Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters – review

Author: Kim Newman

First published: 2017

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: “There are no vampires in Japan. That is the position of the Emperor. The Emperor is wrong...”

In 1899 Geneviève Dieudonné travels to Japan with a group of vampires exiled from Great Britain by Prince Dracula. They are allowed to settle in Yōkai Town, the district of Tokyo set aside for Japan’s own vampires, an altogether strange and less human breed than the nosferatu of Europe. Yet it is not the sanctuary they had hoped for, as a vicious murderer sets vampire against vampire, and Yōkai Town is revealed to be more a prison than a refuge. Geneviève and her undead comrades will be forced to face new enemies and the horrors hidden within the Temple of One Thousand Monsters…

The review: Kim Newman hit on a fantastic concept in 1992 when he published Anno Dracula, a revisionism of Stoker’s novel in which the vampire won and subsequently married Queen Victoria and vampirism mainstreamed. The first novel took place in 1888 but subsequent novels decamped from the nineteenth century and were based through the twentieth (there were short stories set in the nineteenth).

This novel returns to the nineteenth century (or the very last gasp thereof) and the opening was published as a teaser in Anno Dracula 1899 and Other Stories. It sees a group of vampires, exiled by Dracula, appear as refugees in Tokyo. Offered sanctuary of a sort (the Emperor refused to accept that there are vampires in japan thus there are not) the vampires are taken to Yokai Town, a walled off ghetto where yokai are placed. In this Newman reimagines the various yokai as vampire types (not all blood drinkers, one subsists on tea that he has stolen – and it has to be stolen).

As in his other books in the universe Newman mashes up (alternative) history, mythology, literature and movies – drawing from all areas. Therefore one of the primary vampires in this is Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the book contains the origin story of Popeye (not named that) and a kyonsi. The vampire Christina Light is a Princess (originally an American who married into nobility) and a revolutionary. Interestingly her vampire character is light based, being almost luminescent she is described at one point as sparkling. From a Japanese point of view there are appearances of characters/creatures as diffuse as Goke from Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell to various traditional yokai such as kappa, Kasa-obake and Rokurokubi. The primary yokai (though hidden for much of the book) is the Yukki-Onna – the legendary Snow Woman literally consumes heat (sometimes blood, but preferred cold) and the backstory we are given is the folkloric one, which was filmed in Kwaidan. This level of mash-up is a strength but, in this volume, it teeters on being a weakness.

The writing is as crisp as one would expect from Newman but the primary narrative is perhaps less convoluted than in other volumes and this gives more room for mash-up and one felt, just on the odd occasion, that perhaps a level of geek fan-service was being applied too thickly. That is a matter of taste and opinion, of course, and was only a minor grumble. Newman is a fantastic storyteller and strong composer of prose and so for the most part this is all you would wish for in an Anno Dracula book – especially as it moved back into the origin century (even if the setting was somewhat more exotic) 8 out of 10.


Vladkergan said...

I'm so jealous you finished it ! I'm late on this one (I still need to read the previous short story collection in the universe)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Vladkergan, if the previous short story collection you are referring to is Anno Dracula 1899 then it is the first chapter of this volume, first published in that collection, that is in the Anno Dracula universe, the other stories are separate. It is worth reading though