Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron – Book Review

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The Anno Dracula series of books by author Kim Newman is a delightfully entertaining alternative history, focusing on a tangent reality that mixes historical fact and fictional sources into a world of vampires and humans. Taking it’s cue from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this alternative world posits what might have happened if events in the novel had occurred drastically different, with Dracula proving successful and rising to power in England, marrying Queen Victoria to become Prince Consort and ruler of the nation.

The first novel, titled simply Anno Dracula, takes place a couple of years after this, in 1888, with half the population now turned into Vampires and a new social and political structure forming as people come to terms with the Nosferatu walking amongst the ‘warm’. It is a sleek, intelligent novel that follows several characters viewpoints in a retelling (or rather a retooling) of the Jack the Ripper story, with the victims replaced with Vampire prostitutes instead of regular warm blooded whores. Amongst the main protagonists are Charles Beauregard, an agent of the secret Government services group the Diogenes Club, and Geneviève Dieudonnè, a 14th century Vampire elder, tackling the Ripper case and ultimately Dracula himself, who appears mainly in the background as an arbiter of chaos, merely the instigator of the stories setting rather than a direct character.

The sequel, The Bloody Red Baron, is set during the first World War in a landscape altered drastically by the addition of Vampires, but that ultimately retains many of the historic details. Dracula, having been exiled from Britain following the events of Anno Dracula, has now spread his Vampirism throughout Europe helping to instigate and take a leading role in World War I. Charles Beauregard returns, now in his sixties, as one of the principle elders of the Diogenes Club with Edwin Winthrop, a promising young secret agent, taking his place as the principal protagonist in this story. Several other characters recur from the first book, many of them Vampires and as such not plagued by the fatigue of age occurring in the 30 years since the previous title. The narrative follows the close of the War and more specifically aerial combat squads on both sides, including the German Flying Circus and it’s main fighter Manfred von Richthofen or The Bloody Red Baron, as Germany attempts to build an invincible squad of undead mutant fliers. The Flying Circus is the centre of a ghastly mixture of science and alchemy at Schloss Adler (a typically gothic castle setting), perpetrated by a team of mad scientists headed by Professor ten Brinken and Doctor Caligari.



On the heals of Beauregard and Winthrop, and in search of a good story, is undead journalist Kate Reed, another carry over from the first novel, who flits between her duties as an ambulance driver on the front and her professional curiosity as a prolific purveyor of truth. Also present in an adjacent, but still integral, story is Edgar Allan Poe who has been hired by the German government to ghost write the autobiography of the Baron, to be used as inspiring propaganda. The story weaves and flows between Beauregard and the government in England, Winthrop in the flying squadron, Kate in the trenches, and the flying circus with Poe, and depicts the final push of the war and the eventual success of the allies but with a distinctly vampiric twist.

As with the first book historical, literary, and film references abound, indeed there’s such a wealth of inspiration mined from other sources (from real events, to the wealth of all Vampire fiction, to movies and fiction in general) that the research that must have been undertaken in coalescing the book is astounding. Of particular note is the breadth of description of aerial combat and technical flight info that is so precise it must have been based on extensive research. The story is very entertaining and enthralling, the split view points providing a great depth that fleshes out the characters and provides many angles of insight. There are countless moments of action, espionage, horror, and comedy that are littered throughout the very well conceived story. One moment of particular brilliance occurs when a zeppelin airship descends on the German castle to convey Dracula’s arrival accompanied by Wagner’s ride of the Valkyries in a hilarious, and twisted, reference to both Apocalypse Now and also the imperial march that announces Darth Vader’s arrival in Star Wars.

The Vampires in the series are treated with a type of humanity, rather than being supernatural beings they are explained more in the sense of being a tangential evolution of humans, and are frequently portrayed as being extensions of human characters. There are also a variety of types, much like different species, with various bloodlines having different characteristics, thus allowing for a greater diversity from just a singular idea of what constitutes a vampire.

The Bloody Red Baron is a stunning addition to the tightly written, and researched, alternate timeline universe of Anno Dracula, with compelling characters, plenty of intrigue, and not just a little smattering of blood and guts. The series, having been written some years ago with the first being published in 1992, is in the process of being re-released by Titan Books, most with new additional extras. The Bloody Red Baron comes with a fairly substantial new novella Vampire Romance, set in the 1920’s, that sees the return of Geneviève, from the first novel, being swept up in a Diogenes Club assignment involving Edwin Winthrop as they infiltrate a country house meeting of Vampire elders, who in the course of their meeting begin to be killed one by one creating an entertaining murder mystery. This additional material shows that Newman is still very comfortable in the world of vampire fiction and is both a great story on its own merit and a nice accompaniment to follow The Bloody Red Baron.

Anno Dracula and The Bloody Red Baron are both available now from Titan Books.


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