on December 17, 2011
I only recently finished reading The Dracula Sequence book series by Fred Saberhagen and I think I have grown to adore his version of Dracula. My only regret in regard to these books is that I only recently started reading these books and sadly the author, Fred Saberhagen, passed away in 2007. I wish I had discovered these books while he was still alive. Also, it's very apparent to me that he did not mean for this book series to end where they did. The book series is clearly unfinished.
His first book in the series begins with the novel The Dracula Tape which is a very tongue in cheek re-telling of the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker but from Dracula's point of view. Some of his justifications for the events are somewhat... questionable, such as his claim that what happened on the Demeter was the result of the first mate going insane because he thought a vampire was on board. Okay, so the first mate went insane and caused everything but... the cause of his insanity was true... there was a vampire on board... Then there's his claim that his relationship with Lucy was casual and consensual. But in the next breath he admits she thought it was all a dream. So, yes. Our narrator is not exactly honest and sometimes you have to read between the lines to catch the truth. He leaves out the details he doesn't like, apparently lies, and slants things to the way he wants to remember them. But for all his flaws you start to like Saberhagen's Dracula. He's no Edward Cullen. He doesn't lament being a vampire. He's proud of what he is and has a very strong, personal sense of honor. It also has a very satisfying ending for those who love the idea of Mina and Dracula as a couple, without actually re-writing the ending of Stoker's novel.
The one thing I dislike is that Dracula's only real vulnerability in these books is wood. The reasoning given is that like a vampire wood is something that was once alive and transformed into something new.
The second book in the series is called The Dracula - Holmes file. This story starts with Dracula roaming Victorian London, shortly after the events of Dracula. He accidentally gets involved in a very disturbing case with Sherlock Holmes, who actually resembles Dracula, himself.
The Third book in the series called Old Friend of the Family, serves as a sort of glue linking the literary Dracula to the modern world through his connection to Mina's family. In this novel Mina's descendants are desperate for aide when young Johnny Southerland (the youngest of her line at this point) is kidnapped and his pinky fingers have been viciously torn off. The family, in desperation, use a spell left by "Grandma Mina" to summon help, at which point Dracula (under the alias Dr. Corday) turns up and becomes self-appointed guardian of Mina's family. And it becomes strangely satisfying when Dracula takes brutal revenge for what was done to poor Johnny. He even brutally mangles one of the kidnappers. You find yourself starting to root for him, despite his viciousness. He is a fantastic anti-hero.
This book also introduces us to Joseph Koegh, who marries into the Southerland family (descendants of Mina and Jonathan Harker). Joe becomes a private investigator and recurring character in the series and he serves as a good counter balance to our not-always-nice narrator.
The fourth book of the series is Thorn. In this book Dracula is attempting to win (at auction) a painting of his own "deceased" second wife from his mortal life only to find himself involved in a strange mystery that may involve his own half-vampire wife from his mortal life. The quality of the book series starts to slide a little bit here and the story alternates between the modern setting and the past. It actually has the feel of an episode of Forever Knight (The Canadian Vampire TV series from the early nineties). The best part of this book has to be Dracula's temper tantrum near the end of the book where Mina herself (now a vampire) shows up to warn one of the main protagonists not to go near him until it was over because of how dangerous he could be when angry. It was disturbing and amusing all at once. But considering what happened to lead to the tantrum it was completely understandable. Dracula and his lover were both blown up in a car. He survived by turning into mist and narrowly escaping. The woman was badly mangled to the point that she couldn't even ingest Dracula's blood to be transformed into a vampire and so she died in agony in his arms... which lead to a monstrous, probably warrented, vampire temper tantrum from Dracula.
The fifth book in the series is probably my least favorite. This one is called Dominion and deals with magick and Merlin himself (who has been wandering the streets under a curse that has left him an incompetent drunk...) Fred Saberhagen is not very good at describing magick. It's disjointed, hallucinogenic and a little incoherent. Fred Saberhagen can describe vampire powers fairly well but not generic magick or time travel very well. The best part though has to be when Dracula is tossed up into a whirlwind that tumbles him around through time, by an angry Merlin, who doesn't realize Dracula is actually on his side.
The sixth book in the series is a good one. This one is called A Matter of Taste. In this book it's revealed that the historical rogue Ceasar Borgia became a vampire and now wants revenge on Dracula (for something our narrator claims was accidental but that's debatable considering our narrator isn't very honest...) Dracula ends up poisoned and now it's up to Mina's human descendants to protect him while he is vulnerable. Meanwhile the now adult Johnny Southerland (the one Dracula saved in Old Friend of The Family) has to find a way to explain to his future wife that his "Uncle Matt" is not only a vampire but THE Dracula. The ending is surprisingly endearing and sweet.
In this book we learn that Dracula has a clever way of compensating for not having a reflection. He has replaced his bathroom mirror with a flat screened closed circuit television with a continual live feed of whatever is in front of it.
The seventh book of the series is one of the two I don't care much for. The other is Dominion. In this one, called A Question of Time, a lot of time travel happens and as I discussed before, Fred Saberhagen is not very good at writing magick or time travel. This particular book has no real impact on the majority of the series and I don't feel it was necessary in the grand scheme of things.
The eighth book of the series is called Seance for a vampire. And yet again our "Hero" makes some questionable decisions, such as wanting to seduce a young Medium whose brother has just been killed, But he was "considerate enough" to wait a night or so after the brother's death to seduce her. This was a fairly interesting one but the one thing about the book I don't care for is Fred Saberhagen sometimes puts his own opinion into the character. For example he has Dracula feel that all Mediums are frauds. He does not believe in ghosts. He believes in magick, time travel, spells, wizards, vampires, werewolves, and even karma but ghosts is the thing Dracula doesn't believe in? I don't buy it. It just doesn't make sense to me. This book deals with the historical Rasputin and is another cross over with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
The ninth book of the series is A Sharpness on the Neck and here Fred Saberhagen seems to poke fun of himself a bit, poking fun of how "Mr. Graves" (Another alias for Dracula) shifts from third person perspective to first person perspective. And it also pokes fun at how boring and long winded he can be when explaining things to people. In this story we learn that Radu (Dracula's vampire brother) wants a man named Phillip Radcliffe dead as revenge against his ancestor. It's up to Dracula and a masked band of helpers (Mna's human descendants) to save them.
The story alternates with the past, particularly The French revolution, and the present day. There are subtle nods to A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel. At one point Dracula disguises himself as an executioner (and actually carries out several executions) to save a man he is honor-bound to protect.
The funniest part of this book is when Dracula makes a three to five hour long video tape of himself sitting at a desk explaining the back story and the people who are being made to watch the video find it boring and even try fast forwarding it. At one point he even enthralls them to watch it and they still fall asleep about five minutes into it.
Little things are there to remind you of the viciousness of our protagonist. Even though he goes out of his way to try to rescue a little girl at one point, he still mangles a group of vampires who side with his brother Radu, thralls animals to remain still so a little boy can kill them with his mini guillotine, and carries out executions he doesn't even really agree with. He also mentions beating his brother with a wooden cane and tells us that his brother only cried out in pain to "annoy" him. He is... still... Dracula.
The Tenth book in the series is called A coldness in the blood and deals with a self-proclaimed Egyptian deity and a quest to find the Philosopher's Stone. A serious and not-quite resolved strain is put on "Uncle Mathew" (Dracula) and his relationship with Mina's human family (who he's been more or less stalking ever since the book Old Friend of the Family, set twenty years earlier...) The strain comes when Andy (Joe's son) goes to Uncle Matt's apartment to put together a website for him. While there he gets unintentionally wrapped up into the chaotic adventure which subsequently leads to Andy's mother forbidding him from ever helping Uncle Matt with his computer and or going to his apartment again. I can't help but feel sorry for Dracula here because he's clearly grown attached to these people that he has made himself protector of and it's apparent they're all still quite afraid of him. Well, I suppose I'd be a little nervous too if Dracula decided to become my guardian Angel but I've grown to like the guy.
Dracula has been trying very hard to get others to adopt the term Hmo-dirus or Homo-sapien-dirus as a subspecies title for Vampire or as he says Nosferatu. ...It doesn't seem to catch on.
The one thing I dislike about this novel is yet again, like with ghosts in Seance for a vampire, Fred Saberhagen puts his own views in Dracula and it doesn't make much sense that a man from fifteenth century Romania would have issues with a young man having an earring and yet he does. And the author goes out of his way to have multiple characters unrealistically hate the earring, including even a very young character named Dolly. Since when does Dracula have a 1950s middle America mind-set about Jewelry? It doesn't fit.
In any event it's obvious here that this was not meant to be the last book of the series. And it's disappointing to know the book series never truly will be completed since the author passed away.
There are two short stories set in the world of The Dracula Sequence but I haven't had the chance to read those yet.
For anyone who misses vampires who could be terrifying and charming, charismatic yet violent, and not sparkly, I strongly, strongly recommend these books. I think this book series is highly under-rated and Fred Saberhagen's version of Dracula has become one of my favorite literary characters.
The books are all told from Dracula's point of view. The book series inspired certain aspects of the Gary Oldman Dracula movie. And it's really, really under-rated.
The Dracula Tape - Which retells Dracula from Dracula's point of view.
The Holmes-Dracula File - A cross over with Sherlock Holmes.
An Old Friend of the Family - Mina's descendants are forced to summon Dracula for help.
Thorn - Every other chapter deals with Dracula's mortal second wife.
Dominion - A cross over with King Arthur. (I'm not a fan of this one.)
From the Tree of Time - A short story available in the book Gaslight Arcanum. This is another Sherlock cross over.
A Matter of Taste - This one deals with Dracula and The Borgias and what happened the night Dracula became a vampire.
A Question of Time - An odd time travel one. (I didn't care for this one.)
Seance for a Vampire - Another Sherlock cross over.
A Sharpness on the Neck - Deals with Dracula's brother Radu returned as a vampire.
Box Number Fifty - A short story (and a really good one at that) in the book Dracula in London.
A Coldness in the Blood - Sadly the last book in the series and deals with the philosopher's stone. Fred Saberhagen died before he could write another after this.
Far as I know, sci-fi / fantasy author Fred Saberhagen was one of the first gents what portrayed vampires as a sympathetic lot. And he wasn't wasting time with lesser nosferatu, either. His character of choice was the immortal Dracula himself. Saberhagen wrote ten volumes in his Dracula series, with this one, A MATTER OF TASTE, ranking second only to THE HOLMES / DRACULA FILES as my favorite.
He once terrorized the world as the remorseless Wallachian prince, Drakulya. Now he's known as... Uncle Matthew. The more than 500 years old Dracula now resides in wintry Chicago, not too far from the family he befriended and saved so many years ago, the Southerlands (whose great-great grandmother is Mina Harker). Having assumed a new identity as "Matthew Maule," a select few of the Southerlands know him as Uncle Matthew, an old friend of the family. And these few know of his vampiric nature. When Uncle Matthew is mysteriously rendered comatose and vulnerable in his upscale high rise apartment, it falls on the Southerlands to return the favor and keep their old protector safe from five centuries' clutter of undead enemies. Daunting.
Mostly the story is told in third person format. But Dracula's elegant first person narrative interjects in several chapters as he recounts (on a tape recorder) his rise from the dead and his past run-ins with the notorious 15th-century Machiavellian freaks, Cesare and Lucretia Borgia, who may or may not be involved with Dracula's current scrape. But, between you and me, I was more engaged with the harrowing cat and mouse siege playing out on his doorstep in present-day Chicago. A MATTER OF TASTE reconnects us to other familiar characters, such as the dependable ex-cop Joe Keogh, who married into Southerland money, and John Southerland, who still bears the scars from when he was abducted at sixteen years old (in AN OLD FRIEND OF THE FAMILY). I love the sense of loyalty these two demonstrate toward their "Uncle Matthew." And it's a fantastic swerve that, this time out, the humans end up coming to Dracula's rescue.
Keogh and John by now are old hats at dealing with vampires (Keogh comes armed with lead-cored wooden bullets). The same can't be said for John's fiancee, Angie Hoban, who absolutely didn't know what she was in for when she decided to be part of the Southerland family. But she's had to learn fast. She's one of the folks trapped in Dracula's apartment. Saberhagen terrifically weaves in suspense and a sense of escalating terror. In a scene that sets the mood, you sense the sudden suspicion and mounting panic in John Southerland as the vampires and their human agents attempt to wheedle an invitation from those within. John hysterically knows better.
I was so into the Southerlands as they manned up against the undead that I almost wished Dracula had remained indisposed. Because you knew that once Dracula revived, it won't be too long before he springs into "Vengeance is mine, miscreant!" mode and the human protagonists are once more relegated to the sidelines. Maybe the most harrowing scene is that in which two humans frantically fight off two already weakened vampires, demonstrating, in a drag-out, room-wrecking struggle, just how hard it is for humans to kill these terrible creatures.
It's hard to go wrong with a Fred Saberhagen book. I recommend his Swords series and the Berserker series, if you haven't read them yet. His popular take on Dracula allowed for later vampire heroes to, uh, have their day in the sun (the TWILIGHT series, Michael Romkey's I, VAMPIRE, and P.N. Elrod's Vampire Files, to name three off the top of my head). In this and other books Saberhagen pit Dracula against truly vile villains and plonked him in fantastical adventures, with Dracula never once losing cool or panache. Saberhagen didn't shy away from having Dracula run into other literary characters (Merlin in DOMINION and Sherlock Holmes in THE HOLMES/DRACULA FILES and A SEANCE FOR A VAMPIRE), and I won't even go into the historical figures he's met. But, as awesome as Dracula's encounters are with them larger-than-life folks, there's something very gratifying about the role reversal of ordinary mortals for once saving the day. And because it's these mere humans trying to stand tall, trying to fight off their fear, the jeopardy is even more heightened, that surge of unease more pronounced. I didn't even mention Saberhagen's storytelling skills, his character development and knack for establishing pace and atmosphere and for coaxing spine-tingling chills. But, wait, I just did.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 1999
Not a bad premise, essentially, but the whole thing felt rather slight and I found the device of Dracula's recorded memories to be contrived. The idea of linking Dracula to the Borgias was interesting enough, but it never felt like it became fully fleshed out enough. It was good enough to encourage me to read other books in the Dracula series to see if I find them better than this.