When rare-manuscript expert Joseph Barkeley is hired to authenticate and purchase the original draft and notes for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, little does he know that the reclusive buyer is a member of the oldest family in Transylvania. After delivering the manuscript to the legendary Bran Castle in Romania, Barkeley - a Romanian orphan himself - realizes to his horror that he’s become a prisoner to the son of Vlad Dracul. To earn his freedom, Barkeley must decipher cryptic messages hidden in the text of the original Dracula that reveal the burial sites of certain Dracul family members. Barkeley’s only hope is to ensure that he does not exhaust his usefulness to his captor until he’s able to escape. Soon he discovers secrets about his own lineage that suggest his selection for the task was more than coincidence. In this knowledge may lie Barkeley’s salvation - or his doom. For now he must choose between a coward’s flight and a mortal conflict against an ancient foe. Building on actual international events surrounding the publication of Bram Stoker’s original novel, Royce Prouty has written a spellbinding debut novel that ranges from 1890s Chicago, London, and Transylvania to the perilous present.
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I'm backing into this review, (to save myself from fans of this genre that would stake me just for not giving this book 5*'s): If you are a fan of this genre, get this book...if you liked the approach of The Historian, more dark fantasy than horror, get this book. If, like me, you like your blood-sucking fiends rising from their coffins mean and sinister, red-eyed, claw-handed, long in the tooth, stinking of grave rot and eau de carrion, with a strong speech impediment concerning their W's...get this book. It 's good, entertaining, and will keep the listener ensconced in the vampire lore. But, caveat emptor....buyer beware!
Prouty started out with the underpinnings of a scintillating story: elements he extrapolated from Stoker's Dracula, mixed with some quasi-history and some interesting philosophical points; a rare manuscript said to be Stoker's original, containing chapters never published; a young purveyor of antique books and rare manuscript expert, born in Romania with a twin brother (who is now a priest); a mysterious foreign buyer, willing to offer anything for the manuscript; and Transylvania--the Carpathian mountains, the superstitious villagers, graveyards, garlic, and Castle Dracula...the stuff that screams gothic horror and grabs any fan by the throat. This story has it all, and Prouty shines when it comes to setting the stage. The only way this book could have more atmosphere is if you opened the cover and a damp gray fog roiled out from the pages and wolves howled in your room. So vhat vent vrong? The execution went wrong.
After his own manuscript was rejected by publishers, Prouty was advised by said publisher to write a vampire thriller (which at the time would have been the subject du-jour). He said he read vamp books including The Historian and the classic Dracula, and was underwhelmed by Stoker's demise of the nefarious Count. With that disappointment in mind, Prouty came up with the framework for Stoker's Manuscript. For an greenie-author to set out on his maiden voyage to improve on such a classic is a bit hubristic--but he did have a point--as Stoker's original destruction of Dracula was much more epic.
But this novel ended up being like a good coloring book page before it is colored in--and speaking just from the point of what might have been--the book seems rushed and therefore lacks development, depth, and finesse; everything is like an opaque version of fantastic. The back-stories are not worked in sufficiently, the emotions are completely missing, the mysteries not cryptic or engaging enough to keep you tuned in, (and the *love story* is dead on arrival). Reading this, I got a better understanding of why Kostova took 700 pages (or 26 audible hours) to unravel the mysteries of The Historian. There is so much good stuff here that needs to be polished for the story to flow, build suspense, help us connect with and like the characters, get those goose bumps going. Too bad, because this had the promise of a great classic horror story. Prouty says he is already writing the sequel; I'm on board...but can't help thinking what some authors could have done with this one. (In the hands of King...now that is fantastically scary.) Finally, the narrator--he is sufficient and especially good for the young Joseph, just not the voice I would choose to portray a horrific creature descended from the darkest of lineage...
First let me say that I enjoyed this debut novel. The story is well told and horrific enough for those of us who are fans of this genre (antique book dealer gets hired to authenticate Bram Stoker's manuscript and, well, guess who his real client is!). That said, it moves along way too fast -- going from one scene to the next before you can barely digest what just happened. Characters are introduced and disposed off with an ease that makes you feel that you are listening to the abridged version of the full novel -- even if it is a good abridgment. In the end, there are even some almost-loose-ends that you wish the author had dealt with better.
Still, I love my Bad Vampire yarns and this is one of them. I look forward to seeing the author improve with practice.