Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard (Anno Dracula 1976-1991) by Kim Newman is the fourth in an alt-history fantasy series following Dracula's fictional legacy, now including his son, would-be drug lord Johnny Alucard (available September 17, 2013).
The Anno Dracula series has always been a favorite of mine because of its radical reimagining of world history. What if Dracula had really existed? What if he hadn’t met his end at the hands of Van Helsing and Co.? Kim Newman has explored the impact this would have had on the Victorian, World War II, and mid-century eras in previous books: now he sets his sights on what could arguably be called the Cocaine Era of 1976-1991.
As 1976 dawns, the legendary Count Dracula is dead. One of his get, an undernourished young vampire named Ion Popescu, attaches himself to Francis Ford Coppola’s movie production of Dracula being filmed in Transylvania. A sympathetic Kate Reed, hired as consultant to the filming, befriends Ion and is warmed by his seemingly puppy-like determination to change his name to John and migrate to America. She muses:
Was this how Dracula had been when he first thought of moving to Great Britain, then the liveliest country in the world just as America was now? The Count had practised his English pronunciation in conversations with Jonathan [Harker], and memorised railway timetables, relishing the exotic names of St Pancras, King’s Cross and Euston. Had he rolled his anglicised name—Count DeVille—around his mouth, pleased with himself?
Of course, Dracula saw himself as a conqueror, the rightful ruler of all lands he rode over. Ion-John was more like the Irish and Italian emigrants who poured through Ellis Island at the beginning of the century, certain America was the land of opportunity and that each potato-picker or barber could become a self-made plutocrat.
Unfortunately for Kate, young John is not as innocent as she imagines him to be. The direct descendant of Dracula has big plans for himself and America and won’t let anyone get in his way. As he amasses a fortune by inventing and spreading a new drug called “drac,” he proves himself to be a vampire perfectly suited for his epoch. Whereas Count Dracula had ingratiated himself with monarchs and presidents, John (who soon changes his name again to Johnny) knows that the balance of power over the public imagination has switched to entertainers and acts accordingly. He runs with Andy Warhol (causing another holdover from previous Anno Dracula books, Penelope Churchward, to abandon The Factory,) snubs punk culture and embraces disco in New York City as he builds his empire. But not everything is smooth sailing, as he encounters sometimes subtle opposition:
The driver, a gaunt white man with a baggy military jacket, glanced instinctively at the rear-view mirror, expecting to lock eyes with his fare. Johnny saw surprise in the young man’s face as he took in the reflection of an empty hack. He twisted to look into the dark behind him and saw Johnny there, understanding at once what he had picked up.
“You have a problem?” Johnny asked.
After a moment, the taxi driver shrugged.
“Hell, no. A lot of guys won’t even take spooks, but I’ll take anyone. They all come out at night.”
Behind the driver’s gun-sight eyes, Johnny saw jungle twilight, purpled by napalm blossoms. He heard the reports of shots fired years ago. His nostrils stung with dead cordite.
Uncomfortable, he broke the connection.
When New York City becomes increasingly hostile to Johnny and his schemes, he heads west to Hollywood. There he crosses paths and figurative swords with one of the banes of his father-in darkness’ prior existence, the self-possessed Geneviève Dieudonné (whom I will unabashedly admit is my favorite character in the whole series.) Geneviève finds herself positioned, sometimes unwittingly, as Johnny’s foil in his ultimate scheme: to fully resurrect Dracula and usher in a new golden age of vampirism.
Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard is a rollicking ride through the pop culture of 1976-1991, as Kim Newman cleverly twists and turns the events of those fifteen years to fit his vampiric narrative. Not a single moment feels forced as he blends actual historical events (e.g. Andy Warhol’s assassination, the Iranian revolution) with fiction come to life (such as the Taxi Driver homage excerpted above.) Note: See an example of just how many such characters references there may be in this Wikepedia page for his previous novel, Dracula Cha Cha Cha.
The crack epidemic becomes the drac epidemic in this entirely plausible, wildly entertaining account of a vampire who, like any other criminal, seeks to exploit the American Dream for his own ends. But it isn’t just a celebration of criminality: it’s also an exploration of what it means to adapt to changing times, as personified by the vampire trio of Dieudonné, Reed, and Churchward. The vampire myth has always been useful for deconstructing the fears of any given age, and Kim Newman applies it to this hedonistic era with his trademark wit and style, giving us an insightful, if fantastical, look at the America of the time.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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