Somewhere between history and fiction lies truth. In Vlad: The Last Confession, author and actor C.C. Humphreys seeks to tell us one possible truth about Vlad Dracula, the historical figure who has inspired legends and left an indelible mark upon our popular culture. There are no vampires or supernatural bogeymen here, just a man who came to power during a particularly bloody portion of European history.
After Vlad Dracula’s beheading, a trio of men, for disparate reasons, search for the truth of his life. They target those who knew Vlad best – his right-hand man, Ion, his mistress, Ilona, and the priest Vasilie, who once served as Dracula’s confessor – and force them to recount their relationships with Dracula. Humphreys moves effortlessly between the viewpoints of the confessors and Vlad himself, implying that even when he shifts to the voice of his title character, we are still receiving only one version of truth.
“We torture others so they cannot torture us” is the harsh lesson that a young Vlad learns during his time as a hostage to the Sultan, and this point is driven brutally home when he witnesses the impalement of a Christian martyr. When he returns to Wallachia to take the throne, Vlad has become a man who will rule by fear, not love. He dreams of flying free, like the raptors he hunts with, but he knows that this is impossible. He is bound by destiny to endlessly hunt and kill.
Historical fiction exists in “the gap between so-called facts,” as Humphreys says in his author’s note, and he has done an admirable job of filling those gaps. The author infuses one of history’s most notorious figures with reason, motivation, and pathos. Whether the reader views Dracula as hero or villain, after reading this novel, they will also know him as a man.