Friday, May 12, 2023

Book Review: Mr Stoker And The Vampires Of Lyceum by Mathew Gibson

A woman is attacked at the renowned Lyceum Theatre while legendary actor Henry Irving and his leading lady Ellen Terry rehearse for their masterpiece play. When more suspected vampire activities follow, the theatre's acting manager and upcoming author Bram Stoker have to step in. Stoker strives to connect the dots in a gothic London, while in the background, the Whitechapel murderer preys on unsuspecting women and secret societies thrive by attracting youngsters using dark and disturbing rituals. He senses that Irving, his boss and the owner of Lyceum, is somehow connected to these incidents when an undead Prussian baron makes his entry to exact revenge.

There are many books and movies (factual and fictional) that deal with the subject of how a famous author or an artist created a masterpiece. My own favourite is the movie Final Portrait, directed by Stanley Tucci, about how Alberto Giacometti made the painting The Portrait of James Lord (I have written about it). Mr. Stoker and the Vampires of Lyceum is a fictional account of some incidents in Bram Stoker's life that ended up with him writing his tour de force, Dracula. Matthew Gibson is a scholar of Bram Stoker, Gothic, and vampirism. He has written many books on Dracula, and this is his first work of fiction.

Most of the characters in this book are real and renowned personalities who have excelled in their domains. The author has created a fictional version of them and has tried to compose a chilling gothic horror novel. All those characters are successful in creating an impact on the reader because the author, with his extensive knowledge of the historical personalities and their living situations, portrays deeply nuanced sketches of them in the novel. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the characters who are not part of history. The character arcs of such characters made me deeply dissatisfied, all the more because they are the major antagonists, and this deficiency seriously impairs the emotional quotient of the plot.

The best character portrayal in the novel is undoubtedly that of Bram Stoker. The author has poured out all his admiration for Stoker and has produced a very likeable and complex person who is forced to keep up his appearances for the sake of the theatre in spite of his poor economic situation. His wife would like him to ditch theatre and pursue the career of a barrister, causing deep rifts in their relationship. His relationships with his boss, Irving, and his subordinates make the novel more interesting and colourful.

Along with his splendid portrayal of historical personalities, the author sketches great scenes of historic places too. He renders a moody and dark London suffering from political unrest, religious excesses, and scenes of disturbing violence. Also, we can see the detailed illustration of the barren and seemingly evil landscape of Danzig. The atmosphere of constant threats and tension adds to the enjoyment of reading this book.

As these are supposed to be the experiences that inspired Stoker to eventually pen Dracula, it is to be expected that the story mirrors the classic to some extent. There are instances where this association burdens the plot to a small extent. Though some interesting plot twists eventually save the book, sometimes I feel like closing it down and taking up Dracula to read further. But for the most part, Mr. Stoker and the Vampires of Lyceum is an interesting book, thanks to brilliant characterization, great atmosphere building, and some inventive plot twists.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for sincere feedback.

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