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What I've Been Reading: The Bloody Red Baron & Vampire Romance, by Kim Newman

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been trying to focus on editing my novel, and been in a bit of a funk. But I'm back, at least for a little while.

So, what's the subject of today's review? One of my recent favorites, the second entry in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series, The Bloody Red Baron (Anno Dracula 1918), and the novella attached to the new edition, Vampire Romance (Anno Dracula 1923).

A little background before I delve into these wonderful pieces of processed wood-pulp and ink. The world of Anno Dracula is a cross between alternate-history and literary/pop-culture mega-crossover. It’s like Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but with vampires.

The alt-history aspect comes with a change to Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. In this world, instead of being driven back to Transylvania by Jonathan Harker, Abraham Van Helsing, and co., Dracula kills or turns Stoker’s protagonists, marries Queen Victoria, and brings vampires out of hiding. The first book, Anno Dracula, deals with a fictionalized version of the Jack the Ripper killings, eventually culminating in Dracula being ousted from the British throne.

Our first book for this review, The Bloody Red Baron, picks up in 1918. Apparently, after traipsing around Europe for a while, Dracula joined up with Kaiser Wilhelm II, and is now serving as Supreme Commander of the militaries of the Central Powers.

The plot centers around two groups of specialized, largely vampire pilots – the Allied Condor Squadron, and Germany’s Jagdgeschwader Eins (literally, JG1, or “Fighter Wing 1”). As mentioned before, both groups consist largely (or entirely) of vampires – the Allies because vampires are better suited to night flying, and Germany for… other reasons. I’ll just mention that there are several scientists at JG1’s base of operations.

Now, here’s the first reason you should probably buy the latest edition – the annotations. Kim Newman populates his books with characters taken from everything from novels and movies to comic books, as well as other references to such works. But, because most of us aren’t well versed in early 20th century pop culture, the 2012 edition comes with helpful annotations in the back, for those of us who feel like finding the source materials. It adds a whole layer to the experience being able to understand the references.

The second reason you should go out an buy this book is the other subject of this review, the novella Vampire Romance.

Unlike Bloody Red Baron’s war story plot, Vampire Romance is a straight-up mystery, isolated countryside house and everything.

In this story, Lady Worplesdon (Aunt Agatha of P.G. Wodenhouse’s Jeeves & Wooster stories), has called a meeting of several elder vampires to decide who shall be the new ruler of the vampires, now that [Spoiler Alert] Dracula has been imprisoned since the end of the War [End Spoiler Alert]. What most of the attendees don’t know is that the somewhat infamous criminal known only as “The Crook” (no, seriously), is going to be at the meeting.

But, you say, if it’s a mystery, why is it called Vampire Romance?

Well, that’s because of the semi-sub plot to the novella, told from the perspective of a teenage girl who lives at Mildew Manor, where the meeting is being held, and unfortunately I can’t remember her name off the top of my head. But she’s obsessed with vampires, so much so that she actually believes she’s destined to be turned. She believes her and her destined vampire lover must be spiritually/psychically connected, with her as his resurrected love from before he was turned. When the vampires finally show up, she tries to guess which one is her destined vampire.

And which one does she decide will turn her? The pretty teenage boy, whom she hasn’t even talked to once.

That’s right – Vampire Romance is a riff on Twilight. And it is glorious.

Honestly, if for no other reason, you should by The Bloody Red Baron just to read Vampire Romance.

The only downside is that there are no annotations for Vampire Romance, which gets annoying when the vampires start to show up. Yes, I get that the Japanese vampire with the katana is straight out of anime, but I don’t know which one!

So, to sum up – buy this book. By Anno Dracula. Read them, if for no other reason than to see how good vampires are written.