VAMPIRES. Not just incidental vampires, not scientific vampires, sparkly vampires, silly vampires, middle class vampires, vegan vampires or mindless bad guy vampires. Proper, Bram Stoker, traditional fiction, honest to goodness, really real vampires. I am so happy.
The book is frankly excellent. And not just because it ticks the boxes of my personal obsessions. The writing is wonderful, the characters (many borrowed or stolen from elsewhere) are fantastic and the setting beautiful. The plot works and is, except in one specific instances, not in the least bit predictable. It is one of the best books I have read in the last few months, and possibly competes with Johannes Cabal as the best.
The plot, so much as is covered in the blurb, is that the widowed Queen Victoria has remarried, taking Vlad Tepes as her Prince Consort and taking vampirism into the heart of her empire. Meanwhile, Jack the Ripper is loose on the streets of Whitechapel, and some plucky heroes must do something about it. I shan’t go beyond that, as it would be a shame to spoil it for anyone who may read it (you, yes you, you should read it… now), but believe me I want to ramble on and on about all sorts of aspects of the story. I was a little worried at the outset that the setting was just a touch too… I don’t know… neat. That’s not the word I want, but I can’t quite think of the right one so it’ll do. It felt like a book set in a backdrop too ideal and perfect a setting for any real book. But it isn’t… or rather it is, but in a good way. It is a good idea and it continues to be a wonderful example of a good idea, right up until the very last page. There are a few details which I believe to be wrong (in the historical sense… I couldn’t pass such a comment on the fiction) but they are lost in the sea of brilliance that the book manages to be.
As for the characters, where normally I must strive to find one to love, I find myself spoilt for choice here. Particularly fond to me are Charles Beauregard and Art Holmwood, but there are so many others worthy of our attention. Fiction and fact are muddled together in the character creation, with off-hand references to Wilde and Stoker set alongside Moriarty and Quartermaine, and all those characters who fall into real view are dealt with stunningly. No one is just scenery, not even the background whores and messenger boys. And that is wonderful. The only two I can find it in me to truly dislike are Penelope and Florence, but both serve their purposes to the plot and so can be excused being less than sympathetic. Mackenzie and Kostaki, both seemingly flat and drab characters, a policeman and a soldier in Dracula’s service, have a moment not only of shining excitement but of a real connection in a way I’d never have expected in a book like this. Newman separates his goodies and baddies in a very certain way. Not a naïve way, with black and white moral standards, but in a slightly old-fashioned way that fits with the style of book he’s trying to write. People may be grey in their own morals, even the supreme baddy has redeeming features and a need for sympathy and the hero has moments where we entertain doubts about his morality, but they are neatly delineated, good and bad arrayed very precisely. And the Mackenzie and Kostaki thing completely breaks that. And it’s amazing.
Honestly, I am struggling to find fault to pick. I couldn’t put it down once I started, and I have nothing but glowing praise for all aspects. I would recommend the book to all and sundry, especially if they would be amused by copious name-dropping from all aspects of literature. And I certainly am now willing to concede that books which cost money far outclass the free ones on the Kindle.