Books

Dracula’s Child (J.S. Barnes) – Book Review

I read Dracula for the very first time last year, after trying to read it and never succeeding whilst in my teens. I found that now I’m an older and more experienced reader the book came a lot easier to me, and I was able to enjoy the classic story. Whilst I liked the book it never really wowed me or kept me excited. Dracula’s Child, on the other hand, proved to be much more what I was hoping the original would be.

Much like the classic original, Dracula’s Child is written as a collection of diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles, collecting together a narrative that takes place over the better part of a year. The story takes place a dozen years after the conclusion of the original, and features the heroes of that novel, the Crew of Light, as they discover that they may not have managed to completely destroy the foul vampire.

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In this new age, literally as it is now the 20th Century, these brave souls have moved on with their life. Doctor Seward has moved on to a new practice, Arthur Holmwood has settled down into his political career and marriage, Jonathan and Mina Harker are now parents to their son Quincey, and Van Helsing is enjoying his elderly years. They’re all enjoying their lives since battling the monstrous count, and whilst things aren’t perfect, they’re all mostly happy.

However, things begin to go wrong when during a gathering to celebrate Quincey’s birthday, Van Helsing suffers some awful kind of stroke, muttering a vague prophecy about Quincey, before collapsing and falling unconscious. This event is only the beginning, as from here things begin to go wrong not only for the Crew of Light, but the whole of England.

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At first the book seems to go off on a few tangents, introducing new characters and situations that don’t seem completely related, other than two new characters travelling together through Europe, who discover the remains of Dracula’s Castle. However, after a while it becomes clear that there are many more connections than you at first think, and that there is a huge web of plots and schemes just beneath the surface. Eventually it becomes apparent that there is a grand plan at work here, and that Dracula’s claim that he would have revenge wasn’t just a throwaway comment, but a very real promise.

This is where the book really worked for me. The original novel felt very slow, and I found myself wondering what Dracula was doing during the long periods between events, and why he was taking weeks or months to do small things like turning Lucy Westenra into a vampire. Here, however, the long time frame makes so much more sense. There’s always something happening somewhere, always a part of the plan unfolding or setting up something else that it never feels slow. Dracula never felt particularly calculating to me in the original, but here he and his minions are always a dozen or more steps ahead of the heroes.

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Eventually Dracula’s schemes lead to him returning to physical form and being handed power over London. He’s not just a vampire hunting in the dark anymore, but the lordly Count he was in his homeland, reshaping England into a dark vision of his own making. Vampires have started to spread through the streets, and regular humans are living under a dark shadow, barely more than cattle. It’s in this environment that a new Crew of Light are formed, with some of the original members and some new characters, people who hunt down nests of vampires and plan to destroy Dracula once again.

J.S. Barnes has crafted a story that feels true to the original, but is so much more exciting. It starts slow, yes, but once you start to see all the pieces that are in play you understand the scope of the story he’s been crafting, and then things go to hell and it becomes a desperate battle to survive. He’s managed to take the original book and created a sequel full of energy and excitement, one that’s bigger in scale and horror. There have been a lot of re-imaginings or sequels to the original book, but this is certainly one of the best that I’ve read, and if you like the original novel this one will make you feel right at home.

Dracula’s Child is out now from Titan Books.

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