Book Review: Johnny Alucard by Kim Newman

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johnny alucardAnno Dracula, Johnny Alucard
Kim Newman
Titan Books
Amazon price: $17.32

It has been almost 15 years but there is finally another Anno Dracula book. Titled Johnny Alucard, Kim Newman returns to his fictional mash-up series by introducing a new ambitious vampire who strives to become “King of the Cats” by building a power base in America.

Quick summary of the rest of the series so far: Anno Dracula features an alternate history where Dracula defeated his hunters and married Queen Victoria, ushering in a new age where vampires roamed freely among the “warm,” slang for us normal humans. Yes, I know Dracula is a fictional character, but the Anno Dracula series is more of an alternate fictional history featuring characters from literature, comics, television and film interacting with real historical characters, who tend to follow similar careers as they did in our history (although not always).

Newman is not always obvious about which characters he is using (i.e. the aging beatnik and his tracking dog), but his stories are a treasure trove of pop culture references that lean toward the obscure. I am not ashamed to admit that out of all the Anno Dracula stories, Johnny Alucard probably had the most references I recognized. Probably has something to do with me being more familiar with fiction from the 70s, 80s and 90s. I won’t try to list them all, because that would be impossible. Newman in previous books attached an appendix, but sadly such a helpful guide was missing from this work.

Speaking of Johnny Alucard, the novel is collection of previously published short stories, along with new material. If you have already read most of Newman’s previous Anno Dracula short stories, you will probably be a little disappointed that only half the book is new material. If you are like me, however, and haven’t dived into most of the short fiction, it will still be still new to you.

Our story begins in the 1940s where a young Romanian partisan is turned by the infamous Dracula, parachuted into Romania to spark an uprising of vampires against the Nazis, into a vampire. After surviving for decades in Communist Romania, he takes the name Johnny Pop and attaches himself to Coppola’s Dracula (in this universe Stoker wrote an alternate history novel where Dracula was defeated) production so he can sneak into America. There he befriends Andy Warhol, invents a new drug, amasses wealth, legitimizes himself through motion pictures and begins to worm his way into positions of power over both the warm and nosferatu alike. Meanwhile, the shadow of his father in darkness looms larger and larger as the story progress, waiting to become substantial once more.

Although the twisted American dream of Johnny ties the story together, he is not the only viewpoint character. Newman brings back his vampire femme fatales from the previous Anno Dracula books. Geneviève Dieudonné, Kate Reed and Penelope Churchward all witness Alucard’s rise to power. Dieudonné continues to be Newman’s perfect vampire with the right mixture of strength, restraint and wit. Reed, the eternal activist, still seems to struggle with her conscience and vampire abilities as usual, but remains the most human of the trio. Only Churchward really surprised me, but not in a good way. Newman seemed to tease in Dracula Cha Cha Cha that Penelope might become a force to be reckoned with in the near future, but in this novel she is just serving the next in a long line of dictators.

As I said before, this book is about America and how it reacts to vampires. Throughout the series it was made clear that there are not many American vampires, but that changes with the arrival of Alucard. Newman packs a lot of social commentary about Americans into this book, from our secret desire to be “special” to our refusal to recognize the our own class structure. Vampires are often stand-ins for groups who were persecuted in American history and Newman even throws in some vampire “political correctness.” He even takes some jabs at some classic American vampire fiction (fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer without a sense of humor should not read this book). Indeed, some great world building without actually having to change much of history to do it.

Yet, I still have mixed feeling about this novel. Besides Penelope’s neutering, Newman’s detailed descriptions of scenes along with supporting backstory slowed the pace down significantly. On the top of that was the ending, which seemed like it could have been pared down or even ended at that climatic scene from “A Concert for Transylvania.” I don’t want to spoil the ending though and as a fan of the series I still liked the book and Newman certainly set it up for perhaps the ultimate conclusion to Anno Dracula. Considering how long we had to wait to see Johnny Alucard, it could be a while, but he still might beat out George R.R. Martin.

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