Perhaps one of the most notoriously violent rulers of human history, Vlad Dracula of Wallachia went on to inspire Bram Stoker to create his infamous vampire. The real Vlad, however, seems even more horrific than Stoker’s undead blood-sucker. Vlad justly earned his impaler reputation, skewering thousands of his enemies and subjects on long sharp poles, usually while they were still alive. Only if he respected you, might you have got away with a swift beheading.
Ernie Colón illustrates this in detail. Lines of corpses, held aloft like banners, skewered from groin to head, are drawn in exquisite gut-churning detail, leaving little to the imagination beyond what a horrific death it must have been. The violence doesn’t stop there either. We’re also shown graphic depictions of Vlad’s battlefield abilities, as he and his armies slice through their enemies. The bone-crushing, flesh-rending work is shown in all its gory detail, as heads and limbs are mashed, sliced and pierced by the horrific hand-to-hand weapons of medieval war. The only violence that’s brushed over a little is Vlad’s apparent penchant for abusive sex, which if he couldn’t get legitimately, he tended to take through force.
Sid Jacobson guides us through the major points in Vlad’s life, most of which seem to involve the practice of mass slaughter. In between we see glimmers of Vlad the man, rather than Vlad the monster. There are moments of seeming justification (or at least explanation) where we’re shown Vlad as a boy being sold to the Ottomans by his father, or spurned by his much-loved wife because she’s revolted by the horror of his deeds.
The over-arching theme of the book is the gore though. If you can stomach it, it’s an interesting drama-documentary of a cruel and vicious tyrant, though it lingers on the gore just a little more than seems healthy. I can’t really comment on the accuracy and, as with all dramatic histories from Shakespeare down, some artistic licence has been taken in order to put words into the mouths of 600-year-olds. Jacobson doesn’t have him waxing lyrical like the bard might have, but there must be large chunks of personality portrayed here that are essentially made-up, rather than based on fact.
So while you can’t take this as too serious an insight into the life of an impaler, it does offer a violent glimpse into one possible interpretation. It’s a compelling read, in the same way as you might struggle to look away from a car crash. But if true horror is what you’re after, this grim read should satiate your blood-lust.