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DRACULA’S CHILD ****
By J.S. Barnes. RRP: £8.99

 

Out on 22nd September 2020 from Titan Books

 

Since Bram Stoker’s original DRACULA in 1897, there have been numerous sequels, prequels and side novels such as Kate Cary’s 2005 novel BLOODLINE, Barbara Hambly’s REINFIELD and Karen Essex’s DRACULA IN LOVE. Even Stoker’s descendent, Dacre, got in on the game, releasing the sequel DRACULA: THE UN-DEAD and prequel DRACUL. This is of course all without mentioning the various comics, films, radio dramas and even breakfast cereals featuring the Count. The point I’m making is, follow ups and continuations of Stoker’s novel are nothing new. Indeed, Dracula has appeared so much since the original that I have to immediately give credit to author J S Barnes for deciding to give it another go. DRACULA’S CHILD, is at worst slightly clichéd (using several tropes of gothic fiction that have become popularised since Stoker’s time) but at best an interesting and well written follow up. What’s more, unlike many of its kin- it actually manages to make the Count bloody terrifying.

 

Set some time after the events of Stoker’s original, Barnes again focusses on some of the ‘Crew of Light’ and in particular Jonathan and Mina Harker. Having returned to England, they attempt to live ordinary lives and the book opens with the celebration of the birthday of their son; Quincy Harker. As the title suggests, the boy is the key to a dark plan stretching all the way back to Transylvania and into the past of the Harker’s….

 

What is immediately noticeable is that Barnes has chosen to mimic Stokers style, writing the novel in the form of multiple diary entries, letters, memos and newspaper clippings. Edited together, these form our narrative and it is still as intriguing and novel approach as it was in Stoker’s time. For example, a newspaper clipping about a bat is followed by a section of diary in which a character is puzzled after another becomes distressed at said newspaper. This allows the audience to stay one step ahead and the constant flitting back and forth between numerous sources and sections constantly builds tension. This also allows Barnes to create frequent ‘cliff-hangers’, leaving his reader on the edge at just the right moment. Perhaps most interestingly, Barnes has used this to introduce some subtly commentary on modern media – as newspaper clippings and facts contradict others. During the current crisis, this felt particularly relevant.

 

However, whilst there is much to enjoy the book is not without its issues. Principally, the problem that it can’t help but feel a little cliched. A secret society at the heart of the British Government, two travellers in Eastern Europe (one of whom yearns for dark forbidden experiences) and a slightly distant and stoic child with a supernatural side - these are all things we’ve seen before. How Barnes chooses to use them is not always expected but there are a number of moments where I couldn’t help but picture sequences from Hammer films or other gothic melodramas. Particularly in the characters of Gabriel and Maurice, who were whilst the most interesting pair in the entire book, suffered particularly from this- especially in the opening sequences. Add to this the in your face name of ‘Gabriel’ (if that isn’t a sign post, I don’t know what is) and some moments have an unintentionally ‘campy’ quality.

 

However, for the most part the book is genuinely frightening, not an easy thing to achieve with a character who is so overused. There are also striking moments of originality, where Barnes seamlessly merges modern sensibilities with a Stoker-like writing style. These immediately overshadow the more overused moments and litter the story with some fascinating imagery. DRACULA’S CHILD is also immense fun and whilst being dark and frightening, was a book I struggled to put down. A brave attempt to do a difficult thing, DRACULA’S CHILD may have its flaws, but it is immense fun and after decades of parody- manages to make the Count scary again.

 

By Callum Mckelvie.

 

 

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