Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: Dracula the Undead

I was digging around looking for some reviews I did for the now-defunct Border's website, since my review of Dark Harvest seemed to get a positive response.. This is the only one I was able to find...and unfortunately it wasn't exactly a glowing review. Here is my review of Ian Holt and Dacre Stoker's "sequel" to the Bram Stoker classic:
A Sequel in Name Only: Dracula the Undead

In the afterword to this book, authors Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt explain the intention behind it: to "return" the character of Dracula back to his roots in Bram Stoker's original novel, washing away the garbage that has been heaped upon the legend by countless Hollywood films. What's amazing is how far from their stated intention they have managed to stray. While the Dracula of the original book was a villainous monster, preying upon the innocent, the incarnation presented here is that of a (rather boring) anti-hero. Despite their claims, the authors borrow far more from Hollywood than they do from the novel, including such movie-based plot points as a Dracula/Mina romance, the vampire's aversion to sunlight, etc. This novel is far from a sequel to the classic book, but more like cheap fan-fiction. None of the characters resemble their counterparts from the elder Stoker's narrative, and liberal rewriting of the continuity is the order of the day. I won't delve too deeply into spoiler territory, for those who still feel inclined to read this dreck.

Picking up 25 years after the original book, the band of heroes who dispatched Dracula are being hunted and killed. In the midst of all of this is the Harker's son, Quincey, who is a whining, two-dimensional sterotype pursuing a career on the stage in London and Paris. Quincey must ultimately come to terms with his parent's past, and face the consequences of their actions. The authors try to weave a mystery into the story, but if you have half a brain you'll see where they're going from a mile away. Ultimately, this is more predictable than the average soap opera.

Dracula is one of the all-time greatest fictional villains in literature and film, so it's rather perplexing as to why Holt and Dacre Stoker chose to recast him as a heroic, romantic figure. Perhaps they were extremely enamoured of Frank Langella's interpretation from the 1979 film? Whatever the reason, it doesn't work at all in this book. Introducing the historically-based villain of Elizabeth Bathory as the novel's primary antagonist just further dilutes Dracula's impact. This interpretation of Dracula has far more in common with Edward from the Twilight series than he does the classic villain. It's possible that the authors felt that this would attract newer, younger readers, but that seems extremely unlikely. Most Dracula afficianados prefer the Count to be an evil, vicious force to be reckoned with, not a whiny fang banger. What's more, the "Twilight" crowd isn't likely to care for this character either, as he is far less interesting than any of Meyer's characters (which is really saying something, as I find those characters to be extremely one-note).

Nothing in this book is all that original either. A heroic Dracula has already been depicted in Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape and Kim Newman's Anno Dracula. The notion of Elizabeth Bathory as a vampire has been explored in numerous comics and novels as well (most scholars believe Stoker at least partially based his Dracula on Bathory). The most overdone, and trite, aspect that the authors choose to dredge up here is the romance between Dracula and Mina. This has been explored over and over again in various novels, and (most notably) in Coppola's film. Why all of this is included, in a book that was intended to do away with such pointless tripe, is beyond me.

Ultimately, this is a book that doesn't satisfy Dracula fans...and isn't likely to appeal to those who only know the character from the movies. The story presented here is nothing that hasn't been seen before in better stories. Frankly, it's an awful "sequel" that could have been dreamt up by any 12 year old who has watched lots of Dracula movies on late night TV.


Guillaume said...

Gosh this angers me so much. It is in our public library, I never borrowed it, never want to read, I read reviews, positive and negative, and they are enough for me to know this novel is trite.

Dacre Stoker might have Bram Stoker's blood, he has none of his intelligence and he understands zero of the appeal and meaning of the original novel. Not only is Dracula supposed to be feral and evil, NOT an antihero, but he has little in common with the historical Dracula, because Stoker knew very little about it: he took the name from a footnote. I am very sceptical about what Stoker knew of Bathory, if he knew anything at all.

In any case, the novel is the kind of story that should not have any sequel. Ask a competent director who cares about the source material to make a faithful adaptation (and keep Coppola away from it). But don't write a sequel. The novel is self contained.

Guillaume said...

Oh, and I answered to your question about Dracula's Guest on my blog.

Jinx said...

Hi, Gill-Man. How are you? I'm glad you posted this as I've had this book on my 'to read' pile for a while now and have continually put it off as I knew it was going to be awful Seems my suspicions were justisfied.

Guillaume said...

Instead of stupid sequels, why isn't there any prequel of Dracula? ANybody ever heard of one? Showing his time in Scholomance, or him learning about England...

The Gill-Man said...

@Jinx: I am well, thank you! Hope you're feeling better these days! I'm happy I was able to spare you from having to read this drek. It can always be used as a doorstop, or perhaps kept handy in case toilet paper has run out!

Guillaume:'s pretty bad, and you're absolutely right...why do a sequel? I mean, there are about 1,000 unofficial sequels due to the fact that Dracula has shown up in SO much fiction since his original book was published. When I think of all the books, comics, cartoons, films, etc., it really makes no sense for anyone else to bother directly following Stoker's tale.

As for your question about a prequel, I don't know of a full one. I'm fairly certain that it's touched upon in the Marve Wolfman/Gene Colan "Tomb of Dracula" comic (which is, in my opinion, the best "sequel" to the novel I've ever encountered), and I believe the whole Scholomance plot thread is explored in Freda Warrington's unofficial sequel (which also bears the title "Dracula the Undead").

The Scholomance thing is something I've ALWAYS thought should be further exlored. In fact, the book that I'm (forever) writing has a connection to it, though it isn't a prequel or sequel to Dracula. Stoker throws the idea out there, and it's such a cool little detail, I can't believe it hasn't been the focus of dozens of stories!

Guillaume said...

I wonder where Stoker got the idea of Scholomance. Did he invent it? I am not even sure. But since I first read the novel I am haunted by the concept of a sort of Devil witchcraft/Devil worshipping school, where Dracula was very like turned into a vampire.