Happy New Year!
Tonight a new Dracula miniseries starts on the BBC, and while I have no intention of watching it (I’m not a fan of Steven Moffat’s work) there’s no denying that Count Dracula is a character we just can’t seem to get enough of.
‘Vampires aren’t my thing’ is something I’ve said multiple times both on this blog and in real life, whenever I’m near someone who’s in the mood to chat supernatural creatures. Being friends with me is a hoot.
The thing is, I’m not sure that’s actually true?
I’m definitely not drawn to vampire stories the same way I’m drawn to a story about witches or zombies or unicorns (although fiction is severely lacking in unicorn and centaur fiction, if you ask me) or even dragons, and yet I’ve certainly enjoyed enough vampire stories in my time for it to seem like I’m claiming to dislike them a lot more than I actually do.
2019 saw me read Renée Ahdieh’s latest novel, The Beautiful, which I didn’t like at all, and when I finished it I decided it was proof that vampires just weren’t for me. But that’s not entirely fair, is it, considering there are barely any vampires in the book? It’d be a bit like deciding to swear off mermaid books after the mermaids’ brief appearance in Peter Pan.
It’s also a blatant lie when, like so many people my age, I had a Twilight phase during my late teens, so I clearly don’t have that much of a problem with vampire stories, and it might actually be Twilight‘s rise and fall that saw me fall out of love with one of our most famous supernatural creatures. It wasn’t through Stephenie Meyer that I first sank my teeth into vampire stories, though.
I have an obsessive personality and when I was younger my poor mum had to put up with me watching the films I loved a bazillion times until I wore myself out and moved on to the next one. One film I adored when I was younger was The Little Vampire which came out in 2000, and now that I know that I feel ancient. I actually watched this one for the first time in ages last year when it happened to be on TV and wow it’s so cheesy, but I loved it as a kid.
In fact before I read Twilight, most of the vampire stories I enjoyed were films rather than books.
Van Helsing (2004) is so bad it’s good, Underworld (2003) is a film I still love because it’s clear it’s having the best time being a vampire film, and in university I went to an ’80s movie all-nighter where I was finally introduced to The Lost Boys (1987) and LOVED it.
I never went through an Anne Rice phase as so many readers did – particularly readers who, like me, have a Catholic background; people from Catholic backgrounds having a sexual awakening when they discover Anne Rice is something I’ve seen happen a few times – but I have seen and enjoyed the 1994 adaptation of Interview with the Vampire, which is probably the only film I’ve seen Tom Cruise in where he could actually act.
After Twilight, though, there were some other books. In my third year of university I did a module on Victorian Gothic literature and spent two weeks studying vampires in 19th century fiction. It was here I discovered what is still one of my favourite classics: J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. It genuinely breaks my heart that this novella is lesser known than Dracula when it pre-dates Dracula by around 25 years, and it’s queer as hell. It’s so good.
I also read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Olalla for this module, a short story/novelette about a man who falls in love with a woman from a family of vampires. Interestingly some literature scholars debate whether the creatures in Olalla are vampires or werewolves, but they certainly seemed more vampiric to me than lupine.
I loved this module because we discussed what supernatural creatures told us about Victorian society’s fears, and what these creatures represented. Non-human creatures representing oppressed groups in human society is something we continue to see in SFF – just look at the discussions surrounding slavery and the house elves in the Harry Potter series – but vampires represented pretty much anything you could think of.
Dracula was from Romania, so vampires were immigrants and travellers, but they were also the queer community (Carmilla is hella queer, and despite having several brides it’s Jonathan Harker Dracula himself wants to possess), they were inbred upper classes (Queen Victoria became known as the ‘Grandmother of Europe’ because the nine children she had with her husband, who was also her cousin, married into the royal houses throughout Europe until they were all related, and vampires were often portrayed as aristocratic families seeking ‘fresh blood’), and they were even a reaction to scientific discoveries of the period. When Darwin revealed his Theory of Evolution, some people genuinely feared that if we had evolved then surely we could devolve, too.
I loved learning about the history behind vampires, which is perhaps what encouraged me to seek them out in books again. I read and enjoyed the first two books in Tanya Huff’s Blood Books series, an urban fantasy series about a Canadian detective who teams up with a vampire to solve supernatural cases, and when I finished university I ended up picking up the American Vampire series of graphic novels from the library and having a lot of fun with them.
Later I fell in love with the Parasol Protectorate series, a series of urban fantasy of manners novels in which vampires are very present. In 2016 I read and loved Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s second novel, Certain Dark Things, because in what world was I not going to love a novel about drug lord vampires in Mexico City?
Last year I discovered a new favourite series over on Netflix when I tried Castlevania, binged the first series and then eagerly awaited the second series this year. I want more. It was such a good story, and it was vampires done perfectly for me.
Then earlier this year I finally read Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On; Simon’s love interest, Baz, is a vampire and vampires ended up being a rather large part of the book, and I enjoyed it a lot.
In other words, I clearly don’t dislike vampires as much as I claim to. Not only that, but I also own quite a few unread books where vampires play a prominent role and there are others I don’t own that are still on my radar. So rather than let myself swear off vampire stories just because one of them didn’t work for me, I’ve decided to challenge myself to read a bunch of the vampire books on my shelves throughout 2020.
So below are a bunch of vampire books I’d like to pick and choose from this year! A couple of them are 2020 releases that I’ll be pre-ordering, some are books I’ve had on my shelves for years, and some are books I’m hoping to get through my library.
If you have any recommendations, particularly for any vampire books involving poc, queer characters and non-western settings, I’d love to hear them!
Dracula by Bram Stoker
When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries in his client’s castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing into questions of identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.
This was one of the books I studied for my Victorian Gothic module… I never actually read it, though, and considering I spent a lot of time in Whitby as a child – I grew up not too far away from it! – I should cross it off my TBR.
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
Only a true best friend can protect you from your immortal enemies . . .
Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth’s magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires – the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa’s best friend, makes her a dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.
After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger . . . and the Strigoi are always close by.
Rose and Lissa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guard down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever . . .
I used to see so much love for this YA series across booktube and the blogosphere and I’ve always wanted to try it. It was one of the first books I bought when I treated myself to a kindle around four years ago, but I still haven’t read it.
Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
Twenty-seven years have passed since the last sunrise, and for almost three decades, the creatures of the night have walked the day without fear. Once, humanity fought bravely against the coldblood legions, but now, we exist only in a few scattered settlements—tiny sparks of light in a growing sea of darkness.
Gabriel de León is the last of the Silversaints, a holy order dedicated to defending realm and church, now utterly destroyed. Imprisoned for the murder of the vampiric king, Gabriel is charged with telling the story of his life.
His tale spans years, from his youth in the monastery of San Michel, to the forbidden love that spelled his undoing, and the betrayal that saw his order annihilated. Most importantly, Gabriel will tell of his discovery of the Grail—the legendary cup prophesied to bring an end to the eternal night.
But the Grail was no simple chalice; and its secret was held by a smart-mouthed teenage urchin named Dior. Their journey with a band of unlikely allies would see Dior and Gabriel forge an unbreakable bond, and set the broken paragon on a road to redemption.
But now, the Grail is shattered. And with the cup of the Savior destroyed and the last Silversaint awaiting execution, what can bring an end to this unholy empire?
This book isn’t being released until September, and it’s the book that’s made me want to give vampire books a second chance because something about that premise calls to me and I wish I had this book in my hands now.
The Radleys by Matt Haig
Just about everyone knows a family like the Radleys. Many of us grew up next door to one. They are a modern family, averagely content, averagely dysfunctional, living in a staid and quiet suburban English town. Peter is an overworked doctor whose wife, Helen, has become increasingly remote and uncommunicative. Rowan, their teenage son, is being bullied at school, and their anemic daughter, Clara, has recently become a vegan. They are typical, that is, save for one devastating exception: Peter and Helen are vampires and have–for seventeen years–been abstaining by choice from a life of chasing blood in the hope that their children could live normal lives.
One night, Clara finds herself driven to commit a shocking–and disturbingly satisfying–act of violence, and her parents are forced to explain their history of shadows and lies. A police investigation is launched that uncovers a richness of vampire history heretofore unknown to the general public. And when the malevolent and alluring Uncle Will, a practicing vampire, arrives to throw the police off Clara’s trail, he winds up throwing the whole house into temptation and turmoil and unleashing a host of dark secrets that threaten the Radleys’ marriage.
My best friend passed this book along to me because she didn’t want it, and it sounds so fun. I’m all for reading a book about a family of vampires trying to live as humans.
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
To survive in a ruined world, she must embrace the darkness…
Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a walled-in city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten. Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them—the vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself dies and becomes one of the monsters.
Forced to flee her city, Allie must pass for human as she joins a ragged group of pilgrims seeking a legend—a place that might have a cure for the disease that killed off most of civilization and created the rabids, the bloodthirsty creatures who threaten human and vampire alike. And soon Allie will have to decide what—and who—is worth dying for…again.
Another first book in a YA series that I remember seeing everywhere a few years ago! I’ve yet to read anything by Julie Kagawa, but I’ve always been intrigued by this one.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
This is the story of Louis, as told in his own words, of his journey through mortal and immortal life. Louis recounts how he became a vampire at the hands of the radiant and sinister Lestat and how he became indoctrinated, unwillingly, into the vampire way of life. His story ebbs and flows through the streets of New Orleans, defining crucial moments such as his discovery of the exquisite lost young child Claudia, wanting not to hurt but to comfort her with the last breaths of humanity he has inside. Yet, he makes Claudia a vampire, trapping her womanly passion, will, and intelligence inside the body of a small child. Louis and Claudia form a seemingly unbreakable alliance and even “settle down” for a while in the opulent French Quarter. Louis remembers Claudia’s struggle to understand herself and the hatred they both have for Lestat that sends them halfway across the world to seek others of their kind. Louis and Claudia are desperate to find somewhere they belong, to find others who understand, and someone who knows what and why they are.
Louis and Claudia travel Europe, eventually coming to Paris and the ragingly successful Theatre des Vampires–a theatre of vampires pretending to be mortals pretending to be vampires. Here they meet the magnetic and ethereal Armand, who brings them into a whole society of vampires. But Louis and Claudia find that finding others like themselves provides no easy answers and in fact presents dangers they scarcely imagined.
I’ve seen the film, so it’s about time I read the book! Maybe 2020 will be the year I finally experience my Anne Rice phase.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.
When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…
This novel has been on my TBR for years because it’s a well-known witch novel that I still haven’t read, but vampires play a pretty big role in it, too!
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.
Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.
But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.
This is another 2020 release, due out in April, and I’m hoping my friends might be interested in reading it that month for our horror book club, Dawn of the Read. It sounds so fun!
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
Fledgling, Octavia Butler’s last novel, is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly un-human needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: she is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted—and still wants—to destroy her and those she cares for, and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.
Butler is a sci-fi author I’ve been meaning to read for years, and this sounds like a really fun place to start.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
This remarkable novel begins in 1850s Louisiana, where Gilda escapes slavery and learns about freedom while working in a brothel. After being initiated into eternal life as one who “shares the blood” by two women there, Gilda spends the next two hundred years searching for a place to call home. An instant lesbian classic when it was first published in 1991, The Gilda Stories has endured as an auspiciously prescient book in its explorations of blackness, radical ecology, re-definitions of family, and yes, the erotic potential of the vampire story.
Historical fiction with lesbian vampires? Yes please!
So with any luck, 2020 is going to be a fangtastic (sorry) reading year! Hopefully, throughout the year, I’ll find the kinds of vampire books I enjoy so I know which ones to look out for.