Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
“Really, Count. This is all quite entertaining. I like a tale on a winter's day as well as any. But this is not the one we came to hear, surely?" He reached down, picked up the top pamphlet from the pile, read aloud. "'The Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia.'" He studied the woodcut under the text, bodies twitching on stakes. "You say we are here to disprove this?" (page 69)
Readers may echo these thoughts if they’re hoping for vampires or supernatural monsters when they see the title for this historical novel. Forget Bram Stoker, forget Anne Rice. Humphreys’ subject is Vlad Dracula, the prince and then king of Wallachia (now part of Rumania) in the latter half of the 15th century. This Dracula—“son of the Dragon”—or “son of the Devil”--too has been a figure of much myth making based on stories rooted partly in fact, partly in propaganda of the period. According to Humphreys, the author’s purpose was not to debunk these myths or “humanize” Vlad the Impaler, but rather tell the story of a brutal man living in harsh times and let readers make their own judgment calls.
After establishing the framework of having three characters captured for the purpose of telling the biography of the long thought-dead Dracula, Humphreys describes the early years of Vlad Dracula, the son of a king held hostage by a Turkish Sultan. He’s trained in noble pursuits like falconry and jousting before becoming a captive in a cell and taught the fine arts of torture. Then, Vlad is a king in the making on the run as a fugitive, then a man committed to establishing his rule over his home country free of the Turks and is a Crusader against his former Islamic captors.
As the history progresses, Vlad is a courageous warrior who comes to use violence as a means to even the odds in war, most notably in the famous impaling of thousands of his own people to frighten an invading enemy. But he’s also a man betrayed by his best friend as well as alleged Christian allies in bordering European countries. Outmatched in battle and without support from his neighbors, Vlad is a hostage a second time when another Christian king wants to appease the Turkish Sultan but keep Dracula around as a threat for the future. Along the way, Dracula’s sins include a long affair with a commoner he cannot marry and considerable blood on his hands in battle and maintaining law and order in Wallachia—then again, he does not live in a world of saints and, while clever and colorful, is only marginally more brutal than his foes.
The second half of Vlad: The Last Confession is essentially a string of set-pieces as years and decades go by between what happens in various chapters. Humphreys claims this is due to having no historical records to draw from for these years, but there are sections when the abrupt shifts in time seem to leave much unexplained and dramatic events undescribed. Still, the novel moves at a rapid pace, alternating between swashbuckling episodes, poignant relationships, savage encounters, and sins and redemption for them. The final chapters contain more surprises than any reader, even a Cardinal, should ever expect from historical fiction.
In the end, there’s nothing Gothic about The Last Confession and no need for such trappings. Both imaginative and credible, this novel (now available as a paperback) is for those who enjoy hearing old stories with a fresh perspective. You need not wait for a winter’s day to be entertained by this one.