“STOKER’S MANUSCRIPT” (Book Review)
In the seemingly inexhaustible territory of modern vampire literature, it can be refreshing to uncover those restorative works of fiction that hark back to the cold-blooded, merciless and inhuman traditional bloodsuckers that set the precedent. Bram Stoker epitomized this vein of literature in 1897 with DRACULA, forever changing the world of horror with its since oft-depicted antagonist. The novel and the Count have inspired a vast number of other works that have become somewhat detached from the source, but Royce Prouty’s debut novel STOKER’S MANUSCRIPT (Penguin) pays careful homage to Stoker’s original masterpiece.
This supernatural thriller unfolds after Joseph Barkeley, an introvert and bibliophile who specializes in identifying and collecting rare manuscripts, is commissioned to authenticate the original draft of the legendary novel. The arrangements surrounding the transaction seem shady, but the buyer offers Joseph a sum of money he cannot decline—which, of course, comes with a different sort of cost. Making the trek to Castle Bran in rural Romania, the alleged home of Count Dracula himself—at least, according to Stoker’s book—Joseph fails to heed the warnings of the superstitious and is quick to dismiss the increasingly strange occurrences in the area, and soon finds himself and those close to him in grave danger as he learns more about his tumultuous past.
STOKER’S MANUSCRIPT offers a tantalizing premise, but is not without its flaws. Though Joseph is believable as a character (a self-proclaimed “coward”), the book suffers from his largely passive demeanor and dull personality, or lack thereof. The pacing is somewhat skewed; while the prose is terse and to the point, it’s sparse on potentially savory details, leaving the reader unsatisfied, and the plot becomes meandering and long-winded as it veers into increasingly unconvincing territory. A feeble notion of romance is thrown into the latter quarter of the story, but fails to culminate into anything satisfactory. STOKER’S MANUSCRIPT has the proper elements of what could have been a great novel, but falls short of being fleshed out and realized to its fullest.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see a throwback to proper vampires, and certain of elements of STOKER’S MANUSCRIPT make this a promising debut. The premise is imaginative, and the ways in which Prouty expands upon the eerie, factual circumstances surrounding DRACULA’s publication are certainly unique. Furthermore, the blending of past and present, and fact and fiction, maintains a decent level of interest throughout, and the book has much to offer die-hard DRACULA fans—though for other readers, perhaps not so much.