This is a most extraordinary book written by one of the present masters among the practitioners of gothic & classic tales. The book is purportedly the memoirs of Dr. Martin Bellorius (1553-1635). It is preceded by a prologue (which is a slightly modified version of Reggie Oliver's "The Devil's Number") as well as an introduction from Dr. Abraham Van Helsing himself, eventually describing the strange, terrible, beautiful and often tragic chain of events that had introduced Bellorius to Vladimir, son of Xaltho, the King of Transylvania, and what had led Vladimir irreversibly towards becoming the infamous Count Dracula. Along with the protagonist [with a commission of teaching the princes of Transylvania] and his companions (a noble & enterprising dwarf, and a talented but shifty Matthew Verney), we travel from renaissance-touched (and blighted by fanatics) Germany, through dangerous forests (encountering cannibalistic robbers as well as the Wandering Jew in the process), to Prague (meeting Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph of Bohemia), running away with enemies in pursuit, towards Transylvania (where robbers hold them to ransom and almost kill them before they manage to escape) reaching Castle Dracula almost at the point of being eaten by wolves. Intrigue, tragedy, love, and suspense follows, mixed with unexpected dosaages of bawdy humour. Eventually, Ottoman Turks defeat the Transylvanian forces, and as a result of hateful treachury & conspiracy, our protagonists (now comprising the author, the dwarf, and Prince Vlad) are dispatched to Murad's court in Istamboul. Several supernatural and action-packed events follow them there as well, as they narrowly escape (this time also accompanied by a girl from Vizier's harem, who had fallen in love of Vlad, but whose love was never reciprocated by the prince, since he had loved the daughter of a noble from Bohemia) a purge when the Grand Vizier is found to be conspiring against the Sultan. Then they come under the clutches of a pirate, from whose clutches they escape miraculously, thanks to the sacrifices of the girl, and also with active support of [I know it appears unbelievable] 2 lions and a rhinocerous on-board the pirate ship. Then they reach Transylvania, only to be greeted by the news of Prince Vlad's elder brother (a brute, by all means) getting married to the girl whom Vlad loved. Then Vlad becomes a fugitive (since as per the King's decree he had to remain in Istamboul as hostage) and takes shelter with the Black Monks of Snagov, as Bellorius reveals the true story of Vlad's origin from a document composed by his mother, the queen of Transylvania. This part of the tetralogy ends at this stage.
Once again, the only comment that leaps to the mind while describing this book is "extraordinary". It is a product of meticulous research (into history & folklore of the people of the Eastern Europe and the Middle East), near perfect art of story-telling that has made Reggie Oliver a modern master, a sense of compassion for all the characters involved, liberal dosages of ribald descriptions often accompanied by humour (subtle as well as coarse, as per the demand of the situation), and a sense of epic proportion, as if the author is trying to hint at the significance of all these events & persona, while trying to draw our attention away from the future (which we know, thanks to either Bram Stoker, or Kim Newman) towards the grim-yet-vivid past being realised as present. I will be waiting for the other 3 volumes with suspended breath, to see how this saga unfolds.