Title: Stoker’s Manuscript
Author: Royce Prouty
No. of Pages: 352
Origins: Putnam Books
Bottom Line: Eh. Better off unread.
“When rare-manuscript expert Joseph Barkeley is hired to authenticate and purchase the original draft and notes for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, little does he know that the reclusive buyer is a member of the oldest family in Transylvania.After delivering the manuscript to the legendary Bran Castle in Romania, Barkeley—a Romanian orphan himself—realizes to his horror that he’s become a prisoner to the son of Vlad Dracul. To earn his freedom, Barkeley must decipher cryptic messages hidden in the text of the original Dracula that reveal the burial sites of certain Dracul family members. Barkeley’s only hope is to ensure that he does not exhaust his usefulness to his captor until he’s able to escape. Soon he discovers secrets about his own lineage that suggest his selection for the task was more than coincidence. In this knowledge may lie Barkeley’s salvation—or his doom. For now he must choose between a coward’s flight and a mortal conflict against an ancient foe.”
Thoughts: Joseph Barkeley has always been a bit of a hermit. As one of the foremost experts of authentication and seller of rare manuscripts, he is happiest surrounded by his inventory. His past experiences as an orphan rescued from a Romanian orphanage makes him shy away from everyone other than his brother. Little does he know that an unexpected phone call from his native Romania will send him down a path where he not only is forced to confront his past but also the unfathomable.
In Stoker’s Manuscript, Royce Prouty attempts to capitalize on the ongoing popularity of Bram Stoker’s quintessential vampire novel – the one that started the vampire craze, if you will – as well as the ongoing fascination with Vlad III (or Vlad the Impaler), the man behind the myth. Unfortunately, there are some fundamental issues behind his premise as well as its execution that prevents this from being an engaging or even enjoyable novel.
For one, there is the issue with actually caring about Joseph and his fate. There are some novels that are successful purely because of their unlikeable main characters. This is not one of those. Some of the fault lies in Joseph’s inherent nature. He is a recluse and is uncomfortable around people. This is very apparent to readers because he is an awkward and uncomfortable character. Unfortunately, Mr. Prouty takes this one step further and makes him so remote a character that it becomes difficult for a reader to care what happens to him. Most of the story revolves around the tangled and very dangerous situation in which Joseph finds himself. Not being able to care what happens to him considerably reduces the tension and drama, as well as the effectiveness of the novel.
Then there is the somewhat contrived love story, which is completely unnecessary for the story line and pops up somewhat out of the blue. The interaction between the two characters is minimal at best before one is making declarations of love to the other. It feels forced and just does not mesh well with the main plot.
The entire novel happens too quickly. It is just a few short chapters into the story before Joseph is traveling to Romania to meet with his anonymous buyer and a few more short chapters after that where he meets a vampire member of the Dracul family face-to-face…and accepts it. There is some talk about how unbelievable it all is, but there is no doubt in a reader that he gets over his astonishment very quickly and moves on from there. That is more unbelievable than anything Joseph faces. The rest of the plot quickly follows, with little in the way of explanation or even a chance for the reader to digest everything that is happening. The entire story feels like Mr. Prouty was trying to cram too much into too few pages.
The biggest point of contention within Stoker’s Manuscript is the fact that Mr. Prouty changes the vampires’ essential characteristics. Canines become hollow, jaws unhinge, vampires can only procreate with other vampires rather than create others through blood exchanges, they cannot shapeshifting, and there is a vampire nobility. Seriously. Had this been any other vampire novel and not one that revolves around Stoker’s Dracula, this might be acceptable. However, when the novel specifically and repeatedly mentions Stoker’s version, these changes are just wrong. Mr. Prouty’s vampires are not Stoker’s vampires, and the story suffers for it.
Mr. Prouty’s novel has a fascinating premise. The idea that there is more to Stoker’s original manuscript than what was published is compelling for any fan of the original horror novel. Unfortunately, Stoker’s Manuscript is yet another example of a story that just does not live up to its potential. Not only is the character development paltry, the pacing is too fast and jagged. The fact that the story revolves around the quintessential vampire novel but veers away from the essential vampire characteristics is a travesty. As exciting as this novel appeared to be, its faults make this one better left unread.