When I was writing my recent review of Vlad by Carlos Fuentes, a literary relocation of Dracula to modern Mexico, I was struck by the large number of vampire novels that I’ve read over the years, especially since I began blogging – probably more vampires than zombies, fallen angels, demons and perhaps even ghosts added together.
I know you all just love a list post, so here is my personal vampire reading list, ranked – from the sublime to the ridiculous. (NB: Bram Stoker’s Dracula doesn’t appear – can you believe I’ve never read it?!) Title links will take you to my full reviews where they exist, ‘BUY’ affiliate links go to Blackwell’s.
1. My favourite – Let the Right One in by John Ajvide Lindqvist
In Swedish novel Let the Right One In, I found something truly dark and horrific that needed a strong stomach and nerves of steel. It is a real contemporary chiller, full of violence and gore, totally relentless – yet at its heart is a the redemptive relationship between a twelve-year-old bullied boy and a 200 year old vampire frozen into the body of a young girl. It is a little overlong, but is so gripping. (BUY)
It takes Nordic noir to new heights of horror, and has been adapted into two movies. The original Swedish one directed by Tomas Alfredson is utterly superb – possibly better than the book! In comparison, the US remake Let Me In is not without merit, but lacks the former’s atmosphere.
2. The Moms fight back – The Southern Book Club Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
A Grady Hendrix horror novel is always a real treat – he’s a superb stylist, each of his novels is themed, from an IKEA catalogue to a High School Yearbook to in this case the reading list of a book group of suburban moms specialising in true crime.
When they realise that the new resident in their town is a vampire and is preying on their children, they are forced to put everything they’ve learned into action to deal with him, their hubbies whom he has befriended being unbelieving. Hendrix doesn’t hold back on the horror, but he tells the story with a great deal of humour, making this a fantastic read. (BUY)
3. The Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris
I’ve read the first two in this super series of thirteen novels televised as the superb True Blood, Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas. Harris has unique take on vampirism – in that since the development of synthetic blood, vampires had been able to come out into the world. Her heroine, waitress Sookie Stackhouse is not a vampire, she’s a telepath – who falls in love with vampire Bill, a man whose thoughts she cannot hear. When murders start happening, attention falls on the vamps, but Sookie suspects someone else – cue a top notch paranormal crime story. Subsequent novels follow the same premise, with Sookie using all her skills to solve crimes and putting herself in peril with the vampires (and others) in support. (BUY).
4. Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that Marcus Sedgwick is one of my favourite authors, one who straddles YA/adult crossover territory. Most of his novels are published as YA, but they are all worth adult readings, his writing is that good!
Midwinterblood published in 2011 is one of his most elegiac, a seven story cycle going backwards in history bound up in folklore, and featuring a vampire at one stage. Beautifully written, it’s dreamy and contemplative, yet it is very dark with a slow reveal. What’s not to like? (BUY)
5. Just a normal family? – The Radleys by Matt Haig
I loved The Radleys, Matt Haig’s vampire novel was such fun. Following the lives of a normal suburban British family – except that the parents are non-practising vampires, their teenaged children don’t yet know – having been brought up on a red meat heavy diet. Now Clara wants to become a Vegan…
While there is plenty of dark comedy in this novel, there is also blood – gallons of it. At the heart of the story, however, is the family, with the parents in the grip of mid-life crises and the children coming of age, tricky at the best of times, and not helped by the arrival of Will, Peter’s vampire brother. Also running throughout the book are extracts from the non-practising vampire self-help manual ‘The Abstainer’s Handbook’, which is like a twelve-step programme for bloodsuckers. Blood is the drug, and this makes the vampire hunters the equivalent of the drug squad and junkies’ families. (BUY)
6. The Mexican literary Dracula retelling – Vlad by Carlos Fuentes
My most recent vampire read was an interesting take on Dracula by one of Mexico’s foremost authors. Fuentes’ Dracula aka Vlad is still alive, and relocating to the New World. A lawyer and his estate agent wife are tasked with sorting out the details for Vlad’s arrival.
7. Last man standing – I am Legend by Richard Matheson
A plague has infected mankind, mutating humans into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures – vampires. Robert Neville could be the last man alive – he’s had to say sayonara to his wife and child, and despite the awfulness of his situation, something keeps him going on.
This 1954 novel has an excellent balance between SF and dystopian horror. The vampires are scientifically explained which makes a change, and they are more zombie-like than traditional vampires too. All through the novel, you are dying to know whether he is the last man alive, and this sustains the plot through to the end, where I was surprised at the twist in the tail. This gritty tale is another SF masterwork and way better than the film. (BUY)
8. A Discovery of Witches – The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
In Harkness’s debut, she has come up with world in which there are three kinds of supernatural beings living alongside humans and trying to keep their true natures hidden: vampires, daemons and witches. Dr Diana Bishop, an American visiting scholar at All Souls college, Oxford, is a witch in denial about her abiliities when she activates a spell on a manuscript in the Bodleian Library. Next time she goes to the library, she finds herself watched – by daemons, other witches, and a tall and handsome vampire and yes, you guessed it, they will fall for each other presenting huge problems for a relationship between two different supernatural beings.
It is obvious that Harkness had done masses of research for the book, yet we felt we learned nothing particularly new about vampires and witches, the daemons didn’t feature very strongly in the first volume and remain elusive. The writing was frequently exhausting; like Donna Tartt, every little thing is described in full, but not quite as well. So far, I haven’t felt the urge to carry on with the next volume of the chunky trilogy. (BUY)
9. The comedy ones – The Love Story trilogy by Christopher Moore
Christopher Moore is a parodist supreme, and If Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard wrote vampire stories, they’d be like this. This trilogy follows Jody and Tommy, Jody waking up in Bloodsucking Fiends to discover she’s a vampire and in You Suck Thomas becomes a vampire too. Their minion teenaged goth Abby takes centre stage in the third volume Bite Me. She is desperate to become a vampire too, but first has to deal with a vampire cat who is stalking the city.
These novels are huge fun, dialogue-driven tales of vampire loves and their friends and enemies. The plots tend to go rather mad in the second halves, but I loved them. (BUY)
10. My Swordhand is Singing and The Kiss of Death by Marcus Sedgwick
Sedgwick gets a second mention for his pair of YA novels set in the 18thC featuring a woodcutter’s son who in the first novel becomes infatuated with the gypsy Sofia, part of a band of vampire slayers, who come to Chust in the east of Uzbekistan where the undead are returning to wreak revenge on the living. Somehow I haven’t read, My Swordhand is Singing, but I have read its companion, set some years later in Venice during Carnevale where the Shadow Queen is building a new army.
Sedgwick’s gothic Venice is wonderfully realised; You can smell the stench, you can hear the water constantly lapping on the piles, and you can feel the damp and gathering dread in the fog. It’s also all the better for the vampire action coming from Eastern European folklore rather than any modern romantic interpretation, it’s subtle yet menacing and not pretty at all. The Kiss of Death stands on its own and was my introduction to Sedgwick’s work. Wonderful, but I really must read the first book too. (BUY)
11. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Anne Rice is the Queen of Southern Gothic, and volume 1 of ‘The Vampire Chronicles’ was a phenomenon back in the early 1980s, paving the way for Buffy and all that came after. The young-loving vampire Louis tells his story to a young journalist, including his seventy years with Lestat, an older vampire.
It’s suffers from first novel-itis, as so many listed here do, but there is passion, and a certain sensual elegance, however I never read on in the series. But, who can forget young Brad Pitt as Louis, and an even younger Kirsten Dunst in her breakthrough role as the child vampire in the film (1994). (BUY)
12. The engineered one – Fledgling by Octavia Butler
Published shortly before the author died, Fledgling is another different and slightly SF take on the vampire novel. Shori looks like a twelve year old black girl, but is actually a genetically engineered 53 year old vampire. She awakes injured in the woods with amnesia and once she kills and heals, goes in search of her family with the help of her ‘first’, a man who stops to help her and ends up being her symbiont. They discover that her family has been wiped out, and go in search of other of her kind. Luckily they end up finding a friendly ‘Ina’ group, for that’s her race’s real name, and they initiate her into their ways.
This is a novel of big themes – race, sex and fitting in dominate. It’s written to shock, Shori is a sexual being but her body’s young appearance makes it really awkward for us to read. One thing that came through for me was the subtle master / slave relationship between the Ina and their ‘families’ of symbionts – who once bonded to their Ina cannot live without them. Although I enjoyed reading Fledgling, ultimately it underwhelmed as the author did far too much explaining about the Ina which made for some plodding dialogue. (BUY)
12. The War (& Peace) one – Twelve by Jasper Kent
I have read War and Peace, so I know a little bit about Napoleon v. General Kutozsov, the Battle of Borodino and Napoleon’s march on Moscow, and I’m sure we all know that Napoleon had to retreat and Tchaikovsky wrote the 1812 overture to commemorate it.This military setting forms the backbone of this novel as we follow the exploits of Captain Alexei Ivanovich Danilov and his small band of officer comrades. They work as a kind of elite force, spying on the French and using guerilla tactics to keep one step ahead.
It’s not going well for the Russians, and Dmitry, nominally in charge of Alexei’s group, has taken matters into his own hands. He has engaged a band of mercenaries whom he met in the Balkans to help. He explains that they’re like the monks the Tsar once had as a bodyguard – the ‘Oprichniki’. They’ll pick off a few French soldiers here and there and generally sow fear amongst them. It’s obvious from the start that the Oprichniki are vampires – they are a scary band of chaps, and they certainly go to work with relish – but it takes Alexei some time to cotton on, and then he becomes a man with a rather different mission. I enjoyed this novel, the first in a series of five known as the ‘Danilov Quintet’.
13. The Carry On Vamping one – Linger awhile by Russell Hoban
Hoban’s world is weird, wacky and earthy – anything goes, and anything can happen, as it does in abundance in one of his later novels, Linger Awhile.
83-year-old Irving is in love with an old film star who has been dead for 25 years, but he is convinced she can be brought back to life via her visual DNA on an old video tape. His friend Istvan can do this, but the reanimated woman is pale – so he gives her some of his blood – and creates a vampire who goes on the rampage. This book is very camp, and totally non-PC, reminding me more of the Carry On films with their farce rather than Hammer Horror with its scream factor – call it ‘carry on vamping’? There are chuckles aplenty with some good one-liners, and it was a fun, quick read. (BUY)
15. The Southern Gothic one – Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite
I read Brite’s debut novel when it was first published in 1992. A group of rootless young people including vampires, meet up for sex and drugs and a road trip to Chicago. It’s very graphic sexually and violently, it’s very goth, and very atmospheric. Brite’s vampires are interesting too – a separate species, who don’t follow most of the usual vampire tropes. Brite would revisit some of the characters in short stories and other novels.
I enjoyed the novel at the time, I remember it’s gay content being eye-opening! The author was in his twenties when it was published, and I feel that I wouldn’t enjoy it in the same way decades later – it’s a young person’s novel. (BUY)
16. The Humorless one – Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton
Anita Blake lives and works in St Louis, Missouri. Her primary job at the agency run by Bert is as an Animator – she can raise zombies, or put them to rest again. She’s also an expert in vampires. We don’t know the detail, but we know she bears a grudge against the bloodsuckers. Her expertise in these areas though is very useful to the police; she’s on retainer and is often called in to murders where undead have been involved. When vampires start being murdered, against her better judgement, she reluctantly agrees to investigate for the vampire grandmaster.
What Anita lacks though, and hence the book, is a sense of humour. She’s a bit whiny (mostly at herself, it must be admitted), but I didn’t warm to her the way I did Sookie. It’s just non-stop action, with a few hours sleep to recover from the mounting number of injuries Anita accrues along the way. The amount of pain this gal can sustain is superhuman – oh – maybe she is one?
These books (which also began pre-Buffy and Sookie) are so successful though, no 28 in the series is due out in 2021. (BUY)
17. The sparkly one – Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
Vampire novels aimed at teenagers have all the features of many traditional favourites:- set in schools pupilled with bullies, geeks, jocks, all the usual stereotypes; there’s good/bad, sympathetic/not teachers; an overwhelming hatred of maths; but most importantly the heroine is new to the school – an outsider who is different and sticks out a mile. Mix thoroughly and then spice liberally with vampires to bring a whole new level of fantasy to the staple genre.
Although not the first, it was Twilight that ignited the paranormal romance fixation. The romance between Bella Swan and vampire Edward Cullen. I won’t expound on the plot here. It could have been really brilliant, but to be honest I didn’t warm to Bella – she’s a bit of a whiner and homebody, and so drippy once she falls for Edward. He on the other hand is the business, provided you can forget the slightly creepy fact that he’s a hundred year-old vampire in the body of a seventeen year-old Adonis. Crucially though, it’s soooo sloooow in getting to the action as they talk and talk and talk; and the central romance is totally frustrating for an adult read, so I’ve not bothered with the rest (saw the films though!). (BUY)
18. The teen original – The Vampire Diaries by L J Smith
Anyone reading this book would be forgiven for thinking that it was rather derivative of a certain other one – Twilight that is. It even has an apple on the black cover … Amazingly, it was published over ten years before Stephanie Meyer had even started hers. Understandingly, the publishers have jumped on the bandwagon with a new edition. I didn’t discover it until I had already read Twilight though, so my thoughts about Smith’s book can’t help but but be influenced by the other.
Arguably, more happens than in Twilight, however I found the Vampire Diaries rather ordinary and humourless, somewhat full of stereotypes and also lacking the former’s subtlety. Also, for a book with the word ‘Diaries’ in the title, the few diary pages included were strangely uninvolving to me. (BUY)
19. The vampyre finishing school – Marked by PC and Kristin Cast
Written by a mother and daughter team, this is the first in a series called the ‘House of Night’. In the Casts’ world, teenagers are ‘marked’ to become vampires. Zoey is picked to become a vampyre (yes, she yawns, with a ‘y’), the tracker marks her forehead and from that moment on her life changes.
What ensues is more of a typical boarding school novel with secret clubs, cliques and escapades, and all the stereotypes above are present too. Many have commented that there’s a touch of Hogwarts about it with the pupils learning to be vampyres, but these teenaged vampyres’ blood is full of raging hormones so it’s definitely not suitable for younger teens. It was more fun and definitely has a better sense of humour than Twilight. No need for me to read more though. (BUY)
20. And finally! – Dracula – the Undead ‘The Official Sequel’ Dacre Stoken and Ian Holt
Co-written by Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew and a vampire expert, this official sequel tries to shoehorn in every single bit of vampire lore in existence into its length, moving the action on to 1912, twenty-five years after the original novel ends. Someone is after the survivors of the original band of heroes who ‘killed’ Dracula and is picking them off one by one. It appears to be another evil historical figure – Elizabeth Bathory, (another real person who is reputed to have bathed in girls’ blood), or could it be Jack the Ripper(!), or has Dracula risen again from the undead? It’s up to Jonathan Harker’s wife Mina, and son Quincey to stop them or be killed themselves.
The novel was never sillier than when they put Bram Stoker himself into the plot as a struggling writer trying to put on a play of his novel – for a book supposing to put right the injustices done to the Stoker family when they were denied royalties for Dracula in the USA, I couldn’t understand this move. Mercifully, it was a quick read. (BUY)
But there’s more! …
I have also read plenty of great novels which have vampires in as secondary or minor characters…
- Soulless by Gail Carriger – vol 1 of the ‘Parasol Protectorate’ series – a funny, sexy, Victorian steampunk Sookie Stackhouse, with vamps and werewolves aplenty.
- The Brenda & Effie mystery series by Paul Magrs – Set in Whitby, the distinctive Brenda and her friend Effie investigate paranormal goings on, often helped or hindered by a certain Mr Alucard… Think of these books as funny, cosy horror – they’re brilliant.
- The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher – a long-running series of paranormal noir detective novels featuring wizard Harry Dresden, vampires crop up from time to time.
- Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. When I read of a ‘vampires nest in Purley’ in the blurb, I had to read this book – the first in a now long-running series of paranormal police procedurals. The second in the series, Moon Over Soho, has jazz vampires.
On my shelf to read:
- Dracula – Bram Stoker
- Fangland – Jon Marks
- Anno Dracula – Kim Newman
- Salem’s Lot – Stephen King (for a re-read)
- The Strain – Guillermo del Toros