Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Stoker's Manuscript by Royce Prouty

When Joseph Barkeley was a little boy, he and his brother were taken to an orphanage after their parents died and their home burned down.  Unlike many orphans, they were rescued by the Catholic Church and taken to America to be raised. Joseph's brother Bernhardt became a priest and Joseph a rare book dealer and authenticator.  Both men are haunted by their past and neither could have predicted what would happen when they were forced to confront it.  

The journey begins when Joseph is given a once in a lifetime offer to authenticate a first edition of Stoker's Dracula.  At first he treats it like any other job but when he finally meets his mysterious client, he releases that Dracula is not simply a work of fiction.  First, Joseph must confront the very real fact that vampires are real and then the consequences of what happens you get the attention of a noble vampire. What should have been a simple business transaction, quickly turns into the mission of Joseph's life, as he struggles to rid the world of a great evil and figure out the intentions of God. 

Despite containing vampires, Stoker's Manuscript is generally speaking a cross between dark fantasy and horror. It is absolutely compelling and I read all 352 pages in one day.  It is clear that Prouty spent a lot of time researching this novel from the intricate details that he decided to include. This gave Stoker's Manuscript a sense of realism and made it easy to fall into the story. Many books in this genre are set in North America and to read one outside of this geographic area was really refreshing.  His descriptions of the Romanian countryside, culture and history gave me as a reader a real sense of time and place.  At times it did feel somewhat repetitive but I am sure that it was a device in order to ensure that the reader never lost sight of the setting of Stoker's Manuscript.

Prouty raised some interesting philosophical questions like the nature of God's intent when he created humanity, the nature and or purpose of the soul, and finally the nature of redemption.  These are weighty issues but they never bogged down the story. In fact, they added a nuanced texture to Stoker's Manuscript.  Prouty made sure to ask questions rather than to preach at the reader, causing the questions he raised to linger long past the end of the story. 

The protagonist, Joseph is a very reluctant hero.  He must rely on his wits to make it through his encounters with the noble vampires and discover the answer to a mystery that has remained hidden for years. One cannot help rooting for him.  Joseph gets into a situation and quickly realises that he is in over his head and though he is tempted to run away and hide, he plunges onward.

One of things that I liked about Stoker's Manuscript is that it was a return to the original vampire lore.  In recent years, vampires in novels have been tortured emo princes who occasionally glitter.  The vampires in Prouty's story cannot possibly be romanticized and are certainly not pinning away for lost humanity.  They smell, they're violent, and they have no remorse. The vampires in Stoker's Manuscript inspire true fear and remind the reader that vampires are beings with immense power who induce horror upon being in their presence. 

There were no GLBT characters in this story which while common, is still disappointing.  In terms of raced characters we had Sonja.  At times she feels very much like a magical  servant of colour with her ability to broadcast her thoughts to others and the fact that she is always ready with a hot meal and clothing for Joseph. It is only after her story is revealed that we understand exactly how complex her character is.  I would love to tell you more about her but that just might ruin the story.  Prouty also discusses class though his descriptions of the rural nature of the area of Transylvania that Joseph is investigating along with the privations that they live through.  He talks about how communism continues to effect the lives of the citizen's though it is no longer a ruling a political philosophy.  Modern gadgets like cell phones and even laser pointers are a rarity rather than a regular everyday possession.  People travel with horse and carts and many of them are unemployed and surviving on subsistence living. 

By every measure that you can judge a book, Stoker's Manuscript is beautifully written.  I was happy to see the ending leave room for a sequel because I simply cannot get enough of the work Prouty has produced.  Though Stoker's Manuscript is dark fantasy it had a sense of reality that as I reader I could not help but embrace. This is truly a book to get lost in.

Editor's Note: A copy of this book was received from Edelweiss