Monday, November 19, 2018

Book Review: DRACUL

Title: Dracul (Stoker's Dracula #1)
Authors: Dacre Stoker and JD Barker
Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons
Pages: 497
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dracul by Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker, and JD Barker will overturn everything you read and imagined about the fictional story of Count Dracula. The most shocking conclusion that this book will ask you to draw is that Dracula was not entirely unreal. Isn’t it logical to assume that even the wildest of fables found life in a buried truth?

This book is written as the truth behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Bram is one of the protagonists in this story. Dacre Stoker and JD Barker have written a creepy, taut supernatural thriller that is high on atmosphere. The book is written in the Now, when Bram is 21 years old, and Then, when he was 7, and 22 years into the future, when he is 43 years of age.

The Now, which is in Bram’s 3rd person present tense, shows a 21-year-old Bram trapped in a room, while a hideous monster tries to gain entrance in order to destroy his humanity. The room has been made secure with crucifixes and other icons of Christian belief, but it seems as if the evil is winning. How Bram comes to be trapped in such grave danger is something we learn only at the end, as the truth of the past and that night is revealed through the journals that Bram writes.

While in the room, Bram writes his journal in the first person past tense. The journal tells us of how he was a sickly child from birth, unable to venture out of bed, prone to fevers that are almost fatal. And that it is his cure that is in many ways his undoing.

At the age of seven, Bram is nearly at death’s door when he is amazingly cured completely. Everyone thinks that it is a result of the leech treatment prescribed by Dr Edward Stoker. Only Bram and Matilda know that Nanna Ellen has something to do with it.

The two children begin investigating, following Nanna to an old abandoned tower, where she disappears, never to return.

In the present time, Emily, Thornley’s wife, exhibits odd behaviour. Thornley, Bram and Matilda consult Arminius Vambery, who helps the three siblings in their investigation. Arminius is like Abraham of the Dracula tale.

The household then consists of his parents, and siblings, 9-year-old Thornley, 8-year-old Matilda, Bram himself, aged 7, Thomas aged 5, and Baby Richard, a 2-year-old. Nanna Ellen Crone is also a part of this household, having joined just before Bram’s birth. Although a servant, she is treated well. But she has strange ways, that Matilda and Bram begin to worry about.

Meanwhile, there are a spate of killings happening in the village; the O’Cuiv family is killed by the father, who then kills himself. Matilda and Bram begin to wonder if Nanna Crone has anything to do with them. Her absence at their family home coincides with the killings. Also, her behaviour and habits are rather odd.

Part III takes us to the 3rd person point of view of Arminius, Matilda, Bram and Thornley, all in the present tense, each taking us to the place where Ellen’s beloved’s heart has been hidden and inching closer to nightfall when the vampires will be at their strongest.

The last part brings us to Bram’s first-person point of view 22 years later.

The atmosphere created by the authors is suffused with tension. The setting is the historical fact of an Ireland struggling against famine and devastation. It is a time of increasing unrest in Ireland, with families being unable to sustain themselves. The number of crimes is rising.

The story comes to us in bits and pieces from the journals of Bram, Thornley and Arminius. Matilda’s viewpoint comes through in the letters she writes to Nanna Crone, informing her of all that is happening. Despite knowing that she is a vampire, the siblings feel affectionate towards her.

Of all the characters, Matilda was the one I liked the most. She was feisty, unafraid to dig in a burial ground for suicides for the body of Patrick O’Cuiv. Nor does she flinch from getting her hands and shoes dirty, stomping on roaches and even touching a corpse.

I couldn’t feel the same for Bram, even though his memories dominate the book. Like Arminius, our feelings towards him are tainted by the fact that he is not unlike the undead, and that he has somehow managed to evade the undead fate.

The thing about this book that causes you to sit up and take notice is the note at the end which tells us that Bram Stoker never intended his book to be a work of fiction. He had written it as fact, and his journals provide ample evidence of that. 

When publishers in the UK demanded that he re-write the manuscript in order not to spark panic among the public at large, Bram cut out the first 101 pages of the book and significantly altered the rest to make it appear to be a work of fiction. It was something he did not like to do but did anyway just so his message would find an audience, even if that audience were to consider his message as fiction.

However, the manuscripts that he sent to publishers outside the UK, notably to Iceland etc, were markedly different and point to the veracity of this story which has been created on the basis of the journals that Bram left behind.

I liked the book. It maintained a steady note of menace which was broken only by the knowledge of the different types of vampires, good and bad. Also, the feelings of unrequited love that Dracul bore towards Ellen took away from his cold-blooded menace. Towards the end, it became a little too melodramatic.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

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