Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron

Anno

Author: Kim Newman

Finished on: 7 June 2015

Where did I get this book: Sent to me by a kind Twitter friend (see earlier post on the fates conspiring against me ever managing to read the house dry!)

So, rather a change in tone from A Thousand Splendid Suns. In fact, you could say this book is its polar opposite. A story set in an alternative universe populated by a combination of historical and fictional literary figures, entirely new creations, and a whole load of the undead – this is about as unreal as it’s possible to get. Probably picked deliberately after the emotional trauma of reading Hosseini’s all too real depiction of the difficulties of women’s lives under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Back to the comfort of escapism in this sequel to Newman’s Anno Dracula, the first instalment which saw Count Dracula marry the widowed Queen Victoria, become Prince Consort and spread vampirism round Britain.

This story is set in the First World War. Count Dracula has risen to a position of great influence in Germany, and along with several of his deeply unsavoury grotesque cronies, he is building a new race of soldier to dominate the air in the Great War.

I absolutely love the concept of these books. There is very little distinction between real and fictional to me in terms of the characters I live with in my mind. Why should there be, when they influence me equally, and often matter to me on an equal footing? My ideal man is a combination of Gene Kelly and Heathcliff, Oscar Wilde and Strider (which, of course, exactly describes my husband!) So, to me, the idea of a book where fiction and non-fiction interact together and the only thing that matters is telling a great story, is just brilliant. In one section DH Lawrence and Lord Chatterley both appear. It can turn into a bit of a ‘who’s that then?’ google-fest and detract from the story, but on the whole I enjoy it enormously.

This book is strongest when describing the horrors of air battles and trench warfare. Which to be honest, is probably also its greatest weakness. You have a world populated by characters who need to drink each others’ blood to survive, and the whole of literature forever from which to draw your characters and inspiration. But the very worst, most vivid and horrific events are all things that run more or less true to history. In a way it renders the whole vampire aspect of the story null and void. What really happened is worse. This is a world made more palatable through the introduction of vampires and  biologically engineered super soldiers straight from the pages of science fiction. Because that is what takes us firmly into the realms of escapism, and away from the territory of the ‘white eyes writhing in his face’ that were actually experienced not so many generations ago.

But if you’re in the mood for some revolting, dark and at times utterly ridiculous fantasy, then Newman’s your man.

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