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Book Review: Dracula the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

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I can remember reading Bram Stoker’s original Dracula. I was twelve or thirteen and had gotten a copy from the Science Fiction Book Club as part of my joining bonus. The book was thick and fat, and the cover was decidedly creepy. I started on it and got drawn into Jonathan Harker’s mission to save his lovely bride-to-be, Mina. I finished the book while in the bathroom (it was the only place in the house with three younger brothers at the time that I could call my own) at four in the morning (my mom was freaked when she found out I’d stayed up so late).

But I can still remember that last desperate chase the heroes went on to intercept Dracula. Quincey Morris died during that battle, and I was saddened. I don’t think I’d ever read a book before about someone dying that I really cared about. Except maybe Old Yeller.

So now, nearly 40 years later, I was surprised to find that there was an honest-to-God sequel that had been written – by someone from Stoker’s family no less. I saw that blood red cover and knew I had to read it. Despite all the Hammer films and Fred Saberhagen pastiches of the character, and the wonderful run of comics from Marvel written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Gene Colan, I wanted that book.

Dracula the Un-Dead is a blistering read for the most part. I was disappointed when I saw that the tradition of telling the stories through journals, letters, and newspapers had been pushed aside for the more modern narrative style, but I don’t know how many of today’s readers would have tolerated that antiquated form. So perhaps the writers and editors made a good call in that respect.

There is more action in this novel than in the original, but storytelling has changed in the last 110 years. Readers demand more physical conflict these days, and Stoker and Holt provide it in spades. They also use the fast-cut narrative technique and short chapters that plunge the pacing into overdrive.

I was hypnotized at first by the novel. Jack Seward and Jonathan Harker had changed a lot in the intervening 25 years that had passed since the last novel. I was disheartened to see what had happened to them, but I’m also old enough at this point to know that they couldn’t have gone through everything they had in their battle against Dracula and emerged unscathed. Both of them are emotionally scarred and broken in many ways.

When I learned of Mina’s continued youthfulness, I knew what had caused it even before the authors revealed it. Sadly, that also tipped their hands as to what they were going to do with the rest of the novel. I even knew who Dracula was before the mystery was revealed.

The authors have a lot of fun twisting the old Dracula story into something new. The mixture of familiar story, history, and the personal life of Bram Stoker lends itself to a fanciful tale, but the juxtaposition of the Jack the Ripper angle gets spread a little thin and feels forced. That twist is only fun to think about for a short time.

The violence isn’t the only thing that that gets pushed higher in Dracula the Un-Dead. There’s a sex scene with Mina that stands out, and it has a twist to it as well that’s really unexpected.

The last third of the novel is a pure adrenaline rush, but it lasts too long. I was worn out by the time I turned the last few pages. And when I reached the end, I’d already guessed most of the secrets and knew that the book’s climax was being set up for a sequel. Even with that, though, the last line of the novel is a real hook, and I want to read the sequel – if it materializes – just to see how that particular problem gets worked out.

Dracula the Un-Dead is a good sequel and worth reading if you’re a fan because it does offer you a different sort of experience. However, most fans will be able to put the pieces on this one together too quickly, and perhaps be a little dismayed at the ending.

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