Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Stoker's Manuscript.
Stoker's Manuscript feeds the contemporary thirst for all things vampiric, though Prouty’s novel eschews the romanticized notions of recent popularity. Instead, the author hews closer to the dark tales of undead creatures thriving on human blood described by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel. The tale begins in a setting appropriate to the subject: a manuscript authenticator in Chicago, who lives happily among his collected books, is approached by an anonymous buyer to pay a great deal of money for the entirety of Stoker’s original manuscript from a museum.
The manuscript, if successfully purchased, is destined to be the focal point of a Dracul family museum in Romania, scene of the castle of Count Dracula, site of gothic lore that has so fascinated generations and terrified the villagers who live in that blighted country. Filling in the details of political history, the evolution of the myth from the time of Vlad the Impaler and the real-life terrors that still hold Romania in thrall to the power of evil, authenticator Joseph Barkeley is the perfect vehicle for the intended exchange. Born in Romania, Joseph and his brother, Bernhardt, now live in America, Bernhardt an ordained priest. The orphaned boys were raised by Catholic nuns, instilled with warnings and cautions about the place of their birth—actually instructed not to return—each still haunted by the nature of their parents’ deaths.
Given the opportunity to visit Romania, Joseph assumes the transaction will be swift and successful, allowing time to reflect at his mother’s grave before returning to Chicago. Given Bernhardt’s changed demeanor after his trip years before, Joseph fails to heed his brother’s warnings. Arriving at the castle by horse-drawn cart and protected by an ornate silver cross around his neck, Joseph meets the buyer in a shadowed dungeon reeking of carnage, piercing red eyes demanding the terms of the contract. What seems at first a simple deal entails another task: deciphering Stoker’s text for clues to the burial sites of Dracul family members. Already unsettled, Joseph’s visit to a forbidden area (a pivotal location in Stoker’s novel) and the enmity of villagers as he visits his mother’s grave, Joseph begins to comprehend the true nature of his journey, the danger of interacting with a mythical family with powers beyond the grave: “Where you are going, God’s eyes do not watch.”
Bizarre as it all appears, Prouty couches his novel in the details of Stoker’s revelations of the undead. The ancient Transylvania comes to life far from the modern world, still steeped in the lore of deeply entrenched superstition. Indeed, the pragmatic Joseph’s experiences become distinctly otherworldly, supported by his brother’s beliefs and the actions of various characters who instigate a confrontation with the current head of the undead Draculs—Dalca—in a nightmarish display of death, silver-tipped arrows, silver knives and rash courage, accompanied by the anguished howls of a creature thwarted in his greatest desire.
Prouty’s tale is at times ponderous and at others dogmatic, sometimes disturbing, sometimes fascinating. Be prepared to suspend disbelief, as does the Romanian orphan returning to his home place, facing the reality of a world inhabited by evil creatures that hide in the darkest recesses of the earth’s landscape, escaping death’s embrace, haunting the living with their invincibility. The brothers Barkeley, a local priest, gypsies, seers and wise women people the pages of a novel that reads like a relic of the past, but that is the point, isn’t it? The eternal battle between good and evil, the living and the dead, superstition breeding myths born in bravado. Joseph takes up the gauntlet laid down when he was born, seeded in his blood, a siren call beyond the bounds of reason in a landscape that is the resting place of the undead.