Incarnadine: The True Memoirs of Count Dracula: Volume One
Having read and reviewed numerous vampire novels over the past decade, I was getting used to the light reading that these books have become; something to leaf through on the subway or over lunch, with characters and plots quickly forgotten once the last page was finished. Granted, there are a number of good reads among the stacks of mediocrity, but I find that in general, vampire stories of late seem have the same simple characters, predictable plots, topped with a mix of blood, sex, and violence, adding gloss to stories that are barely worth telling. Surprised was I, then, when I read Incarnadine: The True Memoirs of Count Dracula: Volume One. Not only did it challenge my perception of the most iconic character in vampire literature, it also reassured my faith that there is still room for true works of art within this genre.
Bram Stoker may have introduced us to the vampire, but what of the man who came before? In Incarnadine, author R.H. Greene gives us a prequel of sorts, a first-person memoir of "Konstantin Kuzmanov," the warrior-turned-priest who would eventually become known as Dracula. But his is not simple tale; Kuzmanov's life was a difficult one, and his journey, even at its most fantastical moments, is still believable because Greene gives us such a well-rounded and sympathetic character to root for (pun intended). The world in which Kuzmanov lives is deeply enriched with history and folklore, and when he turns his back on God and transitions from man to monster, we begin to fully understand the circumstances behind how such an unearthly transformation could take place. Through trial and error, as Kuzmanov learns to both understand and develop his newly-gained abilities, the reader gets a glimpse into the genesis of the now-familiar vampire lore. We even learn of the three women who would eventually become known as Dracula's "brides." As the tale concludes and Jonathan Harker arrives on his doorstep, Dracula, to us, is now much more than simply a fiend lurking within the shadows of a crumbling ruin high atop the Carpathian mountains. He's now a fully-realized character; a monster still, but one we now truly understand.
Incarnadine is packed with richly-descriptive passages, with each word and line of dialogue adding weight to the story -- there is no filler here. The author has created an engrossing back-story to Dracula, breathing new life into what had become a tired, one-dimensional character. This is the Dracula we never knew; his tale is bittersweet, often philosophical, laced with moments of true happiness and great tragedy. It's a journey you'll not soon forget, and one that is highly recommended.
The memoir continues in The Charnel House, a companion volume set to offer Dracula's perspective on events that took place within Bram Stoker's novel. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting its publication.