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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.