Dracula The Un-dead
Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt
New American Library/Penguin (2009)
Dracula the Un-dead is a direct sequel to Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula. The novel reconnects us with the surviving original characters some twenty-five years later, and introduces a few new ones, most notably, Quincy Harker, son of Mina and Jonathan Harker. The familiar ‘band of heroes’ that fought off the ultimate evil are once again summoned to face the dark entity that they had assumed was gone forever. The tale begins with Dr. John Seward trying to warn his old comrades about an evil conspiring to unleash a reign of blood upon England. He is hot on the trail of the accursed creature and ready to do battle. We quickly learn that it is not Dracula that he is hunting. It is a vampire who is just as wicked and cunning, Elizabeth Bathory.
Arthur Holmwood, Jonathan and Mina Harker, and Van Helsing, ignore Seward’s warning, knowing full well that he had become a morphine addict and a recluse, that is, until death comes to their very door. Meanwhile, Quincy Harker, an aspiring actor who is failing out of law school has a chance meeting with a legendary and eccentric stage actor from Eastern Europe, who befriends the young man and becomes his mentor. The tale escalates into a race to save the young Quincy from the clutches of a known evil and an unknown entity, while trying to tear down the veils of deceit and lies the young man has been subjected to since his birth.
Although the novel starts with a letter, it is written in modern, third person narrative. ‘The Un-dead’ frequently revisit’s the original novel, not just to remind us of past events but to give detail (sometimes contradictions) on character’s feelings and thoughts not expressed in the original novel. In order to enjoy this book you have to first accept that it is not written in Bram’s style, nor the style of 19th and early 20th Century writers. Secondly, you have to accept quite a bit of dancing around the (fictional) facts of the original, in order to enable Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt to tell the story they wanted to tell. Thirdly, you have to accept that this story is just as much about Elizabeth Bathory (more so in the first half of the book) as it is Dracula. And, at times it seems to be more of a sequel to Francis Ford Copalla’s Dracula film rather than Bram Stoker’s novel as it expands the Dracula character into a more sensitive being.
In this novel, Dracula is not portrayed as the ultimate evil we have read about. He is portrayed as a romantic stately figure, honorable and noble, that has been afflicted with the curse of the undead. Bathory is transformed in the book from our vision of a countess bathing in the blood of young maidens, to a many centuries old, powerful and evil vampire. Bram Stoker is actually a character in the book, struggling to get his story, “Dracula” launched as a play at the Lyceum Theatre in London. In the story, Dracula confronts Stoker and condemns his version of the events as a one-sided view told by his enemies. This helps to explain the difference in the portrayal of Dracula’s nature from the last novel to this one. The tale is intertwined with true historical events that help to firmly set it in the 1912 time frame.
Dracula the Un-dead successfully ramps up the tension and action of multiple plot lines and, I indeed, found it difficult to put down the book for the last 150 pages. It is a fast paced and exciting tale with many twists and turns, a crossover from an older style to modern novel writing.
The Afterward and endnotes make for some interesting reading; further explaining that some of the ideas and characters present in this sequel were originally Bram Stoker’s ideas, found in handwritten notes and touched upon in Bram’s short story, Dracula’s Guest. (Most notably the character of Inspector Cotford of Scotland Yard, originally conceived for Bram‘s Dracula tale but left out of the book‘s final versions.) It also briefly explains the loss of the copyright for the name Dracula in a lawsuit with Universal Pictures and the dual purpose of this book to get the name Dracula somewhat realigned under the Stoker family name.
I find Dracula the Un-dead to be a successful novel, revisiting and expanding upon the legendary character and book, engaging for fans of the original or for casual fans that have not read the original but are familiar with the story. This is an easier read, told in modern fashion, that touches upon all the main plot points of the original while unfolding a new story and plotlines. Purists will scream blasphemy but with all the changes and evolutions in the legend of vampires that have taken place since the groundbreaking original Dracula novel, this one at least returns to traditional vampire lore. Would fans be happy with a carbon copy sequel in style, story and plot-points? Would a novel like that even be accepted by a publisher in this day and age? The answer is, no. So while this may never become a classic like the original (most sequels aren’t) readers should stop squawking and just enjoy the ride. It’s not perfect but it’s still the best vampire novel I’ve read in a long time.