Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dracula: The Un-Dead – review

Authors: Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt

Release Date: 2009

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Based on Bram Stoker’s own notes, the authorized sequel is written by a direct descendant of Stoker and a well-known Dracula historian. Fast-paced, full of suspense and rich with historical detail Dracula: the Un-Dead will captivate admirers of gothic literature.

Quincey Harker, son of Jonathon and Mina, having left his law studies for the stage, stumbles upon the troubled production of Dracula at the Lyceum, directed by Bram Stoker himself. The play plunges Quincey into the world of his parents’ terrible secrets. Can it be that history is about to repeat itself?

For, twenty- five years since Van Helsing and his allies reduced Dracula to dust, evil stalks Europe once again. One by one the band of heroes is being hunted down. Has Dracula somehow survived to seek his revenge? Or is there another, more sinister force at work?

The Review: So here it is, the official sequel – as sanctioned by the Stoker estate – of Dracula. Within the first four pages we get more story changes and revision of lore than you can shake a stick at. This is contained in a letter from Mina to Quincey Harker, to be opened on her sudden or unnatural death, a quick summary reveals:

  • Dracula is referred to as Prince, in the original book he is a Count – the word Prince does not even feature (I did a search of the pdf). This was to tie in with Dracula as Vlad Tepes, as erroneously postulated by McNally and Florescu.

  • Harker was imprisoned in Castle Dracula as Dracula feared he would reveal the truth of what he was. Not as a snack for the brides as he was finished with him, then?

  • Dracula travelled in boxes of earth as sunlight would burn him to ash, rather than being able to walk in daylight as Stoker clearly stated.

  • Lucy consciously ran out into the dark, and was subsequently attacked, the night the Demeter wrecked, rather than sleepwalking three days later.

  • Mina noticed the two holes on Lucy’s neck, when she found her, rather than assuming, the next day, that she had pricked her neck.

  • Seward owns the Whitby asylum – rather than one by Carfax.

  • Quincey plunged his dagger in Dracula’s heart and Dracula burst into flames – rather than just crumbling to dust. One can't help but think of how this would be a dusting effect, ala Buffy or Blade in a subsequent movie.

  • A year after Quincey Harker was born Mina started dreaming of Dracula who was haunting her dreams, rather than the carefree picture, seven years on, as drawn in the coda to the original book.

  • Now, there is much, much more as the book continues (to the point that Stoker's novel is openly called a pack of lies by characters in this book) and I note that Elizabeth Miller, who I hold in high esteem, states in the afterword that “a purist might indeed be occasionally shocked by the introduction of such ‘errors’ into the original text.” With all due respect, not so. I am shocked that such artistic licence has been taken with the lore and story of a book in what purports to be an official sequel and claims to use Bram’s notes. This book owes more to Hamilton Deane (who appears as a character), the various movies and the book ‘In Search of Dracula’ than Stoker’s original. I feel that if this were just a sequel based loosely round Dracula it would be one thing, but an official sequel should respect and expand on the original story and lore. Indeed I felt a particular discomfort at the change that persued, what I could describe as, a “Terminator 2 model” – not that there are robots or time travel, before you panic, but in plot/character device.

    That said, if we can scour the idea of this not being an ‘official sequel’ from our minds then it isn’t bad as a novel. There are some issues within. For instance the editors should, perhaps, have picked up on “John Tuck, here in Piccadilly, was the best cobbler in London, second only to Lobb on St James” after all it can’t be both the best and the second best but I am being overly picky, probably. Then again... Remember what I listed re Lucy and the marks on her neck, earlier in the review? Well, by the end of the book Mina muses that, on that fateful night, Lucy was sleepwalking and Mina thought she had pricked her neck! Perhaps that wasn't an error but a continuation of the revisionist attitude, maybe even post-modern?

    Generally however, it is fast paced, with twists and turns and set pieces clearly designed for the big screen. There are interesting moments, such as the suggestion that perhaps a vampire does not change into, say, a bat but makes the observer perceive a change - I did like that. I also thought there was a good use of Báthory. However I have read better unofficial Dracula sequels – Kim Newman, Elaine Bergstrom, and Freda Warrington all spring to mind. As I scour the words 'official sequel' from my mind I settle upon 6 out of 10.


    Zahir Blue said...

    Thanks for that. Sounds a tad on the sloppy side, but evidently a fun enough read.

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    it was a fun enough read and I might be being more critical on the sloppier bits because the revisionism annoyed me... but only a little

    Everlost said...

    I am surprised they went away from the original novel so much, if it was an official sequel... not many sequels start saying the first film had mistakes! From the review it almost looks like your "setting the record straight" work!

    Gabriel said...

    Hey Andy,

    Well I still have 200+ pages to go with this book, and to be quite honest it's not really exciting me, and I am finding better things to do than to sit down and read it in a few days like I normally do.

    The 'noodling' in the story is annoying and I find it's so far away from the spirit of the original novel that it really does serve as a cash-in. Easy does it for me with this one....

    Oh and the Jack The Ripper association had been done before, esp with Jack Newman's Anno Dracula. and I thought Freda Warrington's Dracula The Undead was the sequel :p

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for posting this -- I was a bit skeptical about the 'official sequel' at first, but I'd read some good things about it so I thought I would check it out. Though with all the revisionist history you spoke of, I'm not sure it'll be for my tastes. Thanks, Taliesin!

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    Cheers guys... Everlost, I'm glad you mentioned Setting the Record Straight - for those who don't know it is a short story of mine that was published in Ethereal Tales.

    Yes I did write a short that was revisionist of Dracula and the main difference between that and this - mine doesn't purport to be the official sequel.

    Gabriel, I believe that Freda's identically titled novel ahs been re-released as a result of this (a new hardback was showing on my Amazon recommendations). For a nice addition of Jack the Ripper into the story, and a correct use of the notes, however, see The Un-Dead, which may be a revision of the original (almost a director's cut) but is absolutely marvellous.

    Nicole, my pleasure - folks need to know what they are getting with this. I note the publisher has redone the original with a similar cover to 'brand' them as well.

    Anonymous said...

    At least they didn't change the mythology so much that they had Dracula sparkling in the daylight....

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    true ;)

    Lunatic rose, unpolluted said...

    Thank you from excellent review! PRINCE Dracula? Burning in the sun? Was Lucy also mentioned to be a hardboiled nymphomaniac instead of Purity Sue of the original? On the other hand, story sounds, if not original, at least a good one. After all I enjoyed a lot of 1992 Dracula (that Gothic look!), although it´s much-promoted "faithfulness" probably put poor Stoker to spinning in his grave.

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    Hi Lunatic Rose, welcome to the blog.

    Actually, Lucy is one character they keep pretty much in 'blessed memory' if you like - though Mina becomes an "adulterous whore" - they do postulate that it was actually Van Helsing who killed her with an unmatched blood transfusion and Dracula saved her...

    Wait, that's been done before by Kim Newman! A similar device was also used by me in Setting the Record Straight...

    Actually that reminds me, Lucy, the girl with sunlight hair (I read as blonde) that becomes dark upon undeath, suddenly has red hair... I actually felt they were referencing the 92 film at that point.

    Gabriel said...

    To be honest Andy, I too am seeing. A bit of Coppola's Dracula in this.
    I just didn't want to say anything, same with having Bathory in the cast it reads
    Like a Hammer Horror movie novel adaptation.

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    Agree re the Coppola, it is the Mina, "My Prince" element that really lends that feel above all else. Though D himself actually almost feels Oldman-ish, thinking about it.

    Hammer, not so much for me. I can see where your coming from but it just didn't strike the same chord to me.

    Zahir Blue said...

    Um...wasn't it Saberhagen's THE DRACULA TAPES that suggested Lucy died of mismatched blood transfusion, rather than ANNO DRACULA? I don't seem to remember that in Newman's work.

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    Zahir, I'll have to take your word about it being in Dracula Tapes as (hangs his head in shame) I haven't read them. So perhaps both suggested it.

    One of the diary sections in Anno Dracula confesses he must "allow it possible her death... ...was due not to the Count but to Van Helsing's transfusions".

    Clark49 said...

    I've just completed the novel and what can I say? The use of Elizabeth Bathory was a good idea (after all Hammer saw fit to use her as the inspiration for Countess Dracula), but to make her Jack the Ripper? Not really sure. I came away confused by the rewriting of Dracula lore to suit the purposes of a story that could be an Edwardian murder mystery, with elements of Dan Brown adventure and vampires for added measure. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book, but as Taliesin pointed out - there are better books written as sequels to Dracula than this.

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    cheers clark, I'll take your word re the Dan Brown - I've never felt the urge to read his books

    Clark49 said...

    Can't say I blame you not reading Dan Brown - pulp of the highest order. Dracula: The Un-Dead was enjoyable hokum, but personally I feel the use of real historical characters was done better in Kim Newman's Dracula books, there were more characters, both real and imaginary, and they seemed to fit in better to the context of the books than the Dacre Stoker/Ian Holt novel. Of course you may disagree, but we're all entitled to our own opinions...........

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    Actually Clark I totally agree :)

    Zahir Blue said...

    Well, I wrote my own review, and to be honest it was rather more scathing than yours.

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    Zahir, I read your review and it wa well written. As you say it was more scathing but that is more an each to their own, I think.

    You said in your review Were it nothing but a roller-coaster of thrills and chills, then judging it as a poor exploration of its own ideas would be silly. - Having dismissed the notion of this actually being an official sequel (in its heart if not its description) that is all I took it as - a big old line of set pieces designed for the big screen adaptation. As such I took it on that level.

    Conversley you did see the attempt of dramatis within the book (I think I just dismissed it as a failed aspect) and as such your analysis of its failure is fair.

    For those reading the comments, Zahir's review is here.

    Dracfan said...

    Am a huge fan of the original and was looking forward to this novel. I Thought Dracula: The Undead was fairly unimmaginative and lacked any of the atmosphere of the original. Was very dissappointed. It seemed to owe a large debt to Coppolla's Dracula especially in its descriptions of certain events which were almost scene for scene the cinematic version (also Renfields orgin story). In addition the plot device of Stoker's novel being "a pack of lies" (and thus allowing the authors to use only which parts they wanted to and ignore the rest) was a little heavy handed. I love Dracula and had some hopes for this novel. Warringtons sequel despite its many flaws (imasculating almost all of the male characters being one of them) was far superior to this rag. Also the ending was awful, just awful but I won't say anymore in case there are those who haven't read it yet.

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    Dracfan - fair comments.

    Had this been billed as a sequel to the Coppola vision I am sure many would have felt easier about it - rather than claiming to be a sequel to the original... in that, its 'clearly designed for the big screen' moments would have been part of a standard for a film/novel tie in.

    cheers for the comment

    Anonymous said...

    like your review Taliesin.

    However one thing though, while like how you say i enjoy the book by "scouring the words official sequel from it"

    but can we do that?

    One may say that no sequel is the true sequel unless Bram was the writer but the reason this book gets away with it on the cover is that dacre (whose name is much bigger than holt's although i think the latter might have contributed more) is the next best thing.

    and besides the changes you mention and the many many more I can think of the top of my head, this book is still being billed as the "true" end of the characters that I have alwasy loved.

    A fact that has had me in slight depression ever since I read this book.

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    Hi anon - it is the official sequel, whether we like it or not, because the Stoker estate say it is so... that is the sad fact because the authors (and I agree Ian Holt probably had the biggest hand in this) did not respect the source at all.

    I can count many a sequel to Dracula, not deemed as official, that had more respect for the source - no matter what they did with the story direction - than this book.

    It is a sad state of affairs when the only good thing the estate can think of is making money from the 'franchise', rather than praising the artistic nature of the original - without thinking of money.

    Lets be honest, if they had written a book that respected the original, it will have sold a bucket-load.

    Nevermind, it is what it is, it'll probably get a film, but candidly it ain't no real sequel - and as I say, if we can ignore that, it is a competent read designed to make a film from with set pieces in place.

    Anonymous said...

    well the answer for me is dont like it.

    here hoping that somewhere in the next few decades we will get another official sequel from the stoker house with no connection undead (much like the gone with the wind sequels). have you read the stoker endorsed graphic sequel "harker"?

    I prefer being of the same mind as Dracula historian leslie S Klinger

    Anonymous said...

    just to mention
    could you maybe do a review on freda warrington's book?
    (would have just asked on your profile but it dosent have that option)

    thanks for the candily it aint no real sequel line

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    Anon - thanks for the Klinger link and in answer to the question, no I haven't read Harker.

    I only do book reviews when I have just recently read the book. Whilst I have read Freda's novel it was a very long time ago.

    If I happen t re-read it, I will review it, of course.

    Anonymous said...

    well i read Harker

    trust me you should read it, its great

    Taliesin_ttlg said...

    many thanks for the report back anon, I'll keep an eye out for it.