Dracul – Dacre Stoker & J.D. Barker (Mrs Y)
As part of our Halloween Special, The Reading Desk is delighted to welcome Mrs Y as our Guest, to provide us with her wonderful review of Dracul.
In October of 2018, something came into my life that I didn’t know I needed so badly. Someone did something so marvellous that it was both a touching thing in a familial sense and a terrifying presence next to me.
That thing which brought so much joy into my life was a book called “Dracul” which is by two authors. One is J.D Barker, and the other is Dacre Stoker. Stoker, a name that is synonymous with terror. Dacre Stoker is the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker, the man who gave us a taste of real vampires and terror from places outside of your home.
When I say I didn’t know how badly I needed this book in my life, I wasn’t kidding guys. So, how about this. Get your steaks and crosses, gather up some roses and holy water, don’t forget to eat a lot of garlic pesto bread tonight, and join me for a review of Dacre Stoker and J.D Barker’s “Dracul.”
For those of you joining me on this review from “The Reading Desk” I’d like to take a moment to say hello! I’m Mrs. Y, the zany and overly opinionated book reviewer who loves all things written and enjoys giving my impression on things. If you would like to know more about my scoring system, or how I do things, please check out my blog post at https://mrsyreviewsbooks.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-philosophy-and-way-i-score-book-i.html. Please note, this is my opinion only. Anything that I say is entirely in my brain and should be taken with whatever weight you want to give it. But, I do appreciate you are reading this.
Now, onto the review!
Long ago when I was about 11 years old, I had a teacher who was in an advanced literature class. I was also the only kid in this class and she was bored. Why? Well, because the public education system in the district I was in, was rather odd. I had tested highly on comprehension but low on spelling and grammar, so in their wisdom I was in advanced and remedial English. I digress, the point is I was in this class alone and my teacher had an hour every day to make my mind do something. My teacher asked me what my interests were and I explained to them, one of which being that I was a kid who was firm in my belief systems. I believed in the power of right, goodness, and truth.
I tell you this because the first thing my beloved teacher did was get out a copy of “Dracula” and proceed to scare the ever living heck out of me for six weeks. Like a willing victim, one hour at a time and five days a week, I heard the tale of Johnathan and Mina Harker and the incredible bravery of Van Hellsing. My teacher, whom I found out over time, was obsessed with the subject, probably because Interview with a Vampire had just come out in theaters and she was on a vampire kick. I mean, if you recall that was when Antonio Banderas was not well known, and Brad Pitt hadn’t even married Rachel from Friends yet. Regardless, I got the distinct impression she wanted to scare me for my own good.
It worked. I already had some trust issues, that somewhat sealed them forever. I was afraid of things that went bump in the night, and chief among them, I was afraid of the undead monsters called vampires.
Dracula gives me a deep understanding of fear and why it is so powerful. It also made me reflect on what I believed in my heart at that time, and while I’m not going to divulge all of that in this review, Stoker managed to make me believe in the power of Good vs. Evil. It became a war, black and white logic literally to me, good is good, and evil is always evil. There were no grey lines in this though still to this day has retained its truth in my personal mind.
Fast forward to now, 27 years later. I have survived the Twilight series in the poor attempt to make vampires marginalized as the monsters they should be and, I still strongly believe Vampires are evil. Add onto that at one point in my life I had an IV in my neck. I really do know how scary it is to have sharp things near those places that vampires like to eat.
I’m currently reading what I feel is a worthy successor to the line of Stoker, in the book of “Dracul” which had an impact similar to the great-grand uncle’s work. That’s what this review is about after all, can this one book do what the first one did? Can this book shake humanity to its core belief systems again, or would it do what Twilight could not do, and make them cuddly but frightening?
Well, spoiler, there is nothing cuddly about this book.
Yet two authors are working on this book, mostly in harmony, but you can feel the deviations between them. One worked on one part, the other on the other part, and while it seems mostly seamless, there are some bumps. This is basically my only critique, I am not a massive fan of tense changes. I like my novel tenses like I enjoy my stress level, constant and in the past. This book does some back and forth of tenses, so if you are sensitive to it, be aware it exists. Thus, it makes it almost perfect but not quite.
Yes, this book is terrifying and it’s terrific. From the initial premise of what starts as a recollection of childhood to adulthood for the protagonist, to the realization that evil has been permeating their life from the moment he was born, this book is terrifying. In my humble of opinions, I believe children shouldn’t be afraid when they are little. I hope that a person should know fear when they really can handle it, and they shouldn’t have to have odd things pop in and out. And yet that is not what this book does. It takes us from the brink of childhood terror to tangible adult terror throughout the chapters.
Another criticism I have, albeit not a huge one, has to do with the pacing. Pacing on the book varies from well-paced and leaving you on the edge of your seat with anticipation, to dragging and wishing you could get to the next part that is filled with tension. There are bits here and there of letters back and forth that I think are supposed to be a homage to the initial book. To be honest, I think I can pick out who wrote what and in which section.
The problem is, in the classic, those letters back and forth were designed to move the plot. These ones feel like mini info dumps, and makes it drag some. Unless it’s needed for the plot, I’m not always a fan of an info dump. I personally think I could have done well without the first letter by the sister that was added, I mean it did bring the history up to speed, but I’m not sure it was needed.
The other criticism I have is a spoiler, but it’s nagging at me even if it’s perhaps a minor criticism at best. So let me just put it this way to avoid a spoiler as much as humanly possible. There is a very significant issue with the protagonist and an acute illness that is mentioned repeatedly in the first two acts of the book. Eventually, it is explained that what saves him is a specific thing involving the anti-hero of the novel. However, the anti-hero does something that is abrupt and prevents the ability to provide further medicinal assistance to the protagonist’s illness. The book suggests that the villain grants some kind of respite to the illness, but that bit nags at me because it’s all too convenient. Why not just let him live with it, and figure out how to fix it on his own without the illness preventing mulligan? Alas my friends, this still is a bit of a sore spot for me.
It frustrates me because as it was explained the protagonist acquired this illness before meeting the anti-hero at all. Thus, I find the ending and this treatment of this specific plot point to be rather weak. This thing was treated to the core of the protagonist akin to Superman having an issue with Kryptonite. It’s been established in the character development that it’s vital to the character, thus when it finally is put on hold, only to come back, it feels kind of lackluster. Oh sure, there’s some touch to it, there was a somewhat creative way it was handled at the end, and it is used. I guess my issue with it mostly is that the climax of this plot point seemed rush, so the creativity seemed pushed together at the last moment.
Is this a deal-breaking issue? Eh, that is kind of up to the reader. For me, I’m not that happy, but you as a reader may find it not to be a big deal. I think the reason I do is part of the Author’s notes at the end. Even they state that the original “Dracula” is so commonly read and such a regular piece of our literature.
Thus, I fear we who love the book that started this movement may find that anything deviating slightly from the formula may be considered not as good. Perhaps, this is me and my rose tinted glasses looking upon the sequel and expecting more. Or probably, I am merely someone who enjoys the threads of a story to end all at once with the climax. Whatever the reason, this was a bit of a miss for me on this specific plot point.
Now, let’s get past the criticisms and go into some positives for a moment. One thing that I feel has to be applauded by both authors is the imagery “Dracul” has. This is the most southern thing I hope to say, but y’all, it was something else. There is a part in a bog that will take your breath away if you let it. The visions of snakes and graves made my skin crawl. At one point I was reading and gripping my hand so hard while I read that part, I didn’t realize I’d cramped up my hand, and it’s all because of the tension.
The tension in this novel was masterfully placed, and if you really allow your environment around you to dissipate and sweep yourself into this book, you will not be disappointed with those images. I found myself nauseated slightly at some of the more foul descriptions, I smiled at the warmer interactions and beauty in them, and when it came to insects just like with the classic book, I was scratching and shooing away imaginary bugs. There actually now exists something far more disturbing and disgusting than Renfield, and I’m both happy to say it, and slightly appalled.
The other most amazing piece of this book is to do something the first did not do. “Dracula” had a slightly gentle sort of inclination that the Villain could be sympathetic. In “Dracul,” the villain in and of itself is perfectly ruthlessly evil. I think that needs to be applauded. The stark contrast of good versus evil has some grey in here, but not so much it’s muddying up the point of it. Thus, this book is very much a worthy successor to the original, or prequel or whatever you want to call it.
Oh, I’m sure you all were wondering where Mrs. Y is going to fall here. Well for those of you who count the stars this is a 5 Star Book. But, for those of you who follow me and know I’m a precise and crazy about precision, this is a 91/100.
“But Mrs. Y?? Why would it be a 91??”
Well inner voice, mainly that plot point issue I mentioned honestly bothered me. I loved it, it was a complete story, the imagery was fantastic, etc. But that one plot point nagged on me just enough to take it from a possible 98 to a 91. I’m sorry if you disagree, its okay if you do, and its okay if I feel this way as well. In the end, this review is about my opinion, and I just dared to say that the great-grandnephew to Stoker, wrote an excellent book.
Now I think at some point I should review the first, but then again I don’t know if I can. That 11-year-old me will forever be sitting at my desk, drinking hot tea with my teacher, and having her scare me to death. That version of me still will go home, checking over my shoulder for shadows or wolves, wondering if someone was going to get me in the night. The images from the classic book is the kind of thing lasts with a person and shapes them as they grow into adulthood. Thus, can one really place a score on nostalgia? I’m not sure I can.
With all my affection to you all on this Halloween coming up, I bid you a Happy Halloween.