Book Review: Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

The Blurb:

The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a riveting novel of gothic suspense that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s — and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

It is 1868, and a twenty-one-year-old Bram Stoker waits in a desolate tower to face an indescribable evil. Armed only with crucifixes, holy water, and a rifle, he prays to survive a single night, the longest of his life. Desperate to record what he has witnessed, Bram scribbles down the events that led him here…

A sickly child, Bram spent his early days bedridden in his parents’ Dublin home, tended to by his caretaker, a young woman named Ellen Crone. When a string of strange deaths occur in a nearby town, Bram and his sister Matilda detect a pattern of bizarre behavior by Ellen — a mystery that deepens chillingly until Ellen vanishes suddenly from their lives. Years later, Matilda returns from studying in Paris to tell Bram the news that she has seen Ellen — and that the nightmare they’ve thought long ended is only beginning.

A Dracula prequel written by a descendant of Bram Stoker?! Sign me up! Unfortunately, I had a great deal of trouble getting into the book, so much so that I nearly gave it up a few times. Why? A few factors. The first is my fault. I saw Dracula and the author and dove in without reading farther. I was therefore a bit disappointed to learn that the story didn’t deal with the Count’s story so much as it did Stoker’s. Second, the book takes quite a while to find its feet and engage the reader. The plot seems to drag along for the first few hundred pages. At 500+ pages, there’s plenty of time for the story to figure itself out, but man…that beginning is rough.

Now I will say, that once the plot begins to pick up, the book is fantastic. Stoker and Barker do a wonderful job keeping to Bram Stoker’s style and maintain a high level of gothic creepiness. Moreover, they have used historically verifiable aspects of Bram Stoker’s life to add realism to the plot. The imagery of the book is also simply fantastic. Bits and pieces strongly reminded me of elements from MR James’ classic ghost stories.

So in sum, I wound up liking this book far more by the end of it than I thought I would. Fans of Stoker’s Dracula and gothic horror in general may want to give it a go…the ending is worth the slog. More casual readers, however, may want to give this one a pass.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Fury from the Tomb by SA Sidor

Fury from the Tomb by SA Sidor

In 1888, young Egyptologist Romulous Hardy is offered a vast sum of money by a reclusive millionaire to search for ancient tombs in Egypt. Hardy jumps at the chance to get out of the library and into the field, but soon finds himself dealing with things no one could have forseen. After tragedy befalls his expedition, Hardy is charged with bringing the mummies he recovered (six in all, though one sarcophagus is twice as big as any normal human) back to LA. When his train is waylaid in the Arizona desert, he learns that his cargo may be more dangerous than he ever suspected, and that cursed mummies are only the tip of the iceberg.

This was a fun, entertaining, and wild ride. Told in the style of old weird fiction stories, Sidor brings quite a bit of HP Lovecraft and The Mummy to the table. The latter half of the book, which takes place in Arizona and Mexico is evocative of Weird West stories. There are monsters and mummies and cultists and vampires. There are cowboys and banditos and Pinkertons and train heists. There’s cannibalism and curses and ancient legends. This book is a mashup of everything that makes weird fiction fun.

In fact, my biggest complaint is that in including everything, the story loses focus in places and drifts along, detached. Sometimes the actions runs along at breakneck pace, and sometimes it stutters to a halt to gaze for a while at the supernatural scenery.

Still, anyone who is looking for a good time with some good, old-fashioned pulp will probably enjoy this book. I mean, just look at that epic cover art! If the cover sings to you, then more than likely the book will as well.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

 

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Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

Okay, these books are pretty much a sequel to Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, so if you haven’t read those books, you probably aren’t going to get a lot out of them. However, you really should read that series, it is one of the best examples of paranormal-steampunk out there. But for now, if you keep reading, there’s going to be spoilers for the Parasol Protectorate series.

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So I was a huge fan of the previous books featuring Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Conall Maccon. Carriger manages to give us stuffy Victorians, steampunk gadgets, werewolves, vampires, and tea fanatics, and make the entire thing funny, entertaining, and (most astonishingly) not ridiculous.

Prudence and Imprudence continue the story two decades later, featuring (naturally) Alexia and Conall’s metanatural daughter, Prudence (though she prefers to go by Rue). Having been raised by a combination of her werewolf father, preternatural mother, and vampire spy master Lord Akeldama, Rue has had anything but the typical Victorian childhood. Fortunately, Rue is her mother’s daughter and thrives in the atypical. When Lord Akeldama presents Rue with her very own Dirigible for her birthday, she naturally takes to the skies with her best friends Percy and Primrose Tunstell, and Quesnel leFoux. Through the two books, she travels to first India and then Egypt, her time heavy with the style of adventures Alexia Tarabotti would have dived into in her day.

It is always hard to continue a series in the same world, but with new characters. People inevitably long for the good old days with the characters they know and love. Carriger does a great job of modernizing her story (to the 1890s, let’s not get crazy), and keeping enough of the old guard about to make the entry into Rue’s world both novel and satisfying (it doesn’t hurt that there are so many ageless characters to choose from). It is gratifying to see what became of some of our favorites in the intervening two decades, but Carriger keeps the focus on the newest generation, and does a wonderful job of it. Rue is definitely her mother’s daughter, though she would never admit it. Seeing Ivy’s twins grown up and rebellious in their own ways is fun. And of course, we have our requisite bad boy in Quesnel leFoux.

What I especially like in this series is Carriger’s willingness to tackle the dark sides of the Victorian era. She deals frankly (though in a steampunk fantasy way) with the violence the British wrought in India and their other colonies, and with the Victorian tendency to see people other than themselves as less than human. Rue marches straight into the teeth of these issues, and the books are the better for it. So many Victorian-era books glide over the problems with the era. I’m not opposed to romanticism on the face of it, but these books came through like a breath of fresh air.

If you were a fan of the Parasol Protectorate series, you should definitely check these books out. If you haven’t read the first series of books, this review is probably highly confusing. Go read ’em!

Book Review: The Only Child by Andrew Pyper

The Only Child by Andrew Pyper 

Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychiatrist. She has dedicated her life to evaluating and understanding the worst people humanity can produce. When she is called in to evaluate a John Doe arrested after brutally mutilating a man, her carefully ordered life begins to unravel. The man claims to be over two hundred years old, and to have inspired the most infamous gothic monsters of the eighteenth century: Dracula, Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein’s monster. When the man escapes, he draws Lily into a twisted game of cat and mouse. Lily must unravel the truth of this dangerous man’s past, and uncover his link to her own shadowed childhood.

This was an interesting take on the standard gothic horror motif. The dangerously supernatural intrudes into the life of a woman determined to be so mundane she is nearly invisible. At the same time, we feel an undercurrent of some unnamable strangeness lurking just beyond Lily’s conciousness. As the novel progresses, we are forced to wonder how much of what is happening is real, and how much might be some repressed part of herself coming to the surface at last.

I will say that some aspects of the novel verge into ridiculous territory. At some points Michael (the monster/madman) is genuinely creepy and terrifying, and at others he seems to lean toward emo-hipsterishness (I was a murderous, blood sucking maniac before it was cool. Also, I’m the one who made it cool). But really, as a gothic villain (and this is a gothic horror at heart) he really has no choice but to wallow in such self-centered psychosis.

In all, this is a good choice for fans of the genre. The writing is a bit flowery at times, which I know can turn some people off, but I personally feel that it fit well with the overall feel of the book. If you like your gothic horror with a fair dose of Silence of the Lambs, then this book is a good fit for you.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

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The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Okay, I shouldn’t have to say this, but: Beyond this point are MAJOR spoilers for the first two books in The Strain Trilogy. If you haven’t read the first two books, you should click on the link in the last sentence.

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On with the show.

The Strain series started off great. In the first book, the authors recreate the classic Dracula scene with the death ship Demeter, but in this century, its a Boeing 777 dead on the tarmac, and naturally we nowadays are less concerned about a plague than about terrorists. The build up in the first two books as Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Jones of the CDC, the Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian, the exterminator Vasily Fet, and others slowly learn the scope of what they are facing, and just how insurmountable their odds are, is great. You grow to love these characters. And, in a change from most vampire books, you have no sympathetic feelings towards the monsters themselves (making the vampires overlarge human ticks who shit while they eat certainly helps forestall any tender feelings).

So bring on the final installment! We come in two years after the events of The Fall. The Master has brought nuclear winter down upon the earth, humans have been herded into blood camps or forced to work to support the continuation of the series. The vampires have won.

And Ephraim is lost. We find Eph, now basically a drug addict hobo, spending a night in his ex-wife’s old house, feeling depressed about not knowing where his son, Zack, is (let’s remember that Kelly, the ex-wife in question and vampire, kidnapped Zack in the last book). Little does he know that Zack is being groomed by the Master to be his new vessel. Meanwhile, Nora, Fet, and a few others are trying to continue to fight. That is, when they’re not being screwed over by Eph’s unreliability.

So basically, the human race has lost. Setrakian is dead, Ephraim Goodweather is falling apart, Nora, Fet, and the others are left to try to pick up the pieces of the revolution as best they can, but things look grim. Only a really, really, REALLY desperate final plan has a chance to destroy The Master and save the human race.

So far I’m enjoying this. I always like a post apocalyptic spin, and Ephraim Goodweather’s fall from grace is a logical progression of his flawed character. I also like how the other characters continue to grow in the third installment. After all, this series is really about family (Seriously, forget about the vampires, everything everyone does in this book ties back to their family in some way). Even the vampires with their “dear ones” fall into the family theme.

At some point, however, the book goes off the rails. The action is gripping, the suspense nail-biting at times, the ick factor is still present, but as the group seeks out the origins of The Master in order to destroy it, the plot up and takes itself way off the reservation. I like to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, so I’m trying to decide on the best way to describe this without giving anything away. Suffice it to say this: that apparently having vampirism as a disease or literal wormy parasite is no longer cool or creepy enough. When we learn where The Master comes from, the authors threw in a huge curveball, and I, for one, was unimpressed. I found it way better when the explanation was “nature is a fucked up bitch sometimes.” The thought that there didn’t need to be an origin story, that this horrible thing arose from some primordial soup and was hurled against us by the forces of nature we’d prefer to ignore, THAT was scary. Because something like that could happen. By taking things where they did, the authors lessened the visceral fear that some monster plague (figurative) could come sweeping out of the sky in the form of a Boeing 777 and presage the end of the human race.

Ah well. In all, if you read the first two books of the series, you should still read this one, if only to complete the trilogy. But I’d lay odds that you’re going to come away a bit disappointed. There were a lot of good things in this book, but the origin story they ultimately came up with for The Master is disappointing enough that it more or less overshadows everything else in the book. If you haven’t read the series, and are reading this review anyway (shame on you), don’t let this review stop you from picking up the first two books in the series. They’re some of the best vampire fiction to come out in the past few years (no one sparkles, bonus!).