#SpooktasticReads Dracula’s Child by J.S. Barnes
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Titan Books (September 22, 2020)
Length: 576 pages
Many authors have endeavored to write a sequel to Dracula, but very few succeed in capturing the atmosphere of the classic as well as the hearts of readers. In the case of J.S. Barnes’ Dracula’s Child, however, I was impressed. While adding to the original’s mythology, the book managed to remain a faithful homage to its style and spirit while keeping me completely enthralled.
After their harrowing ordeal in Transylvania, Jonathan and Mina Harker have returned to England and settled into a life of relative peace in the intervening years. They have a son named Quincy who is growing up to be a fine young man, carefully spared from any of the memories and trauma inflicted upon his parents who are doing all they can to give him the happy, loving childhood he deserves. To celebrate the boy’s birthday, the Harkers have thrown together a small gathering with their closest friends, which includes Professor Van Helsing, with whom they have remained in contact over the years.
But at the party, something awful happens. Van Helsing suddenly takes ill, collapsing to the floor, but not before delivering an ominous prophecy directed to Quincy, warning him to fight for his soul. Shaken, Mina decides to start a diary and write about the night, continuing her entries as Van Helsing’s condition worsens while being treated at the Harkers’ estate. Doctors are baffled, including their friend Jack Seward, who is unable to find an explanation or cure for the professor’s mysterious ailment. Meanwhile, the incident has taken a toll on the family as Jonathan starts drinking more and more and Mina worries for their son. Deeply affected by what happened on his birthday, Quincy has become withdrawn and at times behaves like a completely different person.
While all this is happening, the narrative also follows a pair of companions traveling through the Carpathian Mountains who find something deeper in each other, but also more than they bargained for. Elsewhere, a seemingly innocuous newspaper clipping about a species of bat subsequently causes much distress. A former news writer is ready to end his life by hurling himself into the Thames, when he is suddenly stopped by a enigmatic figure who appears out of the gloom. At the Harker house, a young woman named Sarah is tasked to help care for the comatose Van Helsing, but the presence of her youthful beauty proves to be quite a distraction, to the chagrin of Mina, who is also busy providing moral support for Caroline, the emotionally fragile new wife of Arthur, now Lord Godalming.
As you can see, all the old gang is back, with a number of new characters to fill out the supporting cast besides. Mimicking Bram Stoker’s style, Dracula’s Child is written in the epistolary format with the same linguistic approach, unfolding via a collection of diary entries, letters, newspaper articles, notes and other forms of documentation. While not every single perspective or source was equally relevant to the overall story, they were each written with the careful attention of someone clearly well-versed in the source material. Ultimately, I liked how, as a whole, these interrelated pieces formed to create a full-flavored narrative which felt appropriately horror Gothic while still retaining all the delicious intrigue like a sponge.
As I alluded to before though, Dracula sequels are nothing new, even (or especially) those that imitate Stoker’s style. So, what makes Dracula’s Child special? Well, if you think you’ll enjoy a bold fresh take on the original characters, this might be well worth a look. While there are references aplenty to Dracula, this novel mainly features a unique continuation of the story filled with Barnes’ own content. Dracula himself gets a host of new powers, not to mention hungrier ambitions as he sets his sights on expanding his influence by playing politics.
That said, some readers might find this particular plot thread taxing, especially when combined with synchronic language and epistolary format. The novel’s style and structure demand a fair bit of patience and focus, which could be frustrating. Dracula’s Child is a “mood read” if I ever saw one, and it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
Still, any work based on Dracula, being such an influential character, will shine as long as it’s treated properly and in the right hands. At the end of the day, I thought J.S. Barnes did a great job with Dracula’s Child, considering the novel’s ambitious scope. It stands up decently to the original classic, delivering a satisfying story featuring the unsettling vibes and atmosphere that readers seeking a Dracula sequel will crave and expect.