Posts tagged Kim Newman
Back in May, Kim Newman’s novel Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron, hooked me with its engaging blend of real life figures and fictional characters, as well as its fast-paced espionage and intrigue. Based on that, I was excited to read his follow-up book, Dracula Cha Cha Cha, because I anticipated another exhilarating adventure in his alternate reality where humans and vampires coexist. Unfortunately for me and my expectations, Cha Cha Cha fails to measure up to the high standards set by its predecessor.
Dracula Cha Cha Cha takes place roughly 40 years after the events of The Bloody Red Baron. Following World War II in this universe, Count Dracula slipped into relative obscurity, secluding himself in a castle near Rome. Now in 1959, Dracula plots to marry Moldavian princess to return himself to a seat of power as Lord of the Undead. Meanwhile, journalist Kate Reed arrives in Rome to visit her ailing friend Charles Beauregard, a retired spy who lives with his vampire companion Geneviève. Along with the undead British secret agent Hamish Bond, Kate and Geneviève become wrapped up in a whodunit involving the Crimson Executioner, a serial killer brutally murdering vampire elders in the city.
At first, the murders perpetrated by the Crimson Executioner seem to be straightforward crimes, however as Kate begins to uncover more information, she discovers bizarre supernatural forces running the show. These powers manipulating the Crimson Executioner are interesting, although they are not well-explained, which is disappointing. Another source of annoyance is the abundance of Italian words and phrases featured in the book. Since the tale is set in Rome, Newman incorporates a lot of Italian into the vernacular of his characters. He logically uses it as an opportunity to enrich his story, however it creates disconnect with the readers who aren’t familiar with the language.
As you might expect, Hamish Bond is an unimaginative vampire version of James Bond, but Newman at least has other amusing characters in Dracula Cha Cha Cha. A personal favorite is his use of actor Orson Welles as someone who dabbles in magic and mysticism. Welles serves as an information source and has a particularly humorous rendezvous with Kate and Geneviève. Speaking of Geneviève, it’s nice to get to know her better since she was only mentioned in passing during The Bloody Red Baron. She was featured in the novella included with that book, Vampire Romance, though she didn’t have long to connect with the reader.
Like The Bloody Red Baron, the latest edition of Dracula Cha Cha Cha also contains a novella by Newman, set after the events of the primary story. This tale, Aquarius, takes place in the swinging 60s and features Kate Reed again. In London, two party girls are discovered dead and drained of all their blood. As Kate investigates, she goes head-to-head with an old foe. This investigation is ultimately more engaging than the one in Cha Cha Cha, but isn’t as fun as Vampire Romance.
Dracula Cha Cha Cha and Aquarius are mildly entertaining supernatural murder mysteries, but unfortunately they don’t possess the same swiftly moving narrative as their predecessors. Despite their shorter length, they aren’t nearly as gripping because the characters have much more depressing inner monologue. The vampires often reflect on old age and mortality, philosophically questioning the concepts. This doesn’t make for as compelling of a story, since it hits too close to real life to be the escapism you want.
Dracula Cha Cha Cha is available now in stores and online at www.titanbooks.com.
Seth Grahame-Smith may have brought genre mashups to the literary forefront with his books Pride and Prejudice Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but author Kim Newman already pioneered the concept during the 1990s with his Anno Dracula series. Newman’s novels take place a unique alternate world where humans and vampires openly co-exist. Both species are rendered by Newman through an entertaining blend of real life figures and fictional characters, including Winston Churchill, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s brother). In the second book of his series The Bloody Red Baron, the author tells a fast-paced tale filled with action, espionage, and intrigue.
Since Newman’s publisher Titan Books recently released a new edition of it, I had the chance to pick it up. I didn’t read Newman’s first book, so I was thrilled that The Bloody Red Baron contains enough on the characters and their relationships to keep you from feeling lost.
The Bloody Red Baron takes place during the thick of World War I, where humans and vampires are fighting alongside one another. Graf von Dracula is in league with the Germans, commanding Kaiser Wilhelm’s troops. Newman primarily concentrates on Charles Beauregard, an aging member of the British Secret Service and his young protégé Edwin Winthrop. With help from Kate Reed, a vampire newspaper reporter, the trio works feverishly to uncover details behind a secret German operation that could turn the tide of the war.
Newman doesn’t just focus on the Brits though; he also takes you behind German lines so that you can understand the complex men fighting on the other side like Manfred von Richthofen (aka The Red Baron). You still get the sense that Dracula is evil, but Newman humanizes the Germans over the course of The Bloody Red Baron, getting you to sympathize with them even during the book’s climactic confrontation.
The thorough attention to detail that Newman exercises when crafting his narrative is rewarding to the reader because it allows you to immerse yourself in his novel. Vampires truly are their own fully developed species with different habits, abilities, and bloodlines. However, Newman’s complex web of personalities and shifting perspective is a double-edged sword. At times, it can be a bit difficult to mentally organize of all the characters and during certain action scenes it’s hard to tell who is talking. Thankfully these stumbling blocks don’t come up often.
Stylistically, Newman’s grim examination of World War I is heavily influenced by Erich Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Part I of Newman’s book even shares a title with it. Battle scenes in the air and on the ground also contain similar horrific imagery. Newman keeps things lighter outside of battle though, with amusing vampire terminology and dry British wit. A personal favorite of his unique language involves the label of “warm” to describe humans and “cold” to depict vampires.
Even at almost 400 pages, The Bloody Red Baron is a quick read, due to its riveting mixture of action and espionage. Sometimes you forget the book is about war, because you get so wrapped up in the sneaky intelligence gathering. Titan’s latest edition of the book contains Newman’s novella Vampire Romance, which takes place after World War I. While much different in tone, Newman’s short story is fun murder mystery reminiscent of the film Clue. Vampire lovers, forget Twilight. Read the Anno Dracula series instead.
The Bloody Red Baron is available now in stores and online at www.titanbooks.com.