Plot Type: Historical Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—1; Humor—3
The valiant hero is Jack Dawkins (aka the Artful Dodger, or just Dodger), and the villains are Mr. Fang and Fagin. Oliver Twist and his benefactor, Mr. Brownlow, also make brief appearances. Stepping over from Bram Stoker's Dracula are Dr. Isaac Van Helsing and his son, Abraham (Bram). Dodger's feisty heroine is Britain's soon-to-be queen, Victoria Alexandrina (aka Drina).
The author imagines that Mr. Fang and Fagin are vampyres, basing his conclusion on subtle clues found in Dickens's original novel. After all, the Magistrate's name is Mr. Fang—what else could he be but a vampyre. As for Fagin: He hides in the shadows; rarely eats or drinks; dresses all in black; has long, black, claw-like fingernails; and "such fangs as should have been a dog's or rat's." (Author's Preface)
From the very beginning, the author makes it clear that he much prefers Dodger to Oliver Twist: "Why did the adventures of such a memorably described, thoroughly engaging, and far more captivatingly visualized young man—always pictured with a cocky smile and upraised, mocking eyebrow rather than tears of pathos trickling down his face—play second fiddle in the great orchestra of fiction to the perpetually sobbing Master Twist?" (Author's Preface) David posits that Dickens did not tell Dodger's full story because he didn't want to frighten the citizenry of London with the knowledge of Dodger's involvement with vampyres.
Twitter Summary: Street-smart but gentlemanly young man rescues a lovely, run-away princess from fearsome fangers on the mean streets of 19th century London.
At the end of Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger—a homeless orphan with the soul and manners of a gentleman—is sentenced to be deported to the penal colonies of Australia. The villainous Fagin—cruel enslaver of homeless boys—is tried, sentenced, and hanged for his crimes. But things are never what they seem. In reality, Dodger escapes from his prison cell by stealing a guard's keys, and Fagin—being a vampyre—cannot be killed by hanging and is rescued from his ride to the graveyard by a fellow vamp.
The novel is constructed with alternating chapters that swing back and forth among the main characters as the actions taken by each lead inevitably to a climactic life-or-death clash. Peter David is a skilled and witty writer, perfectly channeling the florid Dickensian style with its strong comic touch. Although the early chapters—in which the expositional information is necessarily provided—tend to drag a bit, Dodger's adventures soon pick up to warp speed as two friends join his team and several enemies begin to congregate.
The two friends are Drina and Bram. Dodger rescues Drina from the streets after she runs away from her boring, stuffy life in Buckingham Palace. Drina keeps her true identity a secret from Dodger, pretending to be just an average young girl on the run. Dodger gives her a place to stay in his burned-out boyhood home and even serves up a plate of sausages and a cup of tea, promising her that the water is "not from a horse trough or some such." (Chapter 6) Bram joins the group after he escapes from a pair of vampyres and is rescued by Dodger and Drina. From this point on, the story follows a fight-flight pattern as Dodger and Drina learn the hard way that vampyres really exist and that Mr. Fang's vampyres are after Drina.
The dastardly Mr. Fang wants to get his hands on Bram and Drina as part of a master plan to take control of London and the British Empire. Bram's father is a well-connected vampyre hunter, so the kidnapping of Bram is designed to force Dr. Van Helsing to stop hunting vampyres. The kidnapping of Drina has to do with Mr. Fang's plans for a vampyre takeover of the British monarchy.
But what is Fagin's role in this rollicking adventure? Oddly, Fagin is a nuanced villain. He has lived for centuries as a vampyre but has never found his true place in human or vampire society. Fagin actually acts both as a villain and an anti-hero in this story, embracing his inner vampyre after he has a major epiphany halfway through the book.
All in all, this is a darkly humorous romp through the streets of pre-Victorian London, wittily narrated—with tongue firmly in cheek—by a skilled writer who has a great deal of fun with the story. Here's one of my favorite lines, as Dodger first lays eyes on Drina: "He quickened his step, and when he rounded the corner, he came to a halt, his eyes simultaneously widening in surprise and narrowing in suspicion, which was certainly something of an accomplishment that no one save the Artful Dodger could likely have carried out." (Chapter 4) In another hilarious scene, Dodger spits on two attacking vamps and is shocked when his saliva burns through their skin. Bram asks Dodger if by any chance he had been drinking holy water. This dialogue between Drina and Dodger follows:
The author leaves plenty of room for further developments in the life of the Artful Dodger, so this may turn into a series. If so, I'm looking forward to chuckling my way through each adventure.