Review: The Many Faces of Van Helsing

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Cavelos, Jeanne, ed. The Many Faces of Van Helsing. Ace, 2004. ISBN-13: 978-0441016471.

We’ve seen our share of vampire hunters in recent years, what with Buffy and her urban fantasy and paranormal romance compadres. But sometimes, the inate feeling these post-Victoruan hunters inspire is a desire to yell, “Will the real Van Helsing please stand up?” Thus, the prospect of finding a collection that takes the famous, and one might say, daddy of all vampire hunters, and spins new stories for him seemed like a great idea. After all, vampires get a number of anthologies each year, so why not switch to the other point of view?

Alas, the concept is solid, but the execution is meh. From this anthology, I gathered that the Van Helsing envisioned by most writers was, to be blunt, an asshole. When he wasn’t giving syphillis to his wife, he was trying to get it on with Mina. There were also a number of “cheat” stories that had little or no connection to Van Helsing, like the one about the modern vampire killer trying to end the undead existence of a group of teenage vampire prostitutes. Even writers I normally enjoy, like Tanith Lee, didn’t rouse me. The stories felt repetitive and depressing, when I was seeking thrilling vampire killing. In fact, Van Helsing does very-little-to-no staking through the anthology, though we get much focus on his wife and kid (Two characters which don’t exactly inspire an unbriddled interest in me). I was really here for the staking, folks.

The standout story was Kathe Koja’s “Anna Lee”, about one of the maids at Lucy Westenra’s house, who talks about the health problems her mistress suffered. It’s a short, effective Gothic tale that takes the characters in Dracula and lets them stay true to themselves. “Abraham’s Boys”, by Joe Hill, was one of the dark Van Helsing stories and the other standout in the anthology. Here Van Helsing is an abusive dad, living with a paranoia of vampires in the United States and suffocating his two kids. It’s an effective, short read and it made me want to read more stuff by Hill.

I also enjoyed “The Screaming” because it was told from the point of view of a protagonist you don’t get much in short fiction: a down-on-his-luck junkie who visits an abandoned mansion housing an old secret – plus, Van Helsing is not an ass. “The Infestation at Ralls” was an okay story showing Van Helsing fighting a monster (yay!) that was not a vampire, a nice change.

In the end, it’s an anthology with a number of stories that are simply passable and a few duds. Not exactly the kind of stuff that has me raving. However, since the mass paperback was released in 2008, if you are a Dracula lover, chances are you can pick a copy at your local library or the used bookstore.

You can purchase The Many Faces of Van Helsing through Amazon.com