Book Review: Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker
"He is coming, Bram. He'll be here very soon."
Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker is a perfect read for October, being the month of Halloween and spooky autumn vibes, depending on where you live. I waited until October to read it for this reason, and it certainly wasn't a disappointment on the scary gothic front.
A little history: between the time Bram Stoker took his original manuscript to publishers and when it was published in 1897, they cut around 100 words from the beginning for numerous reasons. One of them being that Bram wanted to tell the story as if it was a true tale. He didn't want it to serve as fiction but as "a warning of a very real evil". London was recovering from the Whitechapel murders, and so this was not a great idea. The epilogue was also shortened, apparently changing Dracula's fate. However, this change was only made with the UK editions, and so first editions of Dracula in other languages carry Bram's original visions. Dracul includes sections from the Icelandic version of Dracula and is eerie to read.
Dacre Stoker is Bram's great-grandnephew. Together with J.D. Barker, he has created Dracul as a prequel to Dracula, the way Bram intended. They have read through the first edition books and Bram's journals/notes to piece together a tale of the exact origin of Dracula (and vampires) as best as they could understand it. Bram Stoker seems to be present on every page, watching his hidden intentions unfold. "Bram's words were resurrected".
In 2017 they were able to view an original manuscript to verify much of their findings.
"Isn't it logical to assume that even the wildest of fables found life in a buried truth?"
It's 1868, and twenty-one-year-old Bram Stoker has shut himself into an abandoned abbey tower, fending off an unknown monster. He has crucifixes, holy water, a gun and a few other things at his disposal. Hoping he will last the night, he hurries to write his story in a journal before it is too late. His story includes his sickly childhood in Ireland, his odd nanny, and the uncovering of spooky tales by himself and his siblings over the years. Bram's diary entries, alongside those of his siblings, weave a story between their past and Bram's present to create an eerie, dark, mystery. And the emergence of Dracula.
"We have not lived, Thornley, not yet. But we can live now. It is not too late. Let me in and I will show you, I will show you everything."
The book has an atmosphere of a classic horror film. It somehow feels as if it is fitting to Bram Stoker's original intentions. Dracula is the grandfather of countless vampire stories and movies. The world of vampires' family tree is never-ending. I felt honoured to be included in this glimpse of the dawn of modern vampires into the world.
It was surprising that Bram Stoker was the main character. This made it so exciting and precious. At last, the events are tied into real-life—his life—as he wanted it to be. It is to be treasured.
The characters were based on Bram's own siblings and friends. It was interesting to learn about them. I felt like I was really getting to know Bram in the beginning. Unfortunately, this was lost a little when diary entries from the others became more frequent. It was nice to have a few points-of-view. The diary entries were insightful and gave a voice to each character. Some events may have been missed if only told by one character. There was a satisfying mix of the present/ past scenes. I enjoyed how the last section of the book was all in the "now". It really made pacing effective.
The characters were easy to adore: little Bram, who was favoured and healed by their nanny; Matilda, who loved a good mystery; Thornley, a doctor and dedicated husband; and Arminius, the rumoured first Val Helsing. A woman who has been on Dracula's mind for centuries brings them together (and to the master vampire's attention). Dracula's cruelty and ruthlessness are creatively displayed, as is his magnetic presence.
"I found myself lost in his eyes, simply gazing into them. They were mesmerizing; I felt as if I were staring into a hole in the earth that had no bottom, a pit so deep it passed through the realms of Hell and continued out the other side."
It takes the readers on a journey in discovering the "undead" and supernatural-somewhere your parents wouldn't want you to go, and probably yourself too, for that matter. The story plays on childhood imaginings, which are carried with us as we grow up. Strange things that happen that we never find answers for. Things that we think we are alone in experiencing but have happened to others. The sort of things in childhood tales where the children don't pass their experiences to grown-ups (in this book they did) but go on wondering about them as adults.
"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, but the man in black can put him back together again. The man in black can make him good as new…You must stop him."
I loved reading the author's notes and the links between the real and fictional Stoker family. It was fascinating to see copies of Bram's handwriting describing things that vampires could and couldn't do (e.g. they can go out in the sunlight, their powers are just weak). Also, to be reminded that Bram's monster is much more ancient than Vlad the Impaler—the link was not made by him, but in the seventies. His attraction came from stories such as the Dearg-Due, which his nanny told him. The actual location of Dracula's castle is also revealed—it was written in Bram's private journal in code. The book's history allows it to become more appreciated.
Sadly, it has been so long since I have read Dracula. I'm determined to read it soon so that I can link the books. Then, I'll be looking to read Dacre Stoker's official sequel to Dracula. Perhaps next Halloween…
"…not all monsters go away with time. In fact, some don't leave you at all—they wait. They're a patient lot. And no matter what it takes, you have to keep ahead of them, an inch outside their grasp will do."
Read: October 2019
Published: October 2018