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"Dracula" was not the first vampire novel, nor was it Bram Stoker's first book.
But after years of research, Stoker managed to craft the ultimate vampire novel, which has spawned countless movies, spinoffs, and books that follow the blueprint of the Transylvanian count. Eerie, horrifying and genuinely mysterious, "Dracula" is undoubtedly the most striking and unique vampire novel yet penned.
Real estate agent Jonathan Harker arrives in Transylvania, to arrange a London house sale to Count Dracula. But as the days go by, Harker witnesses increasingly horrific events, leading him to believe that Dracula is not actually human. His fiancee Mina arrives in Transylvania, and finds that he has been feverish. Meanwhile the count has vanished -- along with countless boxes filled with dirt.
And soon afterwards, strange things happen: a ship piloted by a dead man crashes on the shore, after a mysterious thing killed the crew. A lunatic talks about "Him" coming. And Mina's pal Lucy dies of mysterious blood loss, only to come back as an undead seductress. Dracula has arrived in England -- then the center of the Western world -- and intends to make it his own...
"Dracula" is the grandaddy of Lestat and other elegantly alluring bloodsuckers, but that isn't the sole reason why this novel is a classic. It's also incredibly atmospheric, and very well-written. Not only is it very freaky, in an ornate Victorian style, but it is also full of restrained, quiet horror and creepy eroticism. What's more, it's shaped the portrayal of vampires in movies and books, even to this day.
Despite already knowing what's going on for the first half of the book, it's actually kind of creepy to see these people whose lives are being disrupted by Dracula, but don't know about vampires. It's a bit tempting to yell "It's a vampire, you idiots!" every now and then, but you can't really blame them. Then the second half kicks in, with accented professor Van Helsing taking our heroes on a quest to save Mina from Dracula.
And along the way, while our heroes try to figure stuff out, Stoker spins up all these creepy hints of Dracula's arrival. Though he wrote in the late 19th-century manner, very verbose and a bit stuffy, his skill shines through. The book is crammed with intense, evocative language, with moments like Dracula creeping down a wall, or the dead captain found tied to the wheel. Once read, they stick in your mind throughout the book.
It's also a credit to Stoker that he keeps his characters from seeming like idiots or freaks, which they could have easily seemed like. Instead, he puts little moments of humanity in them, like Van Helsing admitting that his wife is in an asylum. Even the letters and diaries are written in different styles; for example, Seward's is restrained and analytical, while Mina's is exuberant and bright.
Even Dracula himself is an overpowering presence despite his small amount of actual screen time, and not just as a vampire -- Stoker presents him as passionate, intense, malignant, and probably the smartest person in the entire book. If Van Helsing hadn't thwarted him, he probably would have taken over the world -- not the Victorian audience's ideal ending.
Intelligent, frightening and very well-written, "Dracula" is the well-deserved godfather of all modern vampire books and movies -- and its unique villain still dwarfs the more recent undead.