Tag Archives: Dracula

Review: “The Strain” by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Title: The Strain
Authors: Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Series: The Strain Trilogy #1
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: HarperCollins, 2009

I read The Strain for the first time immediately after it was released, back when I was in school. I absolutely loved it, but somehow missed the memo when the second and third books in the trilogy came out. Well, a recent trip to Half-Price Books netted me the entire trilogy, and one of the groups I’m a member of on Goodreads decided to do it as their monthly group-read, so I finally got around to picking it back up! The tagline hypes it as Bram Stoker meets Stephen King meets Michael Crichton, and I think that’s pretty accurate. Highly recommended!

Our story begins with an airliner, dead on the tarmac after landing. Complete systems shutdown, no power, complete blackout, and not a peep from the passengers. When they finally manage to get inside, it’s discovered that every single person on board is dead, save for three barely-conscious survivors. The public fears a cataclysmic outbreak, but the CDC is quick to assure them that things are under control. Doctor Ephraim Goodweather is not so certain. Neither is Abraham Setrakian, a Jewish pawn-shop owner and Holocaust survivor with an unbelievable secret. And when the dead passengers of the dead plane disappear from the morgue, it becomes clear that the nightmare is far from over….

The Strain takes vampires and makes them scary again, pure and simple. Tired of your vampires being sparkly and angst-ridden? The bloodsuckers you find here are monsters, pure and simple. What’s more, they are presented in such a way that their condition is almost scientifically feasible. This tale is plausible without large suspensions of disbelief, which is more than can be said for most vampire novels. I greatly enjoyed it both times I’ve read it, which is saying something. The prose is incredibly cinematic and descriptive, very evocative. Apparently del Toro originally conceived this as a television series before teaming up with Hogan to write it as a trilogy of novels when none of the networks would bite. The plot is perhaps a bit predictable, and the characters perhaps a bit too stereotypical for some peoples’ taste (I see these accusations a lot in other reviews, anyway), but this didn’t really hamper my enjoyment. Another oft-criticized element is the dead plane opening–apparently that’s been done already several times, and is seen as derivative. What del Toro is actually doing here, far from ripping off Fringe or another author, is paying homage to the original Dracula novel and the title character’s arrival in England on a lifeless ship, every passenger and crewmember dead and eaten. I appreciated this. I think a lot of people missed the reference.

CONTENT: Some R-rated language, especially from the gangbanger character. A lot of vampire violence, fairly gory, as well as dissection and autopsy sequences, plus the inevitable vampire-slaying scenes that can also get pretty gory. Some sexual content, not usually too explicit aside from some past-tense references. No occult content, as these vampires are played for a purely scientific effect.

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Review: “Anno Dracula: Dracula Cha Cha Cha” by Kim Newman

Title: Dracula Cha Cha Cha
Author: Kim Newman
Series: Anno Dracula #3
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Books, 2012

This is a shorter review I did a while back on Goodreads, before I really found my footing on this reviewing thing. I’d like to think I could do better now, but it’s in that awkward spot where I’ve read it too recently to want to reread it, but too long ago to review it properly.

The third installment of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series! I really enjoyed this, for the most part. Still not as good as the first, original entry in the series, but at the same time it was better than the second book which I thought fell a little flat. Newman once again populates his world with a host of borrowed literary, film and historical characters, this time drawing heavily from Itallian horror and crime films in addition to the Bond franchise. (That’s right–Bond! With that cover, are you actually surprised? But I’ll get to that….) A lot of the non-Bond characters and references went right over my head, not being all that into Italian cinema, but that’s not too big an issue.

The year is 1959. World War II is over and behind us, and Dracula has settled his exiled house in a Roman castle given him by the Allies in recognition for his aid in defeating the Nazis. But now it seems Dracula is no longer content with his exile as his marriage to the undead princess Asa Vadja is announced. This is obviously viewed with concern by Charles Beauregard, now over a hundred years old and nearing his end, also in Rome where he can keep an eye on his old enemy. Genvieve and Kate are also concerned, but their main focus is Charles’ failing health as he refuses to turn and join them in undeath. Charles’ old firm, the Diogenes Club, has sent one of their top operatives to Rome to investigate the proceedings–“Bond, Hamish Bond.” (Yes, Hamish is the Scots form of James….) Many 007-related references ensue, from other literary characters descibed as Bond’s classic villains (Frankenstein’s Monster is both Jaws and Oddjob, for example) to phrases and titles being worked in (“You only live twice,” says Bond on his experience turning vampire). And against all this, someone is flamboyantly killing vampire Elders…..

CONTENT: Mild language. Sexual innuendo, not too overly explicit. Some violence, vampiric and otherwise, perhaps a little disturbing at times.

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Review: “Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron” by Kim Newman

Title: The Bloody Red Baron
Author: Kim Newman
Series: Anno Dracula #2
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Books, 2012

This is a shorter review I did a while back on Goodreads, before I really found my footing on this reviewing thing. I’d like to think I could do better now, but it’s in that awkward spot where I’ve read it too recently to want to reread it, but too long ago to review it properly.

This second book wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but that’s to be expected. I thought Genvieve should actually appear as a character instead of remaining absent, a change the author himself apparently wishes he had made based on his commentary. Still, it was most definitely worth reading if you liked the first book, and I am a devoted fan of this series. In fact, I’m reaching the conclusion that I’m a great fan of Kim Newman’s writing across the board….

Here we have the world we left in at the end of Anno Dracula, twenty-odd years later and embroiled in a world war with vampires serving on both sides. New technologies are being tested, from chemical warfare to the newfangled aeroplane. Dracula serves as the Kaiser’s right hand, some say ruling from behind the throne. Charles Beauregard is back again to oppose the designs of the chief vampire, joined once more by stubborn war correspondant Kate Reed as well as the Diogenes Club’s newest addition, the young operative Edwin Winthrop. Will these intrepid heroes be able to discover Dracula’s designs in time to foil them? Or will Dracula and his vampire flyers led by the Bloody Red Baron himself, Baron Richtofen, triumph over the Allies?

CONTENT: Violence, including vampirism. Mild sexual content, not too explicit I don’t believe. Mild language.

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Review: “Anno Dracula” by Kim Newman

The year is 1888, the city is London, and a killer stalks the fog-shrouded streets. In the darkened streets of Whitechapel someone is killing prostitutes….vampire prostitutes. And neither the Queen nor Prince-Consort Vlad Tepes Dracula are amused….

CoverYeah, that’s right. In the world of Anno Dracula Vampires stalk the streets of London, and Dracula sits on the throne. Kim Newman has taken a story that we all more or less know in one form or another and turned it on its head. This is a tale of a world in which Van Helsing and his band of makeshift vampire slayers failed. Now Dracula has married Queen Victoria and rules England as the Prince-Consort. Vampirism runs rampant througout London (and presumably the rest of the land as well) as elder vampires are able to “come out of the closet” and be accepted for what they are while newborns multiply at an alarming rate. Van Helsing’s head adorns a spike atop Buckingham Palace. Quincey Morris and Jonathon Harker are likewise slain, casualties of the awful night when events went awry. Mina Harker is a vampire, part of Dracula’s court. Arthur Godalming has likewise turned and is a rising star in the vampire-controlled government. And Doctor Jack Seward’s sanity is slowly slipping as he works in a Whitechapel charity ward, slipping out at night with silvered scalpel to commit the horrible murders history will remember as the work of Jack the Ripper. Original characters Charles Beauregard, an agent of the Diogenes Club (introduced as Mycroft Holmes’ club by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and here serving as the precursor to 007’s Universal Exports) and Genevieve Dieudonne, Doctor Seward’s vampiric assistant, both find themselves caught up in the hunt for Silver Knife or The Ripper as tensions between the turned and the warm threaten to tear London to pieces….

The real genius of Kim Newman’s creation, however, is that London has become haven to every literary vampire who could conceivably have been placed there, as well as a variety of other characters from the time period. Both Doctors Jekyll and Moreau show up, for instance, as do a variety of legitimate historical characters in various stages of life or undeath (Oscar Wilde has turned, for one.) With Dracula on the throne, vampires no longer have to hide and they for the most part have flocked to his banner. Mostly Victorian-era creati0ns, there are nonetheless more contemporary characters as well. Anne Rice’s Lestat de Lioncourt makes a brief appearance, as does the villain of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. In this, Anno Dracula follows in the footsteps of Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton novels (which I apparently need to read) and Alan Moore’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Ingenious in its conception, but it can be offputtingly sexual in my opinion. Read at your own discretion.)

I first ran across mention of this book in a work on Dracula where in an appendix the authors gave an overview of notable works featuring that undead nosferatu. I idly noted that it sounded like a book worth reading, then promptly forgot about it. I then found it at Barnes and Noble on its rerelease, with a prominant endorsement from Neil Gaiman on the spine and front cover. I don’t know about you, but when Neil Gaiman recommends something I pay attention. I am exceedingly glad I did! I plan to now track down and read the rest of Newman’s bibliography, starting with the just-released sequel Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron.

First off, read Bram Stoker’s original novel. You won’t regret it. Its a classic for a reason, and you will need to know the story and characters therein to get the most out of Anno Dracula. If you are a hopeless cretin and refuse, at least do the CliffNotes or something. Seriously. Then read this book.

Given the premise, this is obviously not a story for children. Jack the Ripper’s victims were prostitutes, and we get to meet several of these women as characters so sexual content and violence are a given in any story exploring that mystery. The Ripper killings were quite gruesome, and while not exceedingly gory in its descriptions this element is not glossed over in this book. Vampirism tends to be rather sensual, and as noted there is a bit of sexual content–not too explicit, but present nonetheless. Also some foul language, but not too gratuitous as I recall. Definitely worth a read!

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