September 21, 2020

Dracula’s Child

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J.S. Barnes’ sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula finds Jonathan and Mira Harker having just returned to England after their horrific Transylvanian collision with the inimical Count Dracula. Their son, named for their tragically deceased friend Quincey Morris, is growing up. But the glow of their victory over the ancient vampire is soon tainted, as comrades die while speaking evil portents and young Quincey seems strange, even to his own mother. The Harkers and the remaining members of their circle reassure themselves with the knowledge that the Count is dead by their hand, and he cannot return from beyond the grave they fashioned for him. But there are shadows gathering in the deep Romanian forests, and they have designs on the world outside.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: J.S. Barnes shares what inspired him to revisit Dracula.

In Dracula’s Child, Barnes portrays vampires at their most sinister. They do not sparkle, nor do they enjoy shopping; rather, they hunger, and only the eldest and most disciplined among them can control the urge to feed. The gothic, almost oppressively macabre atmosphere is enhanced by Barnes’ revival of Stoker’s epistolary form. Not only is it an effective allusion to the original material, but telling this new story through diary entries, letters and newspaper clippings also forces the reader to experience the events almost in real time. There are no hints of omniscience; instead, Barnes is downright miserly with foreshadowing, offering only hints of what is to come. The result is both an admirable blend of horror and dark fantasy and an accurate reconstruction of the original’s mood.

However, Dracula’s Child is not just a sequel in form and cast, but also in its interpretation of its monster, and it is this quality that renders it particularly timely. Barnes extends Stoker’s underlying metaphor connecting vampirism to sexual abuse to include the seduction of social and cultural power. In Dracula’s Child, vampires do not merely threaten the life and well-being of their victims: rather, they seek to exert power over entire societies, and they are adept at wielding sensationalism, mass opinion and the levers of public policy to accomplish their aims. The reader is left wondering how their own society would react to a vampiric intrusion, or indeed, if the vampires are already here.

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