If only Dracula, the classic adventure-horror tale by Bram Stoker, had never captured the world’s imagination and become an icon of supernatural literature, then perhaps its first (so far) official sequel would not seem so bad.
But Dracula is not only a good book, it’s a great book — an allegorical archetype that has proved as deathless as its title character. And Dracula the Un-Dead, co-written by Stoker’s great-great-nephew and by a Dracula scholar, is not great, nor even remotely good. Instead it’s a big-budget, Hollywood equivalent of a timeless, supernatural classic: filled with dumb, uninspired action, disrespectful, spiteful of its far-superior predecessor, and plotted with pointless rush-rush* that only the least discriminating reader will enjoy. It has a couple of good ideas, but the whole endeavor is so amateurishly executed that it should drive a stake through its own heart and put the public out of our literary misery.
This sequel, the first of a planned trilogy, subverts Stoker’s classic in many ways: it changes the timeline, it ties the action in with the murders committed by Jack the Ripper five years prior to the action in Dracula, and it makes a mockery of the honor and sacrifice of the original’s characters by killing them off in the most ignoble of ways. If the original was so wrong in so many ways, why even bother to capitalize on it with a sequel?
The real villain of this novel — the behind the scenes evil genius of the secret-story premise — is Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess of history and legend. She’s been used before in Dracula tales, and will be used again — she’s just too convenient not to use. At the same time, using her is not original at all — it’s old hat, as is the book’s concept of vampirism: we’ve seen it all on the screen, in Buffy, Lost Boys and Fright Night: grotesque mockeries of humanity aided and abetted by metamorphing CGI. There’s no relationship here between the undead of the original, nor even the undead of the single best Dracula-inspired novel, 1975’s ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. King’s creation of Barlow, who is clearly the Dracula the 20th and 21st centuries deserve, is so far above and away from this book’s Dracula, who at best is a cardboard character, weak and utterly gentrified. He’s less the Lord of the Undead and the Prince of Darkness and more like Count Chocula. Bleh. Bleh.
By the time the reader reaches the revelations at the end, anyone who cares about Dracula will not care about the climax. There has been no restraint; no elegance. It’s all pandering to a commercial audience instead of telling a brilliant and creative story deserving of the original.
Dracula may be undead, but this book is Dracula the Un-Readable.
* Pointless rush-rush” is a term borrowed from a review of Surrogates in the Los Angeles Times. It captures perfectly the unintelligent pacing and action endemic in Hollywood’s youth-oriented action films today. I plan on using it a lot.