Even casual horror readers will likely be familiar with the fact that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a foundational classic in the genre. Over the years, the vampire trope has spawned a multitude of variants from the more civilized ones in Anne Rice’s and Stephanie Meyers’s sprawling series, to the more brutish type found in the works of those by Brian Lumley, and Guillermo DelToro and Chuck Hogan.
In 2018, the great-grandnewphew of Bram Stoker co-wrote with J.D. Barker, Dracul, a prequel to the classic that claimed to draw on “scholarly research of the original, unedited version of Stoker’s 1897 tale of the undead count, as well as Stoker family legends.” The origin legend of the classic contends that the first 102 pages of the original manuscript for Dracula submitted by Stoker were cut, and that in those pages information was included to prove that the story was, in fact, not fiction. The publisher determined those pages too terrifying to include within the work – a thrilling concept and one that would seem destined to intrigue many modern day readers. Additional interesting information can be found regarding the historical aspect here.
The book crafted by Stoker and Barker is intriguing and immediately captured my attention due to the threat of impending kinder-trauma. We are introduced to a young Bram Stoker still living at home with his parents and siblings, and learn that Bram suffers from an unnamed disease that causes him to be extremely weak and in ill health, and which has kept him confined to his room for the majority of his short life. The family has hired a nanny, Ellen Crone, to help take care of the brood of children, and it is this mysterious nanny who is the focus of the book. Ellen has managed to revive Bram several times when he became so sick that it was feared he would die, but her methods are mysterious and extremely secretive, and seem to require her to disappear for several days afterwards. After saving him from one particularly disastrous episode of illness, Bram emerges a changed child. Suddenly he has energy and appetite, and he is able to easily leave his room and participate in lengthy and somewhat arduous investigative excursions with his sister as they delve ever more deeply into the secretive life of Ellen. It is a mystery that is destined to occupy them for many years of their lives, and one that eventually brings the siblings back together as young adults for a final confrontation with Ellen Crone and the dark secrets of her past.
I found many themes within the book that are common to those found in Dracula, and it seems to work well in establishing the behaviors and events that we find in the later classic as existing in part of a larger pattern that has been followed for centuries by the creator vampire. There were many interesting touches that I particularly enjoyed, such as the elusive nature of Ellen Crone’s looks – Bram’s sister finds it impossible to capture her likeness in a drawing, which seemed an interesting play on the idea of vampires not being visible in mirrors. The character development is engaging, descriptions of the settings and scenes are lush and detailed, and I often felt transported back in time as a witness to the frightening situations.
This book is a great pick for any readers who enjoy period horror and the specific type of vampire created in the classic work. It also looks like it has been optioned for movie rights, so we may see an interpretation of it on the big screen some day.