Vampires Conquer America Pop Culture in Kim Newman’s Johnny Alucard

Johnny Alucard (Anno Dracula #4)

15798788Author: Kim Newman
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Titan Books
Source: Titan Books
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Alternate History

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers:  Low
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I have never read any of the other Anno Dracula books. I think I need to say that upfront in case some fans of the series find their way over here, read my review, and then decide to lynch me or something. To be quite honest, vampires usually aren’t my thing. But I was offered a review copy of Johnny Alucard and when I looked into the series I figured, you know, why not give it a read? The first three books seemed interesting, the premise behind Newman’s earlier world building was intriguing, and Johnny Alucard was held out as a sort of entry point for folks interested in entering the Anno Dracula series without too much difficulty.

I think that now, having read the book, I would have understood more if I had read the first three books in the series. I do not, however, think I would have enjoyed it any more because I liked it just fine knowing as little as I did about what came before. If you are interested in Johnny Alucard, though, I recommend giving the other three a read. I think you’d get a more solid experience out of it. But, if you’re impatient and just really want all the 1970s and 1980s pop culture references you can get then don’t worry about jumping right into Johnny Alucard! I did and I still enjoyed it.

One of the strengths of the story, I think, is that it doesn’t take long to really draw people in. It starts with a brief flashback, the making of our titular vampire and then goes straight into the parts that really draw in readers and film buffs. Because this is a world where vampires are real and Dracula is renown and infamous, obviously the story of Dracula is pretty much the hottest thing out there and filmmakers are all over that. The book starts strong by throwing us into the fray of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Modeled after the true story of the production of Apocalypse Now with the same cast we get a number of famous, familiar faces thrown into a world where vampires are real and they’re just another part of the Hollywood business.

This is our introduction to the world of Johnny Alucard. And it’s a fantastic introduction.

From there we move through the years, chronicling the rise to fame of one particular vampire who styles himself in the end as Johnny Alucard. I’ve always been a fan of alternative history and seeing how authors can mold familiar events to their will. Throughout the book we move through American history from the 1960s to the 1990s with all the pop culture references you could hope to find. We meet tons of characters from history – from a resurrected Andy Warhol to Orson Wells and numerous famous actors and actresses. We also see a lot of things pop up that we’ll recognize from history that are creatively altered for a world full of vampires. Like ‘Drac’ – a street drug that pops up and gains in popularity the same way that cocaine or heroine did in our world. Except, you know, it’s made of vampire blood. (Seriously, though, why is that always a thing in vampire books? Who wants to drink vampire blood? I mean, I get it as a drug but… it just seems so unsanitary.)

It’s a pretty awesome set up and example of world building.

One of the things I really kind of liked about the book was the it was split up into parts. It helped break up the story and helped with the transition through the years. It also helps to let the reader jump from the pop culture heavy parts to the more political issues that occurred back in ‘the old country.’ Some of the sections seemed a bit unnecessary or just a bit out of place. But, at the same time, they were still interesting and only served to add to building up this alternative, modern America full of vampires.

I will say, though, that there were moments where I got lost and this goes back to that belief that though it’s not necessary I wish I had read the other books in the series. Several characters that appear in the book are from earlier books and without that background I wasn’t really sure where they were coming from entirely. They were compelling characters in their own right and they explained what you needed to know but at the same time it did seem at times like maybe there was some back story it would have been nice to know.

But I think I can honesty say this is one of the books I’ve enjoyed most in the past month or so. I don’t take a lot of time to really read a lot of books. By that I mean I usually ready very quickly. There are only certain books that make me slow down to read them and this was one of them for whatever reason. I just wanted to take my time through it. I wanted to really enjoy it. It became my ‘bedtime book’ and I would read I think that should say a lot about the book and that you should consider that high praise enough to check it out!

Lastly, let’s take a moment to appreciate the cover to this book. The design is fabulous. That was really the first thing I thought when I got the book in the mail. (After my initial surprise at just how much bubble wrap they had included in the box!) Titan Books generally knows how to make a good looking book so I’m not surprised. But even as someone who isn’t really into vampire books usually I’d consider picking this one up simply based on that design. It has a very alluring draw. Plus I’m just a sucker for good looking things. I’m vain like that.

Final Thoughts:
An awesome jumping on point for anyone interested in the Anno Dracula series, Johnny Alucard manages to draw in fans new and old with a charming set of character and alluring series of situations. Where some books might fail to hit that happy medium this one succeeds brilliantly. Readers will find themselves enjoying not just the story itself but picking out all the finer little bits and pieces of pop culture history and trivia that Newman tucks into the pages like little literary Easter eggs. It’s a great read – and I say that as someone whose never read an Anno Dracula book and who doesn’t even like vampire books that much in the first place!

One response to “Vampires Conquer America Pop Culture in Kim Newman’s Johnny Alucard

  1. Pingback: Johnny Alucard reviewed | The Kim Newman Web Site·

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