Anno Dracula was an incredible book that took the lore of vampires and meshed it rather perfectly with the real world of its time while also being a compelling, intriguing story (which, when you think about it, is pretty impressive in and of itself, since most readers would already know how the events of Jack the Ripper ended). With The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman continues the chronology of a real world with Dracula in it, this time taking the vampire and his mythology straight into World War I, and it's just as compelling and intriguing as the first novel was.
The central focus of the story is Baron Manfred von Richthofen, colloquially known to history as the Red Baron. It's about as historical as Anno Dracula was (that is, Newman did an extraordinary amount of research to make it as historically factual as possible), and the way that Newman melds the facts with his fiction is still impressive. In fact, as I continue through the series, I've come to realize that these novels are less horror or vampire novels, and are really alternate history novels. In fact, the altered history that went into Anno Dracula has a strong effect on the history that continues in The Bloody Red Baron. Like the preceding book, this one also manages to keep the reader guessing on where the story is going, even though most readers will already know how World War I ended.
Poe is featured as a character in the story, which was a little odd for me. So far, the main characters in the stories haven't been historical figures, so it was easy to buy into their characters without getting caught up in any preconceived notions due to already knowing them. With Poe, though, I constantly had to adjust what I thought of the character, since Newman made him much, much different from who he was as a real person. Granted, the events of the novel take place over 50 years after his death, so there was enough time there to become the character he was in the book, but I never felt like it was explained well enough for me to believe his character. Having Poe feature as a character was a little jarring, despite him being a fully realized character in the book. In fact, as with Anno Dracula, Newman did a great job of realizing all of his characters, especially Herr Richthofen. He managed to make the character sympathetic without ever making him out to be a good guy.
The book is actually two separate, complete stories -- the full novel The Bloody Red Baron as it was originally published, and a novella called Vampire Romance, set in 1923 and featuring Genevieve, one of the central characters from Anno Dracula. At first glance, the story seems less compelling, mainly because half of it is narrated by a vampire-stricken young woman who reads Teen Beat-like magazines about vampires and romanticizes the entire race. Imagine an early-20th Century version of a rabid Twilight fan and you'll get the idea (and considering that this novella's publication is new to this edition, which was published in 2012, I think that comparison is intentional). But as the story gets going, it develops into a Gothic mystery, complete with secret societies, an old manor, electricity flickering out as lightning flashes in dramatic fashion, etc. It never comes across as cliched despite using so many of them, and the story has an unexpected ending.
What struck me between these two stories, as well as looking back on Anno Dracula, is how well Newman creates a narrative voice. The main narrative style of the first book is what I would consider Newman's standard voice, but when he jumped over to the sections where Seward was recording in his journal, the voice shifted to mimic Stoker's style in the original Dracula. Poe's chapters in The Bloody Red Baron mimicked Poe's style, and then, with Vampire Romance, he uses the voice of a pubescent fangirl. He created those voices very well, and very convincingly.
Anyone fascinated by the way Newman merged history and fiction in Anno Dracula should seek out the second book in the series. For me, Newman is shaping up to be a new favorite author of mine. If the rest of the series continues in this vein (ha!), then I have no doubts about it.