Horror

Dracul – Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker (Peter)

on
October 19, 2018
Dracul Book Cover Dracul
Dacre Stoker, JD Barker,
Fiction
Penguin
October 2, 2018
512

The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a supernatural thriller 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.

Malignant

The comparisons and connections between Dracul and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are inevitable and unavoidable. After all, this is the story of Bram Stoker’s early life, his family and what may have been the catalyst for his classic vampire story. Dracula has become the most popular monster figure ever, spawning a ubiquitous vampire theme across multiple genres. In Bram’s life, the second half of the 19th century, vampires were seen as pure monsters, whereas nowadays, we have them appearing as charismatic, powerful, intelligent, loyal and talented exemplars of human desire. We also see them as portrayed as pure ruthless and destructive evil.

Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker treat us to a wonderful dramatic spine-chilling account of Bram Stoker’s early life, which is packed full of suspense and horror to rival the Dracula story itself, and considered a prequel. The story structure is very similar to Dracula, using an epistolary form, but over 2 time periods, the now of Bram at 21 years of age, and the past accounts of the Stoker siblings laid out in letters and journals from Bram and others including his sister Matilda and brother Thornley. The story combines factual details with fictional creativity in such a seamless manner that we cannot tell which elements are which. It all blends to accomplish a plot that adds unique elements and has us living a nightmare where our imagination challenges our fundamental beliefs. Our frail grip on reality slips as the unimaginable seems possible. The control in the writing to hold together the various threads and narrative elements is brilliant. Sometimes the pace slacks and this is especially frustrating during the transition from one journal account to another.

The Bram of now sits in a room where we can feel the palpable fear and fatigue as he struggles to get through a night with a powerful monster that has multiple nefarious tricks and deceptions, locked behind a reinforced door. A door that is reinforced with locks, bolts, holy water, roses, and Holy Communion wafer paste.

Reconstructing Bram’s history from his journals and letters from Matilda, tell of the nanny, Ellen Crone. A mysterious and miraculous saviour of Bram on a number of occasions.

“It is clear he was meant to die as a child, yet his alliance with this unholy creature has garnered him more years; a deal with the Devil, possibly worse, if such a thing is imaginable.”

When Bram and Matilda investigate her room and follow her into the countryside, they confirm her to be a preternatural being (in Irish folklore called a Dearg-Due). Even with the supernatural threat she carries, they have developed a caring relationship with her, especially Bram who has a deep extrasensory connection. The authors have decidedly followed the modern acceptance that not all monsters should be totally evil and perhaps there is a watchful connection with her.

The birth and sickly youth of Bram, an early precarious climb up a castle tower, several isolated engagements, and the monster behind the door, convey an ever-present atmosphere of impending trauma. The sense of a precipice are prevailing themes throughout the story and are used masterfully to maintain a chilling suspense. The tone gets darker and more frightening in the second half of the book when more is revealed.

This is a standalone book made all the more captivating with its connections to the author of Dracula. It does not feel like Dacre took advantage of his ancestral connection but rather added authenticity to a story that expertly weaves fact with fiction, to create a novel that is thoroughly engrossing and full of horror, evil, fear and trepidation. How secure will you feel walking alone at night after reading this?

I would highly recommend this book and I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.

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Peter Donnelly
Ireland

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley peter@thereadingdesk.com

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