Recently, I found my way to a blog and a post about the vampires in the supernatural and fantasy genre (I did comment on the post, but I cannot for the life of me find it again). The post questioned whether the vampire had to return to being a psychopath, a killer as the genre currently features more of the vampire bad boy in a romantic setting and everything the creature was has been lost.
I agree that more often than not, the vampire as the romantic bad boy is more popular than anything else these days, but I don’t think that the vampire has to return to being a cold-blooded killer in order to rejuvenate the genre or rather the audience’s love for the creature. I think, and as much as I enjoy the settings authors come up with, scenarios and certain aspects of novels tend to be incredibly similar. This is one of the main reasons I enjoyed The Bloody Red Baron – the vampires are not the bad boy romantic heroes but Newman has made them part of normal society and created a world so different at the same time that a genre I had grown very tired of was suddenly interesting again.
And, yes, I feel incredibly weird writing this about a book that was first published in 1995, because I was sure it was much newer than that.
So, in a nutshell, after marrying Queen Victoria in the first Anno Dracula book Newman moves Dracula to World War I on the German side, and readers follow Edward Winthrop as he navigates the war and his need for vengeance on the Red Baron. The Red Baron gets plenty of page time as well, through Edgar Allan Poe, a vampire and his biographer. No, seriously and it works brilliantly.
As well as fighting in the war on both sides, vampires tend to the wounded (their blood aids recuperation), are journalists writing about it, or happen to be PM of the UK, the Red Baron, or Mata Hari. Not a bad boy or psychopathic killer (and no, the Red Baron and his fliers don’t count – read it, and you’ll see what I mean) in sight, though vampires, like the human characters are not without their flaws. Newman has taken something readers are used to and familiar with and gave it a very simple vampire twist. He’s coupled this with incredible attention to detail in his writing (aerial dogfights in World War I fighters and the war down on the ground) and his research of World War I.
Newman also doesn’t restrict himself to the usual characteristics of vampires – his are capable of being out during the day, among other things. They have their bloodlines, which each have their own characteristics and it widens out the scope of the book and the characters immensely.
The next best bit? Is the mix of fictional and real world characters that include Churchill, Mycroft AND Sherlock Holmes (briefly), and Edgar Allen Poe. It’s captivating to see the world and how these characters navigate it in ways completely different to what we usually expect of them.
The new edition of this novel also includes a long novella entitled Vampire Romance and featuring Genevieve, a vampire from the first Anno Dracula book, that doesn’t feature as much in the Red Baron. In addition there’s a film treatment of the book called Red Skies, and a wealth of annotations from the author.