Thursday, November 26, 2009

Meet Countess Bathory

While looking through my older posts (and waiting for the newest “Mystery Case Files” game to download *add happy squeal here*), I realized I had mentioned the “Dracula” sequel, but never written a post about it. So here it is.

First of all I liked the idea of putting about twenty years between “Dracula” and the sequel. In the meantime, the world has changed (we’re in the 20th century) and so have the surviving characters from the original novel. Apart from Quincey Morris, who rarely features in the movies and dies at the end of the original novel, everyone is still around, even old van Helsing. The first thing the novel shows us, though, is that none of them came out unscathed. Dr. Seward has become a drug addict and a more or less professional vampire hunter. He’s obsessed with finding and killing all vampires – and with the memory of Lucy. He’s the first of the old characters we meet in the novel – and the first to fall prey to the new villain. Jonathan and Mina Harker are still married, but their marriage is anything other than happy. Mina, due to the blood she shared with Dracula, has not aged like a normal woman, she still looks young (and, as we learn later on, has an insatiable lust for sex). As a result of this, Jonathan has started to drink and keep away from her. In order to protect his son from the things he had to go through, he also has tried to bring him up very strictly, driving the young man away. Van Helsing is also still quite obsessed with vampires (though for other reasons) and lives like a hermit in a small room filled with books. His only contact to the outside world seems to be a delivery boy who comes by once a week with new supplies. Arthur Holmwood (Lucy’s fiancée) has married another woman, one he doesn’t love, for the simple continuity of his line. He blames the death of his beloved to the others of the group and has completely kept away from them (except, it later turns out, for Jack Seward).

But twenty years after the supposed demise of Dracula (and he’s not really killed in the novel, not the way all the others are), another evil rises its head: a new vampire, a female killer with a lust for women. Enter Elisabeth Bathory, a real historical character (like Dracula himself) and one of the few known female serial killers in history. (But as this is not a post about her – even though I might one day do one –, I’ll no longer talk about the historical character here.)

The first to meet the charming Countess of Blood is Jack Seward. He has gotten a tip he’ll find her in a mansion in Italy and only closely escapes her and her two aides (two women in white, one blonde, on dark-haired). But she gets to him in Paris, running him over with her coach (that has no driver, the countess controls the horses from within through her will alone). Quincey Harker is witness to this strange accident. Soon afterwards he learns about the big secret of his family through a letter Mina wrote in case she and the others fell victim to Dracula later on (they won’t, but that’s part of the story). He confronts his mother and storms out of the house, missing a last chance for a chat with his father – whom Elisabeth impales in Trafalgar Square not that much later.

The first murders bring out a character Stoker thought up, but never used, a Scotland Yard Inspector who investigated the “Jack the Ripper” murders around the time Dracula was last in London (the authors set the story a bit earlier than it is usually set, in 1888, at the height of the Ripper case. It also features Bram Stoker whom one of the group told the whole story and who made a book out of it, taking some liberties with the facts). The man suspects van Helsing (who is called to London by the group) to be behind the murders and follows him – which will, ultimately, also lead to his death. But neither van Helsing nor Dracula were the Ripper – Elisabeth was and she’s doing it again.

I will not recount the whole story here, but give you a few basics: Dracula isn’t dead, all of the characters from the original story will die (but not necessarily stay dead) and the end will open a chance for a sequel to the sequel.

What I liked about the book was the way it was written. Instead of returning to Stoker’s diary-style (which he only abandoned for “Lair of the White Worm” later on), the book is written in ‘normal’ prose and told from various points of view. Mostly, though, it is Quincey Harker’s point of view, as he is the central character, discovering the past and being in the middle of the current events. With this trick, the book is also quite readable and understandable for people who have not read “Dracula” (unlike me who did so several times in her life).

Elisabeth is a great villain, far more vicious and dangerous than Dracula ever was. And by adding her (mostly historical) background, the story gets even more interesting. In addition, there’s another villain hinted, one who took in and taught Elisabeth after her change (she is much younger, historically, than Vlad Dracula), one whom Dracula hates with all his heart.

The book is a deconstruction when it comes to the old characters, focusing on their flaws much more than on their heroic abilities. This gives them the depth they lack in the original novel, making them more understandable and, to a certain extent, more likeable than they were before.

I really advise you to give “Dracula The Un-Dead” a chance. It might not be a quick read – and some of it is quite bloody –, but it’s worth the time.

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