Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dispatches from Transylvania

"To my son, my husband, and my cell phone." -- iDrakula's dedication

Bekka Black’s new novel iDrakula (Sourcebooks Fire) retells Bram Stoker’s classic epistolary story entirely through digital communication, including text messages, email, and websites. This “e-pistolary” format itself is still unusual, but it’s quickly gaining ground, particularly for teen readers (see Elizabeth Rudnick’s Tweet Heart, published in June).

Black streamlines Stoker’s plot and takes some liberties in recasting his characters. Abraham Van Helsing becomes Abe, a med school cutie, rather than a distinguished professor. Jonathan Harker, as a cheating boyfriend instead of a doting husband, makes way for Mina Murray to pursue a new romance (and steal the limelight). Still, non-purist Stoker fans will enjoy this reimagining as a loving homage to the classic; readers up on their vampire lore will chuckle at allusions like “Tepes Travel” and “Ask Vlad” search engine. As in the original novel, readers must fill in the gaps between communiqués to finish the narrative; what’s left to the imagination can be even creepier than what’s included.

Sourcebook’s iDrakula app for iPhone and iPod Touch manages to fill in some of these gaps without limiting the reader’s interpretation. The app -- a hybrid of e-book, cell phone novel, and radio play -- incorporates the whole text of the novel, plus additional audio of phone calls and voicemails between characters. Content opens day by day for fifteen days to unfold the plot in real time. (Impatient readers can opt to unlock everything at once.) The one-day-at-a-time pacing and the act of scrolling sharpen suspense, though users unfamiliar with the story may be confused by the way some messages open out of order. The blood-spattered, cracked iPhone image of the app lends a sense of foreboding to even innocuous messages.

The app is free to download and sample for the first five days of the novel, but beware: the freebie ends on a cliffhanger.

Like Loser/Queen, it remains to be seen how the paperback itself will fare. Readers who encounter iDrakula in paperback will probably seek out the app for additional content, but I doubt the app with its extras will promote sales of the physical book. I hope that readers thirsty for more after reading Black's retelling in either format will seek out Stoker’s novel (if they haven’t already) to really scare themselves silly.

-- Katie Bircher

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