Spoiler-Free Thoughts on “Drood” by Dan Simmons

Summary: On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens–at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world–hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.

Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?

I love Dan Simmons’ The Terror and consider it one of my favorite novels of all time so  I thought I would give this novel about Charles Dickens and the mysterious vampiric figure named Drood a stab.

To sum up my thoughts:

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Based on the summary, you would think the focal point of this novel would be Dickens and his relationship with Drood.

Well….you’d be wrong.

To start, the main character of the novel is not Charles Dickens, but rather Wilkie Collins, real-life writer, contemporary of Dickens and full-time toss-pot.

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This bitch

I love flawed characters but Collins is the most tedious narrator I have ever had to sit through. And coming from someone who used to read a lot of YA, that is saying something.

It’s not enough he’s sexist even for the time period, he’s also a baby and hypocrite with virtually no positive attributes.

Scarlett O’Hara had her indomitable spirit, Holden Caulfield his relatable loneliness. But this guy? There’s nothing worth gravitating towards. When he isn’t suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia no doubt exasperated by his rampant drug-use, he’s a boring douche-bag.

Did I mention he’s a total mama’s boy?

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As for the novel itself, it begins on a hight note when Dickens describes the train accident at Staplehurst that left dozens of people dead and Dickens alive but shaken.

The titular character of Drood, a vampiric figure with horribly mangled features and ambiguous dark powers, is brought into the picture and from there we are left to wonder who (or what) he could possibly be. Is he a vampire? Is he a human with arcane abilities? This is the perfect introduction to such a frighting figure so mired in mystery.

The problem is for a great chunk of the novel Drood is not only absent from appearance but conversation as well.

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me for half the book

The narrator abandons the hunt for Drood for long stretches at a time in favor of going through his and Dickens’ life and their respective professional careers.

While I enjoy historical fiction and learning about famous people of the past, there was at least 100 pages worth of material that should have been cut from the story.

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When the focus is on Drood and his origins, the story flourishes. When it isn’t it’s a mixed bag of mild curiosities and abject boredom.

I, personally, think the novel could have benefited from a split perspective, one following Dickens and the other Collins. That way we could have had the benefit of viewing both characters from the other’s perspective as well as thrown in a red-herring or too.

In Drood‘s defense, there is a pretty satisfying twist at the end. I had a hunch about the direction the story was going, but that didn’t stop me from being impressed by it. That being said, the drama of it was undercut by the main character’s anti-climactic response which, in turn, soured my enjoyment of it.

I guess you can’t have everything.

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I’ve been sitting on this review for a couple of weeks now because I’ve been indecisive about whether or not I like this book. While I was engrossed most of the time, there are just as many parts to this story that I don’t like.

The atmosphere is haunting and visceral as any Victorian drama should be, yet the numerous digressions and pit-stops in the plot tempted me to put it down for good.

I suppose if you twisted my arm, I would give this book at 6/10.

It wasn’t a horrible read, but I think it could have been a lot better if an editor had taken the red pen of death to it.

If you are more interested in the life of Charles Dickens (and Wilkie Collins) than the supernatural, then you will likely enjoy this book more than I did. However, if you find yourself more interested in Drood, I would suggest reading something else.

Overall I don’t regret reading Drood, nevertheless, I am hoping my next Dan Simmons book will be a bit more on-point.

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Research, Write, Repeat: Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction.

Especially novels that take place around the Victorian or Regency era.

I realize I’m romanticizing a period of inequality, poor hygiene, and convoluted social rules, but dammit if they didn’t look good in those waistcoats.

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What I don’t love (well, besides everything I listed above) is all of the research that goes into writing historical fiction.

Right now, in between projects, I am writing a story that involves an alien in Victorian England. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to familiarize myself with the time period. However, it turns out this is far more intricate than I anticipated. You see, the Victorian era had quite a few social rules.

By quite a few I mean there are enough to make War and Peace look like a bit of light reading.

Not to mention I have to know the titles of The Help as well as what they did, how much they were payed, where and what they ate, when their day started, how it ended, etc.

Doesn’t sound too difficult, only there isn’t too much literature when it comes to servitude in the Victorian age Most of the information regarding servants doesn’t start until around the early 1900s, a.k.a Downton Abbey era. Most likely because that’s when a lot of societal shifts took place.

I’ve read quite a few Victorian novels but not a lot of them are told from the staff’s perspective. Most likely because no one gave a $h*t about them. With my story, I was hoping to break that mold. In fact, one of the more pivotal characters is a lady’s maid.

Then come the gentry….oh….oh God. The titles.

The titles.

Of course, there’s also the business of what they ate, what they read, what they did recreationally, what happened at their parties, the dances they danced, their courting rituals, spousal relationships, clothes they wore, their morning rituals, their evening activities–

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That’s not to say it’s all bad. Actually, most of it is really interesting. There’s just sooo much to remember. I could write notes for days and not even scratch the surface. It was a very complicated society with each person working as a cog in the machine.

It was also a revolutionary time that paved the way for modern transportation and business practices, one of the many reasons I wanted my story to take place in this period. I will do my best to portray the societal customs accurately.

Nonetheless, I hope my readers won’t mind too much if one of my characters accidentally introduces themselves first to a higher member of society, or refers to the second child as Miss Soandso instead of Miss Jane or Miss Jane Soandso.

We can’t all be Jane Austen.

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