RitS: Dracula, The Un-Dead, Prologue and Chapter One

RitS post 15 of 18

All right, Snowflakes. I needed a little break from Nick and the gang; blogging about them twice a week was wearing on me. Variety, after all, is the spice of life, and this site was getting a little bland, don’t you think?

Anyway, we’ll be looking at Dracula, The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker – and yes, he’s related to Bram – and Ian Holt. I saw this book described as “the worst book ever” on a comment thread over at Trout Nation, and I had to buy it. But because I am also the worst ever, I knew I would make you share my pain. 🙂 Same rules apply to this recap: I’ll be analyzing the writing as well as summarizing the story, so hopefully we can all learn something.

Sit back, grab your favorite beverage, and let’s get to it!

Dracula The Un-dead

PROLOGUE

This is a letter from Mina Murray Harker to her son, Quincy Harker, to be delivered only in the event of her untimely death. It’s just a summary of Dracula, though, with some lame attempts at the beginning and end to make it sound like a letter someone would actually write. It doesn’t necessarily succeed at that, though so far, the writing isn’t terrible. It isn’t great, either – it’s basically three pages of “Last Time On Dracula”, which makes me wonder who D.Stokes thought his audience was. Or if this wasn’t an editorial addition – “Write me a prologue so people who haven’t read Dracula can read this.”

I’m reserving judgment here, until we get to the real meat of the story. I certainly wouldn’t advise D.Stokes to write any more letters from Victorian people – he fails miserably at even vaguely making this sound like the letters of Mina Harker we remember from the original.

One quibble: Mina refers to Vlad as “Prince Dracula”. It’s historically accurate, but in the original novel, Vlad is most definitely a Count, not a Prince. Why this change from the source material, I don’t know, but it seems odd to me.

CHAPTER ONE

Dr. Seward is a drug addict in a Parisian flophouse, obsessed with Jack the Ripper, still mourning Lucy, and looking for an address because he has a train to catch.

That’s our first scene in this actual novel, and I’m…eh. Unimpressed? We got Seward-the-addict in Coppola’s movie in 1994, 15 years before this was written, so it already feels a little derivative. Which, I suppose you could say it is, being a sequel of a Victorian novel, after all. But clearly I think new things can be done with old characters – after all, I write Vlad Dracula, too.

The writing here feels like I’m being told things by someone who wants to show me, and just doesn’t quite know how, yet. There’s not enough mystery in the prose. And we’re treated to lines like this:

As the cracked ceiling of the stale Parisian flophouse room he had been renting came into focus, he reflected on how much his life had changed.

Like – it’s fine. A little wordy, could be rearranged for tightness, but it conveys the information well enough. The problem is that it’s just fine. There’s no law against writing “just fine” sentences, of course, but they’re pretty much all like that, so that the whole scene is “just fine”. It doesn’t provide any new information about Seward, really, and it doesn’t plunge us into that world and make us feel the grit of the dirty floors or smell the sour sweat of a drug addict hanging in the air.

I do like the fact that Seward hid the precious address under a picture of Erzsebet Bathory, though. Nice touch, that, especially since Erzsebet and Vlad were actual blood cousins IRL.

So Seward gets on the train, and it’s going to be 10 hours to Marseilles from Paris. He has nothing to pass the time, because he can’t even afford to own a journal and a pen to write. Which…okay, whatever. I didn’t think paper was so expensive in 1912 that you could afford a train ticket and tons of morphine but not a journal, but hey, we’ll go with it.

The conductor asks for his ticket, sees his medical bag, wants to inspect it, finds all his morphine, then asks for Seward’s license. Apparently it’s now illegal to go around giving away morphine all willy-nilly anymore. Seward produces the license. Conductor asks why he’s going to Marseilles, and Seward says he has a patient with narcissistic personality disorder. Which was not a diagnosis until 1968, friends. Conductor asks what that is, and Seward says:

“It’s a psychological instability causing the patient to inflict predatory, autoerotic, antisocial, and parasitic control on those around them….”

Emphasis mine, because

picardWTF

Yeah, no. That’s not…Maybe he meant autocratic? Because how do you exercise autoerotic control over someone else? That doesn’t make a damn lick of sense, and it isn’t in any description of the disorder.

This is, of course, an editorial problem – unless someone caught it, and D.Stokes just straight up refused to change it at all. But I can’t imagine him getting away with that, not even with the last name Stoker. (The co-writer, Ian Holt, surely couldn’t get away with it; his name has no cachet, and I have a feeling that with a background in screenwriting, he knows how to take a note or two.)

Conductor is satisfied, though, and moves on, and Seward still has 9 hours and 50 minutes to brood about Lucy and stare at the watch she engraved for him – Oceans of Love, Lucy.

Seward slips into a memory of Lucy, of her giving him the watch 25 years ago. We get some truly bad writing here, to wit:

Lucy had an odd iniosyncrasy of watching a speaker’s mouth as if trying to taste the next word before it passed by his lips. She had such a lust for life. Her smile could bring warmth to the coldest heart.

OMG, no. Where to start?

  1. An idiosyncrasy is odd by its very definition. An odd habit? Better, but still a cliché, and since we’re not in close-third POV, it’s distractingly bad.
  2. “…as if trying to taste the next word…” is actually quite good. It’s an interesting turn of phrase, and I can imagine just what Lucy looks like in conversation now. More, please.
  3. “…it passed by his lips.” The “by” is just completely unnecessary. We know things “pass by”, and know it so well that we now just say “passed”. “Passed his lips” would have been more than sufficient.
  4. “She had such a lust for life.” Clichés need to die.
  5. “Her smile….” UGH STOP IT.

5 notes in 3 sentences. I don’t feel great about the rest of this book, you guys.

Anyway, Seward’s remembering the day Lucy turned down his marriage proposal. She starts to cry, but the word “moistened” is actually applied to her eyes, and now I’m trying to keep my lunch down because “moist” and any of its variations are the grossest words in the English language. Seriously. “Moistened” is for – well, nothing. If you want to disgust your audience, probably. Describing monsters, maybe? That would work. Not pretty girls crying.

Seward wakes up in Marseilles, and we’re treated to a too-much-research description of the city. It’s raining. He finds the address – a Mediterranean villa, standard red-tile roof and stucco – and his heart sinks, because it seems lifeless and depressing. He hears a carriage and ducks out of sight across the street. A black carriage pulled by black horses pulls up – but no one’s driving it.

Someone gets out – “a strapping figure” – and the coach moves off, still without a driver. The person puts the key to the door, then stops, as if they can hear Seward. They remove their hat, and Seward realizes the mysterious “Benefactor” who’s sent him on this journey was right:

Elizabeth Bathory is alive.

With “a strapping figure” and a head of black curls. So…you wasted all your research time on the Roman origins of Marseilles and couldn’t be bothered to look this up?

blood-countess-elizabeth-bathory

Sure, why not. Let’s go with it.

Next week: More Bathory! I’m excited, because I loves me some Erzsebet. Oh, sure, I made her a total bitch in my books, but hey, I loves me some bitches, too. Let’s hope the plot picks up a bit – I could spend exactly 100% less time in Seward’s head and be perfectly happy about it.

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