about who, or what, she really was.
Years later, it appears that Ellen Crone has returned, as strange and bloody events haunt the lives of Bram, Matilda and their older brother Thornley. As they investigate further they find that the mysterious Ellen Crone has not aged a day, is accompanied by those who died years earlier and has a strange hypnotic hold over Bram. But even as the siblings attempt to find answers, they soon realise a far more powerful and malevolent creature is hunting in Ireland, one who will forever change the life of the Stoker family.
This is one of the most intriguing books of 2018, as it is a reimagining of the origin of one of the world’s most iconic horror novels, Dracula, which was originally published in 1897 by author Bram Stoker. The authors of this new book are the team of established horror writer J. D. Barker, and Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker. This is not the first Dracula book that Dacre Stoker has had his hand in, as he also wrote the 2009 book, Dracula the Un-dead with Ian Holt, which serves as the official sequel to the original Dracula.
Dracul is a clever and compelling read that takes a deeper look at the story behind the classic horror novel. The plot of this novel is apparently based upon Bram Stoker’s notes, journals and around 100 pages that were culled from the original draft of Dracula by his editors. As a result, the authors of Dracul strongly hint that Bram Stoker and his family actually encountered a vampire, and that his experiences led him to publish Dracula as a warning to people about the dangers that were hidden around them and the apparent weaknesses of these creatures. There is a great quote at the very start of this novel that the authors attribute to Bram Stoker and indicate was part of Dracula’s original preface: “I am quite convinced that there is no doubt whatever that the events here described really took place, however unbelievable and incomprehensible they might appear at first sight.”
This new novel by Stoker and Barker is an outstanding piece of fiction. Not only is it a powerful piece of horror fiction in its own right but it has a number of clever and intriguing connections to Dracula. The horror elements of this book are fantastic, and the authors do a great job of highlighting the dread that surrounds the protagonists as they investigate the horrors that surround them and their family. There are a number of great scenes throughout this book where the characters encounter supernatural elements that slowly seek to drive them mad with fear or horror, and the attacks come from a variety of sources. I have to mention the fact that the monster who inspires Dracula is particularly fearsome in Dracul and the authors really paint him as a powerful and soulless being far beyond the comprehension of the human protagonists. I really loved the overall story of Bram and the other Stokers as they find themselves bound to this adventure at an early age and slowly encounter all the horrors around them. There are some very clever turns throughout this book, and there are some surprising twists. This is a great chronicle of Bram’s life and the writers even try to answer some interesting unanswered questions, like why Bram Stoker left instructions to have his body immediately cremated upon his death, an unusual custom for the time.
I really loved the way that this story is told, especially as Stoker and Barker have set large portions of this story out in a similar manner to the original Dracula novel. Like Dracula, a large part of Dracul’s story is told in an epistolary format, featuring a series of diary entries from Bram and Thornley Stoker, as well as several letters from Matilda Stoker. This serves to provide the reader with a large amount of backstory to the Stoker lives and show how they initially met their first vampire and the crazy events that followed them uncovering her secret. This epistolary format is used for around the first two thirds of Dracul, and these journal entries are interlaced with short chapters set in the story’s present, with Bram stuck at the top of a tower and an evil force trying to get into him. These scenes are particularly awesome, as they show strange forces trying to get through the door in front of Bram, while the protagonists utilise a number of techniques to force it back. As the book continues, the reader is given a view into why Bram is up in the tower, what he is facing and the truth to everything that is happening to him, revealing a completely different story than you were expecting. All of this is a fantastic and unique way to tell this story, and I felt it added a lot to the book, especially as the lack of knowledge about what Bram was facing in the tower at the start of the book really increased the book’s early horror elements. These notes are also an item within the story, as the characters combine their journals together and the letters to Nanny Crone appear in a number of places that the protagonists are exploring. At one point, the characters even arrange some of the older journals together to form a more coherent story, indicating that these journals and letters formed the basis of Bram Stoker’s original novel, and play into the idea that the events of Dracul could have actually happened.
While this book is a fantastic horror novel in its own right, fans of Dracula will appreciate how this book calls back to the original novel in a number of captivating ways. For example, the major character of Nanny Crone has her backstory explored at one point and her real name is revealed to be Countess Dolingen of Gratz. Fans of Stoker’s work may recognise her as a vampiric character featured in Bram Stoker’s 1914 short story, Dracula’s Guest. While very little about this character was revealed in Dracula’s Guest, Stoker and Barker flesh her out in this book, creating a fascinating backstory for her and an interesting connection to Dracula, perhaps even explaining why she featured in Dracula’s Guest. There are a number of other interesting features of Dracul that call back to the original novel. For example, a large part of Dracul is set in Whitby, England, a major setting in Dracula. I also really enjoyed the inclusion of real life historical figure Ármin Vámbéry as a major character in this book. Vámbéry, a noted scholar and a close friend of Bram Stoker, is considered by some to be the inspiration for Professor Van Helsing in Dracula, and in Dracul he plays a similar role, understanding the threat that is before them and providing the Stokers with the tools to fight against the Vampires. I also really appreciated the vampiric lore that Stoker and Barker put into Dracul, as the vampire characters only have the vampiric traits found around the time that Dracula was published, and not the ideas that have been included in more recent versions of the vampire legend. As a result, Dracul comes across as an intricate and clever tribute to Dracula, which fans of the original novel will greatly appreciate.
Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker have produced an incredibly exciting and deeply fascinating novel that breathes new life into the familiar story of Dracula. Setting the plot around the life of a pre-Dracula Bram Stoker and his family is an amazing idea that works incredibly well to create a dark and captivating horror story. One of the more unique books of 2018, Dracul is definitely worth checking out, especially if you have an appreciation for one of fiction’s greatest and most iconic monsters.