JUDGMENT OF TEARS
ANNO DRACULA 1959
Carroll & Graf
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
I had the pleasure of working in a bookstore when Kim Newman's Anno Dracula was published in paperback. I had read the novel in hardcover and enjoyed it. I recommended the paperback to everyone I could, explaining, "I'm going to tell you about a novel that sounds horrible and campy, but, despite everything it should be, it extremely good." I sold copies of Anno Dracula to people who generally refused to pick up a science fiction, fantasy or horror novel. They all came back and told me how much they loved the book. When Newman wrote a sequel, The Bloody Red Baron, set during the Great War, I sat on a committee which gave it an honorable mention for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. With a detour to write a short story set in the universe, "Coppola's Dracula," Newman has now written the third "Anno Dracula" novel, Judgment of Tears: Anno Dracula 1959.
Judgment of Tears looks at the events leading up to Dracula's 1959 marriage to Asa Vajda in Rome. Newman openly bases the novel on Federico Fellini's film La Dolce Vita, which provides him with a wonderfully decadent background for the intrigues of his undead and human characters. Even the vampire murders which begin in the first chapter fit into the setting from Fellini's film. However, the most jarring inclusion, given this background, is the appearance of the Scottish vampire spy, Hamish Bond. The feel of the Bond films and a Federico Fellini movie are so different, that Bond never really seems to be at home in the setting.
Of course, one of the fun things about reading an "Anno Dracula" novel is identifying all the characters, both historical and fictional, who make their appearance throughout the novel. Judgment of Tears is no exception as Newman freely sprinkles characters as far apart as Orson Welles, the Addamses and Herbert West throughout the novel. Not all of these characters serve a purpose in extending the plot, however, they inclusion adds to the novel's enjoyability.
In the initial novel, Anno Dracula, Newman painted an alternate history in which a single person, Count Dracula, made the difference. His marriage to Queen Victoria and subsequent reign over Britain, brought vampirism into the open and nearly made it an essential for anyone who was socially or professionally ambitious. This great man theory of history continued through The Bloody Red Baron, despite Newman's inclusion of a World War I in which nothing historically significant had changed. By Judgment of Tears, seventy years of vampirism and historical change should have caught up to Newman's world, but hasn't. There are minor changes, but major events still happened without significant change. World War II occurred right on schedule, the extermination of Jews and Gypsies increased by the extermination of vampires. Edward VIII abdicated the English throne for his love of Wallis Simpson, etc. Judgment of Tears is less and alternate history than the earlier books, but no less fun for Newman's decision to slightly alter his depiction of history.
Judgment of Tears is more than simply a game with the history of 1959. Newman provides a murder mystery to support his complex background. An unknown assassin, called the Crimson Executioner, has begun assassinating vampire elders, frequently in crowded areas near famous Roman monuments. Newman's crop of vampires is brought into the mystery almost immediately as journalist cum vampire Kate Reed witnesses the double murder of Count Karnassy and his "niece," Malinka within hours of their arrival in Rome. As the novel progresses, the vampire elders continue to stack up, or would if their truly dead corpses didn't have a tendency to turn to dust. However, the murders form a backdrop to Newman's story, rather than a focal point.
While Kate Reed and Genevieve Dieudonne, the carry-over charcters from the earlier books, are interested in the Crimson Executioner, especially since Kate continues to have encounters with him, they primary focus is on pending nuptials of Dracula and Asa, but even more on the coming death of Charles Beauregard, the other carry-over character who has continuously refused any and all offers to be turned into a vampire.
In many ways, Judgment of Tears feels as if Newman has completed the cycle. Several of the major characters from the earlier novels are on their way out and vampires appear poised to fade once again into the woodwork. At the same time, nothing that Newman explicitly does would close off the possibility of further stories in the cycle and, in fact, the aforementioned "Coppola's Dracula" is set in a later period.
No longer as original as it was when he wrote Anno Dracula, Newman is able to keep this series fresh by setting stories in different times and incorporating different aspects of pop culture and reality. Not nearly as strong a novel as Anno Dracula, Judgment of Tears works better than The Bloody Red Baron, which had a tendency to mire itself in the strategies and tactics of war. Judgment of Tears continues to be better than it has any right to be.
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