Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker’s Dracul has been on my waiting-to-be-read list for a loooong time and I knew I had to wait, because generally ordering English edition books from overseas takes a lot of time. But, Vel managed to surprise me by getting the book for my last birthday. Once I visited her place, two pristine copies of Dracul were lying on her bookshelf, neatly tucked in between other gothic themed gems.
Although it’s a paperback, this edition looks and feels like a collector’s one. Not only are both covers black and red, but the text block is also coloured black. The front cover actually consists of two parts, which results in a very cool embossed effect, making the dark figure in the tower stand out.
But enough about its appearance, dare to know what’s inside?
Plot and History
As explained by Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grand nephew, Dracul is a sequel to 1897’s Dracula. However, once you start reading, it becomes clear the story doesn’t actually follow the events after Dracula’s defeat. Rather, the narrative starts with the birth and childhood of Bram Stoker, as well as all the events leading up to Dracula becoming one of the most famous gothic horror novels. Although many biographical facts have been referenced throughout the book, Dracul is a work of fiction and its charm is not diminished by real life events.
Bram was one of Abraham Stoker and Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley’s seven children and was bedridden with an unknown illness for the first seven or so years of his life until he miraculously recovered. Taking care of a sick child is never easy and back then many of the now-curable diseases meant a death sentence for those who contracted them. As if this was not enough, these events transpired during the Great Famine, when a large number of Irish population either emigrated or died from starvation.
In Dracul, Bram’s complete recovery was attributed to Nanna Ellen or Ellen Crone, a young, blonde girl, who helps the Stoker household by doing chores and looking after the children. Right from the start, she is presented as a very obscure character, who despite fulfilling her duties around the house, holds dark secrets, which may destroy her likeable character. One of the many mysteries is the sudden disappearance of Ellen Crone for days at a time, only to return as if nothing happened. Matilda Stoker, Bram’s sister and partner in crime, is the only one besides Bram, who notices the frequent changes of Ellen’s appearance – from an old crone (I couldn’t help myself with this pun) to a gorgeous young woman, able to capture the heart of every bachelor. So, is Ellen Crone the villain of this tale?
The story is laid out in the familiar journal fashion, similarly to Dracula. The difference here is the timeline – current and past events are mixed until the latter provide some context on what is currently happening. The build-up is gradual, but there is action around every corner, which is something I really like in a book. You have nice descriptions, which are not too long, but also the story is relatively fast-paced, so you don’t lose interest by the time you finish the book.
This edition also has additional notes at the end of the novel, which explain the amount of influence Bram Stoker’s personal journal scribbles have had on writing this story. Dacre Stoker also reveals how the first UK edition of Dracula was published without the first 101 pages, which included the author’s own interpretations and full depictions of vampires. Thus, prompting Bram Stoker to seek other ways (countries) to tell the full story. Dacre Stoker discloses that one of these first editions, Makt Myrkranna (Powers of Darkness) has recently been translated from Icelandic into English. As you might have already guessed, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one, too!
Not much is revealed about the characters outside of what pertains to the main narrative, so there isn’t much character development, which is a bit strange since the events span more than 30 years. This usually is enough time for someone’s character to change. The only notable difference is between young and adult Bram – one is sickly and anxious, and the other is athletic and a social butterfly. But the rest of the characters remain relatively one-dimensional. Matilda is still as focused as ever in trying to unveil all of the mysteries surrounding her brother’s recovery; and Thornley remains an introverted individual, fixated on keeping prying eyes away from his domestic life.
At least, each character has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, which ultimately determine how the story progresses. There were interesting twists and turns, some of which were obvious. Given certain characters’ stoicism, as well as the hauntingly dark atmosphere, I anticipated a far grimmer and somewhat predictable finale. But I must admit, I was nicely surprised because the twists didn’t stop until the end, which made for a very thrilling read. What Dracul lacks in depth, it makes up in action, mystery, and compelling storytelling.
I think Dracul is a fitting prequel to Dracula. It creates an air of enigma around Bram Stoker’s life, the writing of Dracula, and it poses some really interesting questions surrounding the rise of vampires’ popularity in 19th century gothic novels as creatures of the night. If you love horror novels, which are gripping, dark and fast-paced, I do recommend reading Dracul.
Having read Dracula many many years ago, this year’s visit to Whitby with Vel and reading Dracul afterwards, make me want to dive into Bram Stoker’s masterpiece once again.
P.S. Speaking of vampires, a good nod to Sheridan le Fanu there!
Starting up Dacre Stoker’s Dracul felt like coming back to a dear old friend – there was mystery, intrigue, creepy folk tales, and yes, there were vampires. It is impossible to pick up this book without thinking about Dracula. How similar is it? Who are the main characters? Is the Dracul Dracula? The novel quickly grew on me; I finished it in a couple of short days, and wanted to start it all over again as soon as I did.
I picked up the 2018 soft cover edition for myself, and another copy as a present for Nelly last year. It is a beautiful edition – the cover is double thick cardboard with a cutout in the top layer acting as a tower window, where we see a solitary figure, which I initially presumed to be Dracul. I felt it set the mood of the novel quite well – brooding and curious.
The story is set in Ireland during the famine. These are troubled times, with little food to go round, many going unemployed. The main protagonist is Bram Stoker himself, who is a small child at the beginning of the novel. Two things struck me as soon as I delved past the first few pages. Firstly, small children used to have a lot of responsibilities in olden days – feeding animals, doing household chores, doing the shopping. By the age of 8 they are a fully fledged member of the household. This makes Bram seemingly a burden on the family – he is sickly and barely gets out of bed, with frequent doctor visits – until his miraculous recovery.
The second thing which I started asking myself was what is the relation of this novel to Dracula. Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, is also our protagonist. Towards the end of the edition, Dacre Stoker confirms he has spent much effort on bridging the character with his historical counterpart, and so the Bram Stoker in the book borrows heavily on Dracula’s author’s life – from being a sickly child, through the strange recovery and then later work life, the reader is made to feel like they are provided with not just a good stand alone story, but also something close to a biographical retelling of how Bram Stoker got hold of Mina’s, John’s and everyone else’s diaries, which would turn Dracula from a purely fictional novel to an account of real events.
Despite the main protagonist being male, the two stars of the book for me were Nanna Ellen on one hand and Matilda, Bram’s Sister, on the other. Where Dracula felt to be a predominantly masculine novel, with Mina it’s saving grace, in Dracul the mysterious and elusive character of Ellen Crone shines bright, and Matilda easily holds her ground on par with her male companions. Needless to say, it pleased me enormously the trope of the damsel in distress was skipped altogether.
Ellen is depicted as beautiful, but she relies on her wits more than charm to earn her freedom and stay hidden. She is a vampire, we suspect as much from the first few pages, but she does her duty to the Stoker family as a childminder in earnest, despite her occasional and random days off. She has bonded strongly with the young Bram, who needs a lot of her care due to his illness, telling him stories and inspiring his imagination. Until the very end of the novel I was unsure if she is a friend or an enemy, and what her goals were, because on one hand she offers no explanations and puts Bram and Matilda in woeful predicaments, and on the other she clearly hasn’t abandoned her humanity when she became a vampire.
As the story began its culmination, however, the style of writing changed. Every hour and every minute was of the essence, so the chapters changed to be “5 hours before sunset”, and later “20 minutes before sunset”, which bizarrely reminded me of the old TV series “24”, and with each title I could hear the clock from the series ticking. Personally, I found this method of building up anticipation too distracting and overly cinematic, as I felt it’s Hollywood-ness clashed too much with the gothic style of the novel. As the climax reached its peak, there was a twist and a shift did make me gasp; there was much intrigue, and I admit I did question who’s there to trust, the young Van Helsing, wishing to kill every vampire in sight and therefore condemning all of them, Ellen, despite all her wicked machinations, or Matilda, who has been a true moral compass thus far? Perhaps because the tension was so deliberately built up, the resolution of this most dramatic encounter left me with a feeling more bitter than sweet.
As for the overall resolution of the book, I couldn’t have hoped for anything better. To have Mina come through with a very specific set of documents left me wanting to read that other story about the Count. Speaking of the Count, I was relieved to find he remained true to his baser instincts and pursued his goals with single mindedness and determination, and remained, at his heart, a villain.
In this edition, a few follow up interviews and accounts were included, which I found as interesting as the novel itself, mostly Charlotte Stoker’s (Bram’s mother) account of the cholera plague which ravaged Europe and Ireland during her time. This was a particularly interesting read, as I sat in lockdown due to COVID19 – there were multiple similarities and differences in people’s responses both through lack of information and lack of empathy. There was also a mention of a Scandinavian translation of the original Dracula, prior to the edits of the English edition, which you can bet I will try to get my hands on.
I would strongly recommend Dracul to any lover of the gothic style, as well as those new to it. I would encourage readers to try and appreciate the novel on its own merits, though it is difficult to read it in isolation if you have already read Dracula, and even more so if you are a fan of it. Dracul provided an enjoyable, easy read, with some strong lead characters. Whilst it lacks much philosophical depth, and has a fairly strong dose of Hollywood thrown in towards the end, I have to say I enjoyed it quite a bit, and wouldn’t mind revisiting it’s pages on some cold winter’s eve.
Edition Published: October 17th 2019, First Published: October 2nd 2018
Language book read in: English