TITLE: Stoker’s Wilde
AUTHOR: Steven Hopstaken & Melissa Prusi
GENRE: Historical Fiction, Horror
PUBLISHER: Flame Tree Press
PUBLICATION DATE: 9th May 2019
MY RATING: 4.5/5
Years before either becomes a literary legend, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde must overcome their disdain for one another to battle the Black Bishop, a mysterious madman wielding supernatural forces to bend the British Empire to his will. With the help of a European vampire expert, a spirited actress and an American businessman, our heroes fight werewolves, vampires and the chains of Victorian morality. The action will take them to dark forests in Ireland, through the upper-class London theater world and culminates in an exciting showdown at Stonehenge, where Bram and Oscar must stop a vampire cult from opening the gates of Hell.
Thoughts & Opinions
“Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange, Stranger than fiction” (From Don Juan, by Lord Byron)
The whimsical notion that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction has been a part of the common consciousness for a long time. Quotes on the topic have been attributed to such notable names as Byron, Mark Twain, and Leo Rosten, and it has also been addressed in numerous items of popular culture. While it is indeed a fun notion to think about, it is reliant upon our pre-conceived ideas of the scope of possibilities that we believe truth to have. Conversely, the range of fiction’s possibilities is infinite, leaving any sense of ‘strangeness’ greatly diminished. Bearing these ideas in mind, fictionalized versions of real people occupy an interesting position between truth and fiction; they possess the ability to be extraordinary despite the endless possibilities that are open to them. As such, the blurb for Hopstaken & Prusi’s Stoker’s Wilde, promising versions of Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde as monster hunters, grabbed my attention and piqued my interest immediately.
Ignoring their (hopefully) more fantastical characteristics, the book’s two leads both behaved, thought, and spoke how I would have imagined them to based upon my knowledge of their real-life versions; Wilde as an extravagant ‘agent provocateur’ compared to Stoker as a more conservative and traditional man of the Victorian era. What Stoker’s Wilde does with great success is to unify the Wilde and Stoker of the real world with these fantastic elements and attributes to create fictionalised versions that manage to be both believable and extraordinary at the same time. Beyond the two leads, I thought the minor characters (most of who were also fictionalised versions of real people) were well researched, engaging, and would have fit well in the ‘penny dreadfuls’ of the era.
Beyond the characters, it is the form in which Stoker’s Wilde has been written that really grabbed my attention. Written in an epistolary fashion, the story is told through a series of documents written by various characters in the book, such as letters, journal entries, archivist notes, newspaper articles, and case files. Apart from being a more unusual way of telling a story, the epistolary form allowed for strong and interesting relationships between various characters to be told that a more traditional form may not have allowed for. The form also enabled the characters who ‘authored’ each document to have their own very distinct and individual voices. The contrast between Wilde and Stoker’s voice was particularly apparent and helped to really inform me, as the reader, about the type of person each character was and how they thought.
Stories about monsters such as vampires and werewolves are a dime a dozen, and so it can be hard to stand out in such a saturated market. However, with the dual hooks of epistolary form and fictionalised versions of historical figures, Stoker’s Wilde demanded my attention from start to finish and was a genuinely entertaining thrill to read. With the ending set up for a potential sequel, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what these two titans of literary history get up to next.
Thanks to Flame Tree Press and NetGalley for the ARC