Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dracula’s Demeter – review

Author: Doug Lamoreux

First published: 2012

Contains spoilers

The blurb: July, 1897, the Russian schooner, Demeter, set sail from Varna with a cargo of fifty oblong boxes partially filled with earth. A month later, in the midst of a raging storm, the derelict Demeter ran aground in Whitby, England, her crew missing save for her captain, who was tied to the wheel with a crucifix in his lifeless hands. The only living thing aboard was a huge dog that escaped into the night.

Bram Stoker, in his classic 'Dracula', with a few cryptic entries in an unnamed captain's journal, offered scant hints regarding the terrifying voyage that brought the vampire king from his homeland to a blood-rich London. Now, the whole mind-rending tale is told.

The story of Trevor Harrington, a British scholar and fugitive. Of Swales, the old Scot cook, who deceives their commander, but knows a good deal "aboon grims and boh-ghosts". Of Ekaterina Gabor, a beautiful Romanian who follows her lover by stowing away. Of Captain Nikilov, fighting for his ship and crew while something evil, more virulent than the black plague, decimates their number. Of Demeter herself, named for the Greek goddess of renewal, lost and tossed on an unforgiving sea. And of Count Dracula, at rest in Demeter's dark hold until the unintended actions of her crew resurrect the vampire and his unquenchable bloodlust.

Join Doug Lamoreux, 2010 Rondo Award nominee, author of The Devil's Bed, for a rousing sea adventure... for romance... and for terror. Come aboard Dracula's Demeter!

The review: I don’t find it surprising that people are intrigued by the last voyage of the Demeter, the ill-fated ship that brings Count Dracula to Whitby in Stoker’s seminal Dracula. The bare bones of the story are given to us by Stoker but the flesh is not there. Hence the film that has been on the horizon but never quite been produced, hence IDW’s graphic Death Ship.

When I reviewed the graphic I stated that “a film - if ever forthcoming - will really have to explore character (and make them rounded) to stand scrutiny, methinks.” Enter Doug Lamoreux…

Lamoreux is a self-confessed romantic (according to facebook posts that I’ve seen) and it shows within the novel. Of course, when I say romantic, I mean of the romantic movement and thus he builds a swirling epic out of what is essentially Ten Little Indians but never loses sight of the tension that the journey demands. It is the characters, however, that provide the meat of this story. Interesting and well-rounded, the author built a collection of characters that we could sympathise with – even though we knew what their fate was always going to be. His Count Dracula was perhaps less rounded than the rest of his characters but he was a true villain, there wasn’t an ounce of redemption within him and that was good to see.

After a sojourn on land, at the head of the book, the novel maintains its berth on ship with just the occasional moment in England. These are with Renfield, Lamoreux builds upon the Count's psychic link with the incarcerated madman, and also with Lucy, establishing that she, like Renfield, was sensitive to the Count’s psychic call and that his predation on her, in the original novel, was not as coincidentally random as it seemed – it was an interesting direction.

If I have to call foul it is ship’s cook (and default medic) Swales knowing about blood types. It’s idiosyncratic as they weren’t actually discovered until 1901 and, of course, the learned Van Helsing (in the original novel) was utterly ignorant of them. A minor moment where I emerged from the author’s literary spell but, beyond that, I found myself thoroughly immersed [EDIT 01/04/14 - I understand this has been edited out of the second edition and the author has added an acknowledgement to me for picking up on the issue - my thanks to DL for the acknowledgement]. Blood types aside I was especially delighted with the inclusion of Swales Jr (though he was hardly a spring chicken himself) a great original character and yet a link through to the original novel. All in all, good fun, an epic journey with a heart of darkness. 7.5 out of 10.


Lamoreux said...

Thank you, Andy. My bad on the blood type. Then again, if Jimmy Sangster can invent the Teddy Bear, why can't I invent blood typing.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

No worries, and thank you for an excellent read...

Re the blood typing, I think if Stoker hadn't put endless non-typed transfusions in the original it wouldn't have been noticed...

But you're right re the teddy bear (for those who don't know Horror of Dracula has a teddy bear mentioned by Van Helsing before they were invented and, to be fair, it was just a small thing but it made me surface from the immersion for a moment.

TGTR0660 said...

I just finished reading this book. Fantastic story. I actually thought, as I read the part with the blood types, that it was a proper correction of an error Stoker did in the original. Then I found out blood types were discovered AFTER Dracula was written but I still think their presence doesn't hurt the novel, after all written well after Stoker's time.

We need more books like this: proper horror vampires, and less of the... other type.

TGTR0660 said...

And by the way I found out about the existence of this great book thanks to Mr Taliesin again :-)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

TGTR0660 - really glad you enjoyed this :)

Lamoreux said...

Thank you, TGTR0660, for your kind words. I'm so glad you liked the novel. And, again, thank you Taliesin, for the wonderful review and for spreading the word!