DRACUL - by J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker

DRACUL - J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker.
Published: October - Bantam Press.
Genres: Adult / thriller / mystery / Gothic horror / historical fiction.
Pages: 512.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Infrequent scenes of gore, gruesome descriptions, and many disturbing, violent incidents.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Penguin Random House SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read & reviewed this copy. All thoughts are my own.
It is 1868, and a 22-year-old Bram Stoker has locked himself inside an abbey's tower to face off against a vile and ungodly beast. He is armed with mirrors and crucifixes and holy water and a gun - and is kept company by a bottle of plum brandy. His fervent prayer is that he will survive this one night - a night that will prove to be the longest of his life. Desperate to leave a record of what he has witnessed, the young man scribbles out the events that brought him to this point - and tells an extraordinary tale of childhood illness, a mysterious nanny, and stories once thought to be fables now proven true. 

As soon as I saw this was a prequel to Dracula (which I've never read but desperately want to) and that one of the authors was J.D. Barker (I loved The Fourth Monkey), I knew I had to read this novel.

The writing is excellent. I love Barker's style, and with the exception of the odd "Okay" or "Shut up", the language fits the historical era perfectly. The imagery is vivid, the descriptions are so rich, and the atmosphere is sinister and claustrophobic. It consumes you and immerses you in the story. I loved it.

The plot is riveting. The pace gets faster and faster as the tale continues, and the tension keeps building. The incidents flow smoothly into one another, and the flashbacks fit seamlessly into the present day narrative. It never feels jarring or confusing. As for twists, there are some, but it's more about the secrets the characters are hiding that draw you to keep reading. It's more a story that asks "how does everything fit together", rather than answering a straightforward question like "who killed him?". I think it works well.

Unfortunately, there are a few small details in the story I wanted clarification on. For example, how did Matilda know where to send her letters to Ellen? And how did Ellen even get them? I guess it's all part of the supernatural theme that we're just supposed to accept, but it's still a little frustrating.

 Sometimes our deepest fears are the ones we keep closest to our hearts."

There are four points of view in the story, but Barker takes care to reveal them very gradually throughout the narrative. It's a wise decision, and it avoids confusion. I love that we have the chance to get a grasp of each character's voice before another perspective is added. Having each character so deeply involved in the story adds a lot to the story's emotional impact, as well, and I don't think it would be the same with only one narrator.

In addition, each character's personality is so strong. The main characters are Bram, his sister Matilda, their brother Thornley, and the "vampire hunter" who joins them: Vambéry. There's also, of course, the enigmatic Ellen who was the children's nanny, Thornley's wife Emily, and the villain: Dracul. It's a rich cast with tantalising relationships, including a surprisingly touching romance between Thornley and Emily, a remarkable dynamic between brother and sister Bram and Matilda, and a compelling and slow-building fondness between Ellen and Matilda.

Speaking of, my favourite character was Matilda Stoker. She drives the search for Ellen more than anyone else, and I loved watching her character development as she went from a somewhat isolated little girl to a driven, self-sufficient woman. I was also intrigued watching how her relationship with her Bram evolved, and how the traumatic incidents from her childhood shaped and changed her.  She's a fascinating heroine.

Dracul is a sinister and horrific historical thriller that traps you deep inside the riveting story of Bram Stoker and his family. With elusive characters, chilling atmosphere, and incisive writing it will captivate you.