Written by Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew, DRACULA THE UN-DEAD reintroduces us to the original characters --- Dr. Jack Seward, Jonathan and Mina Harker, Arthur Holmwood, and Dr. Abraham Van Helsing --- 25 years after their heroic battle against Dracula at the Carpathian Mountains.
Dr. Jack Seward, a man who chased down Dracula and fought to destroy him, now barely clings to his sanity. A morphine addict living in a rooming house in London, he is still fighting the battle, convinced that gruesome murders happening in the city are the work of the devil he thought gone. He believes Dracula has risen and goes in search of him once more.
Jonathan Harker fills his days with alcohol to overcome his hatred for the past. His marriage to his beloved Mina is in disrepair, and his son Quincey (named after their fallen comrade) refuses to listen to him. Mina, who has barely aged since the long-ago battle with Dracula, is a daily reminder to Jonathan of what was lost.
Arthur Holmwood, a man still mourning the loss of his dear fiancée Lucy, has severed all ties with the original band of Dracula hunters. Living in high society and pretending the past doesn't exist, he waits only for death and the warm embrace of his Lucy.
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing is old and feeble but refuses to give up the fight against Dracula. He comes to London at the request of Mina to help save her son from the evil menace.
Soon, both Jack Seward and Jonathan Harker are dead. Seward is run down by a driverless carriage in Paris, and Harker is found impaled in Piccadilly Square in London. Inspector Cotford, the man investigating Harker's murder, thinks the two deaths are more than mere coincidence. During his investigation, Cotford finds a connection between the victims and brings in an old friend for questioning. He threatens to expose Arthur Holmwood's friendship with Harker and tries to trick Mina, who is grieving for her husband, into revealing new information that would tie her to the murders in some way. Cotford, frustrated and eager to solve the case, believes that both murders may involve not Dracula but Jack the Ripper.
What Cotford and the others don't know is that a new evil has taken Dracula's place. Countess Elizabeth Bathory was married off to a cruel man in the 16th century to broker peace. She escaped but was returned by her family to suffer excruciatingly at the hand of her husband. Bathory is a distant relation of Dracula, and he takes pity on her and tries to ease her pain by making her a vampire. In the end, Dracula unknowingly creates a vile creature bent on terrorizing humans and destroying the group of friends who hunted him 25 years earlier.
DRACULA THE UN-DEAD is billed as a sequel to the original written in 1897, using Stoker's notes for the story. While entertaining, it feels a bit disingenuous at times, pulling in several odd plot twists and asking readers to rethink the intentions of the characters. The 1897 version was told through journal entries, providing the reader with a look into the characters’ minds, showcasing all their fears and hopes. The new telling is prose and does not have the same feel, but there is one advantage: more action. It moves along much faster and takes the reader on a tour of the streets of London and Paris. However, it feels forced in places, making it less scary and more nonsensical and campy. The language, additionally, is awkward and out of sync with the time period, making the characters seem transplanted in early 20th-century society.
Dracula is also given a more sympathetic role in this version, and while it does reveal a lot about the character and his motivations, it seems a bit of a stretch to now ask readers to empathize with him after being told he was evil incarnate. Instead, the villain this time around --- in the character of Bathory --- is intriguing in a cruel and cunning way and works well offsetting the new, now kinder and gentler version of Dracula.
In the end, DRACULA THE UN-DEAD is a fast read and exciting in parts, but I think too much is asked of readers of the original in having to forgo old beliefs of who and what Dracula is. It’s best to just enjoy it for what it is: another vampire story for October.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on October 13, 2009