Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Stoker's Manuscript.
In an homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Prouty delivers his horror novel in the first-person voice of Joseph Barkeley, an appraiser and authenticator of rare manuscripts. Joseph has been hired to authenticate a first edition of Stoker’s most famous work containing both the long-lost prologue and epilogue. Wishing to remain anonymous and stipulating total exclusivity, the enigmatic buyer demands that personal delivery
of the manuscript is essential.
There is rich material buried throughout Stoker's document that is sure to excite, intrigue, and surprise.
That it is to be donated and placed on display for the new museum in Dracula’s Castle in Romania adds to its ineffable sense of mystery. Born in Romania himself, Joseph is initially hesitant to accept the offer.
After heeding the warnings from Mara, a local vampire expert, Joseph decides to travel back to Transylvania with bated breath, an anxious mind, and a sense of exhilaration that only the most talented of appraisers can induce.
Armed with the usual due diligence and wary of inviting “the undead into his life,” Joseph arrives in the country of his birth, at once mystified and astounded by such an ancient and magical country. This is a wild and desolate land, most symbolized by the vast Carpathian mountains.
There Christianity once held off the Ottoman Turks, and there Dracula’s family began with notorious and bloody Vlad I, who ruled the Wallachian principality and its warring ancient families with a violent fist.
The Castle Bran itself (otherwise known as Dracula’s castle, and the setting of the original novel), the high-walled Gothic edifice
heightens Joseph’s sinister and frightened thoughts. As the days go by, he witnesses increasingly horrific events, leading him to believe that Dalca--the buyer of the manuscript--is not actually human. Amid deceptively bucolic rural settings, Joseph battles with his timidity, eventually finding the courage to follow the central clue to understanding the missing sections of Stoker's infamous manuscript.
From here, Prouty’s tale unfolds in scenes reminiscent of Stephen King, the author rendering the impassioned growth of his vulnerable hero as Joseph attempts to peel away the horrors surrounding the truth.
From Mara’s warnings to the revelation that Stoker’s publishing house burned
immediately after the first printing (destroying all first editions), from the secrets held within original papers of inventor Nikola Tesla to telepathic Sonia, who tries to help us understand the area’s litany of superstition, Joseph finds that Dalca’s words are constantly invading his mind: “my blood to yours.”
Prouty’s treatment of this legend offers up a complicated portrayal of death, vampires and mortals, of passion and bloodlines intertwined as Joseph becomes mired in the “smell of his own blood.”
Where the “dark one rules” and God is unable to shape events, Joseph does battle with Dalca's ancient family curse. Unexpectedly accused of murder and unable to return to his beloved Chicago, Joseph descends
deeper into a “dark-horse fatalism," discovering that his family roots are buried deep within the mysteries of Orthodox Christianity and the blood of the undead.
Although the pacing of the novel is unfortunately a bit too sluggish and the final chapters are filled with
exactly the sort of bloody vampire battles that you'd expect from this type of tale, Prouty doesn't hesitate to show Dalca as an evil maniac who kills for need. Part of the tale’s complexity is that kindly Joseph has to come to grips with the realities of this ancient contagion as he returns to the symbols of good in his naive embracing of his modern, carefree existence.