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Dracula: the Un-Dead Review

Posted on September 18, 2009 by Monica Valentinelli

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Published in 1879, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was one of the reasons why I was drawn to the horror genre. Even though it was published in 1879, I felt it was brilliant the way Stoker wove letters and newspaper clippings together to show the now-infamous characters of Jonathan and Mina Harker, Dr. Steward, Arthur Holmwood, Lucy Westerna and (of course) Dracula.

Needless to say, I am not the only one who has enjoyed the book. Reprinted several times in multiple languages, Dracula has been heralded as a literary classic that’s been discussed, dissected and enjoyed. Its story has been made into comics and graphic novels, movies and animated features; its characters have been reused and reinvented so many times that they’ve become iconic.

We have two editions of Dracula sitting on our bookshelves. One is a leather edition and the other is a paperback edition from 2006; acclaimed artist Jae Lee (DARK TOWER, HELLSHOCK) added illustrations to the original text.

So you can imagine my surprise, when “the” sequel to Dracula pops up on our doorstep. As a writer, I can appreciate the amount of pressure that anyone might feel when asked to follow in Dracula’s footsteps. As a reader, my curiosity was definitely aroused. But would I have expected this story from a sequel? One word: “no.”

***Please note: SPOILERS BELOW***

The prologue is a letter from Mina Harker to her son, Quincy; it is also printed artfully on the inside cover. This letter set my expectations for the novel that a) Mina was either dead or was one foot in the grave and b) the novel would focus on their son, Quincy. Within the first seventy-five pages, I was barraged with a series of characters and names from the time period. Jack the Ripper. Elizabeth Bathory. Oscar Wilde. This technique drew me out of the story because, like Dracula, I’ve read, seen and heard about those characters so many times I have a two-dimensional relationship with them. In order for me to get “into” Jack the Ripper’s head, for example, I would need to read a story “just” about Jack and not one what tries to cleverly tie Jack’s murders to Van Helsing. Because of my inability to identify with the characters, their use felt like the writers were “celebrity name-dropping” in order to clue the reader into the time period.

The sheer volume of characters that were introduced (and re-introduced) also distracted me from the story, which is decidedly NOT about Dracula and is focused on an angry lesbian vampiress, Elizabeth Bathory. (Who, as it turns out, was the “real” villainess in Dracula and responsible for his apparent demise.) Before I get to Bathory, let me get back to the other characters. Since DRACULA: THE UN-DEAD takes place twenty-five years after the original, I did expect to read about what has happened to the core characters. BUT (and this is a big “but”) I expected a vastly different narrative. If this story was told from the same letter/newspaper clipping/etc. format, I would have given the book a lot more lee-way. I would have. Because really, writing an entire novel using a series of letters is no small task. This, on the other hand, seemed more speculative than cohesive. It asks a lot of “What if?” questions, based on the assumption that I’m already emotionally attached to these characters.

Remember the Prologue? Imagine my surprise when Mina not only turned up alive but ended up being the protagonist for the book. In DRACULA: the UN-DEAD, Elizabeth Bathory is the true villain to this story and the previous one as well. Hunting down and killing the original members of Dracula’s pursuers, she is brutal and even goes so far as to “rape” Mina. We do see some of her character perspective, which was interesting — but it wasn’t Dracula. The scenes describing horrific acts are written very well, and even though I have a strong dislike for blatant sexual references in horror I can understand why some of the scenes were used. Jonathan Harker’s impotency, the toll on Van Helsing’s body over time, the questions surrounding what had actually happened to Lucy — all of these pieces add up and make sense. However, it is Bathory–not Dracula–who is the true antagonist of this story. Her introduction cheapens the trials the mortal characters have gone through, and the attention to her lesbian nature seemed more “modern” than anything else.

The problem with DRACULA: THE UN-DEAD, is that there are simply way too many new, old and iconic characters to keep track of as you follow the multiple perspectives and plot threads. When Dracula is introduced, he is not re-introduced, he is simply…there. This book had very little focus, and because of that I don’t see this as a “book” persay, but a treatment for a movie that we’ll see in theaters. Sure, it’s a treatment that offers fans a chance to see the characters in action again, to read about things that mean something to them, but this isn’t a sequel to Dracula. If it was–why on earth would you include Bram Stoker as a character in this book?

There is an extensive afterword that explains some of the goals that Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt set out to do. I deeply respect and understand what they were attempting to do and why they were doing it. I am not saying that neither cares about the original work; I’m also not saying that neither has done their research. Also, while I fully acknowledge Dacre’s family relationship to Stoker, I feel that his biology is not a reason to pick up the book.) Yes, I absolutely believe that put together you will never again find two people more well-versed in Stoker’s life and his famous tome. I do believe they care, but in this case — I believe they care too much. I believe that what they wanted was a book that would do all things for all readers, but in this case I feel that their lofty goals fall short. Had they focused their efforts considerably, this would have turned out to be a story that I would have liked because I would have cared about what happens to the characters.

So who would like this book? If you want to pick up DRACULA: THE UN-DEAD, pick it up for an interesting take on the “happily-never-after.” Pick it up because you’re interested in reading a different take on the vampires that aren’t “pretty” but truly monstrous. For on that note, DRACULA: THE UN-DEAD does succeed.

Review by Monica Valentinelli

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19 Responses to “Dracula: the Un-Dead Review”

  1. Steven Dawes says:

    We share similar roots in that Dracula was one founders of my love for the genre (I’ve also got two copies of this classic, one of them is annotated with great info about Bram and his time).

    And while I prefer my vampires as monsters (I’ll take the biped leeches with fangs over the brooding emo-goth vamps anyday) this book sounds like the series “League of Extrordinary Gentlemen” gone bad.

    Great review Monica!

  2. I’ve seen the tack that Dracula was a “true” story related to, and published by, Stoker before. Caitlín R. Kiernan used it in the excellent short story, “Stoker’s Mistress,” for example.

    The epistolary form of the novel lends itself to the idea that Stoker was merely gathering and editing a series of artifacts, rather than creating something whole-cloth. Without having read the book, I can’t argue whether it was effectively handled here or not, but I suspect by your reaction, that it wasn’t. 😛

  3. Monica says:

    Stoker appears as a stand-alone character in the book, not as the storyteller. He’s a character who is working on getting a play produced for his novel hit “Dracula.”

  4. Does he serve any purpose to the storyline other than as an easter egg?

  5. Monica says:

    “Kind” of…the stage where he is trying to get the play produced ties into a few other characters. It’s more peripheral (in my opinion) than direct.

  6. It seems to me that he would have been a neat character to have Quincy go to him to try and retrieve “extra” letters from the time period of the first time, to gain new insight into the events his parents experienced, but won’t discuss.

  7. Rachel says:

    This is all kind of strange. A friend pointed this book out to me. I took a look at it in the book store and decided I didn’t like the prose much.

    In the meantime I’ve been researching Countess Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Báthory for a Halloween costume (well at least a version of the almost mythical character she has turned into).

    In my research I did find some people claiming that Bram Stoker was inspired by Báthory, but the only proof of this was a brief description of her case in one of his reference books. It is said (though disputed) that Báthory tortured and killed as many as 650 people, most women and most servants and yes, she was thought to be bisexual. She is also the one that is usually associated with bathing in virgin’s blood to maintain her beauty – although this is confirmed to be untrue as it was added to her mythos by a playwright later.

    Aside from the prose which turned me off this book your review seems to highlight a general lack of creativity and using ‘name dropping’ as a crutch. Though Bram Stoker’s book was certainly based on historical figures and research, it was not so direct, it seems like he put more of himself into his characters than his great-grandnephew has now done.

  8. Harmsden says:

    My major problem with the book is its prose. Whenever Dacre and Holt try to flex their descriptive muscles they end up pulling them instead. I’m tired of seeing the words ‘raven’ and ‘black’ used to describe someone’s hair. It’s a horrible clichè, one of many. Elsewhere, Bathory is described as a ‘misty rapist.’ I had to read that line twice to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks. It’d be a good Hammer movie, but it’s a weak sequel. Try Kim Newman’s ‘Anno Dracula’ instead.

  9. Steve ellis says:

    I only read a part of this book in the store and put it down due to the nature of the prose, but my feeling in reading what I read is that this was an attempt to cash in on the family name and get
    abig budget movie out of it using the “stoker” seal of approval.

    The very fact that Dracula becomes a dashing hero rather than the hideous fiend fromthe novel shows us the Hollywood aspirations.

    I hate to be this cynical.

  10. Liam Starr says:

    hmmmmmmmm……. i saw it at a store yesterday, i looked at it… but my biggest fear was that dacre stoker was trying to continue the story because of his relation to bram stoker, not because of actual writing skill….. with elibeth bathory, it seems they tried to repeat what bram stoker did from basing the villain (in the original book, dracula was based on vlad the impaler….) on an actual historical villain……… jack the ripper? huh? well….. it’s awesome to have jack the ripper as a villain, but i personally don’t think i’d use someone so famous that’s been used countless times before…..

    really quite a shame……. dracula should’ve been left as a single book….

  11. Sabrena Arosh says:

    Reading it halfway. Don’t really like how the story is spun. And the gruesome deaths as well as lewd references seem like cheap tricks to make a modern audience read it. All in all, it just doesn’t measure up for me 🙁

  12. SunlessNick says:

    Good review Monica; I had been debating whether to get this book, and I have to say you’ve swung me to the negative. (Whether or not you meant to do that).

    It does look like there are some things in it that I’d like: I don’t find vampires all that sexy or sexual in themselves; and I think that Dracula, as a monster, was leavened more by psychological oppressiveness than anything romantic or intimate. Despite the references to lewd stuff, it sounds like this book might have suited me on that score (I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian).

  13. Cathy says:

    I just finished reading the book and i absolutely loved it. I think that it was pretty nice that we were able to see Dracula in a better light.

  14. caro says:

    hey in the book when jonathan harker gets hit by the horses does he die forever or relive or something?

  15. yotel says:

    I think there all dead, caro. Besides they were all destoryed before dieing in this book. 🙁

  16. Sandra says:

    Besides the ridiculousness of making Bathory Jack the Ripper and turning Dracula into what is almost a good guy, I found the attention to the original’s details to be lacking. One example: the moving of Carfax Abbey from London to Whitby. Why was this done? It seems to only be an oversight, rather than changing it for a good reason, like forwarding the plot along to a different locale.

    I found the book hard to get through, because of all the cliches that seem to inevitably end up in modern books that take place in the late 19th- early 20th century. I really was hoping this would be a good book. The idea of a sequel to Dracula, is a good one, unfortunately, the idea will have to be handled better by someone else. I can’t help but feel that putting Dacre Stoker’s name on it, was a ploy to increase sales and give it more credibility.

  17. Simon Brake says:

    I stumbled across this book whilst trying to do research for a story of my own. Upon borrowing it from the library I dispair that it’s the only acknowledged sequel to be ‘officially’ linked to the original.

    To me it looked like they’d tried to put Dracula into a blender with the Underworld trilogy and some of the less subtle elements of the World of Darkness, and nothing like the original. Characters that made brief cameos simply on the grounds of being mentioned in Bram Stoker’s notes are certainly not integral to the plot, and almost added simply to use them.

    I’ve seen there’s a novel called Bloodline that looks a better ‘official’ sequel, but have yet to land my hands on a copy.

  18. Scott Higbee says:

    I found it a page turner, but despite that, I was disappointed with the book. I re-read the original just before reading The Undead. While I found the idea that our heroes from the original book were troubled from their original trials and traumas from dealing with Dracula realistic, I believe Stoker and Holt went way too far in changing the characters. I refuse to accept the new novel as canon despite the lineage. I enjoyed the honor and cameraderie from the original book and was especially troubled with what Stoker and Holt did to the Harkers and how they changed Dracula.

  19. Lee Eliot says:

    This… oh my God. Oh my dear freaking God in heaven. This is the worst book I have ever read- in what attempts to be a sequel to the best I ever read. Mark my words, if you love the original ‘Dracula’, never pick this up. Please. Do yourself a favor. They clearly just saw the Coppola movie and wrote some rubbish to follow. This book makes me sick.

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