Published by Titan Books
Titan is back again with another new edition from Kim Newman’s amazing series of alternate-history books formed around everyone’s favorite bloodsucker, Dracula.
Originally published in 1995, Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron continues the story begun in the brilliant Anno Dracula (review here). Moving forward from Victorian England, we find ourselves in 1917, and the War to End All Wars is in full swing. France is a trench-filled battleground while French, British, and US troops fight back the Hun.
Of course, this is the universe of Anno Dracula so this war isn’t much like the one that actually happened at the beginning of the 20th century. Dracula fled Britain after his defeat in Anno Dracula and has become the leader of the Kaiser’s armies. “Warm” troops fight alongside vampires in trench warfare but also in the skies, which is where our plot comes in. The air war is in full swing, and as it happens, vampires are far superior airmen compared to humans. They don’t get cold at the higher altitudes, their enhanced senses and reflexes allow them to perform amazing flying feats, and they can see and therefore fly in the dark.
The titular Baron is, naturally, a vampire. He and his flying circus are tearing through Allied air forces at an alarming rate. Charles Beauregard from Anno Dracula sends his protege, Edwin Winthrop, to lead reconnaissance missions with the finest flight group at the front of the war. What they find at the mysterious Chateau du Malinbois will change the face of the war.
Usually when you say “this is more of the same” in a review, it’s a bad thing. Not so here. Newman continues his magnum opus Anno Dracula in The Bloody Red Baron. It is indeed more of the same: more of the same clever writing, exciting storytelling, and interesting blend of history and fiction.
Baron is not quite the same genius as Anno Dracula, however. That’s not a slam on Newman; it’s the nature of the beast: Anno Dracula was cut from richer storytelling cloth than Baron. Dracula’s takeover of Britain and the subsequent “silver knife murders” of Jack the Ripper made for the perfect venue for Newman’s history twisting antics. World War I and the tale of Baron von Richtofen just isn’t as rich. As such, the book falls just short of AD‘s brilliance.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot here to enjoy. The book is fantastic. The clever kleptomania of fictional characters from other works continues here unabated and is a source of constant grins and giggles from any horror fan. How can you not love a book that features Dr. Moreau working on bringing out the beast in vampire soldiers, assisted by young medical student Herbert West, their lab guarded by a young lieutenant with British Intelligence named Simon Templar? References from such diverse sources as Wings of Glory, Carmilla, Near Dark, and even Forever Knight are rampant. You get dizzy just keeping up.
As before, Titan’s reprint is worth a purchase simply because of the new bonus material. A new novella titled Vampire Romance is the highlight. Following the action of The Bloody Red Baron, it’s now the roaring 20’s, and elder vampire Genevieve from Anno Dracula returns to England, only to be recruited by the Diogenes Club to investigate an effort to crown a new king of the vampires now that Dracula is in repose. This is to happen at a meeting in a remote British manor. Upon arriving, we find elders from all over the world (and all over vampire fiction) gathering to cast their lots, along with a warm teenage girl who is completely enamored with everything vampiric.
What follows is a rollicking satire of vampire romance wrapped in a satire of Agatha Christie-style “locked room” mysteries. Imagine the classic sendup of that genre, Murder By Death, cast with characters from Anne Rice, and you have an idea what’s going on here. Newman has no small amount of fun skewering the latest rage of vampire romance from Twilight to Rice and more. I honestly enjoyed Vampire Romance even more than the main feature in this volume. Newman’s sense of humor is wickedly sharp, and his targets here are ripe for skewering. In the midst of all the jabs, he manages to tell a very good story and actually pulls some pathos out of the action before all is said and done.
Also included is a feature similar to one in the first book, an outline for an aborted film to be made with Roger Corman for the Syfy channel loosely based on The Bloody Red Baron. It’s an entertaining read to see what might have been an on-the-cheap Corman flick using elements from the book.
As before, if you love vampire fiction in any way, you need to own this book. And Anno Dracula. And unless there’s some sudden quality slump, everything else Newman ever chooses to write in this series.
4 1/2 out of 5