About ten years ago, I made my first serious attempt at a novel, (at least it seemed serious at the time). It was about teenage vampires. I was fourteen and didn’t know any better. I am happy to report that, unlike some authors, I had the decency to scrap it before it could see the light of day.
I love vampires. When they’re done well, I find them very entertaining, but I want to stress that you can’t just slap together a story, throw in vampiric stock characters and expect me to buy it and sing your praises. Not gonna happen.
Reading vampire books is probably the closest thing I’ve done to speed dating. Every now and then, you find a gem that will remain a favorite. More often, you find shallow characters, contrived plots, and dialogue that makes you wonder whether the author was smoking an illegal substance, or if they’d recently sustained a serious head injury. I’m willing to save all you lucky readers a step and tell you which of them are worth your time and the purchase price.
Please comment. Did I miss one of your favorites? Disagree with how I categorized some of the books? Think I’m totally off my rocker? I want to know!
1. Dracula by Bram Stoker- The ultimate vampire classic. One of my favorite things about this book is that the vampires are beautiful, but not romanticized. If you fall for one, you will not have a happy ending. I find that refreshing.
2. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King- As always, interesting characters, a plot that will keep you up at night, and an original villain who will have you looking over your shoulder for at least a week.
3. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice – I know this will probably be a more controversial choice for this list. People tend to either love this book or hate it. I enjoy it for its seemless blend of philosophical and moral dilemmas, complex characters, vivid historical settings, and healthy doses of gore and terror. Not everyone likes her characters, but here’s the good news: you don’t have to. Another thing I like about her books is that there are almost never clear-cut good guys and bad guys. The characters don’t read that way. They read like actual people with strengths and flaws, which is a depressingly rare quality to find in a book.
4. I am Legend by Richard Matheson- A modern take on the vampire. It doesn’t ignore the old vampire myths, rather it uses modern science and technology to explain the unexplainable. Plus, it will keep you guessing right up ’til the end.
5. Rulers of Darkness by Steven Spruill- Okay, so this one’s a little goofy, and not my favorite, but it’s got good bones. I found the characters engaging and, although I had seen many aspects of this story before, (Vampiric police detective, Vampire who doesn’t feed on humans hunting down other vampires, Doctor seeks to cure vampires of their condition, Vampire father hunts down his vampire son when he gets completely out of control, etc.), I’d never seen them in this combination or blended this well. I still think it’s a fun read.
6. Necroscope by Brian Lumley- How many vampire novels also have a soviet spy organization and a high school kid whose math tutor is a dead guy? I only know of this one. Heard about this one from a family friend, and loved it. It ranks among the Stephen King and Anne Rice books for that feeling you get when you finish it. You know the one I mean, “Okay, that was fun, but can anyone give me the name of a good therapist? What? No, I’m fine. Really.”
7. The Vampyre by John William Polidori- This is the grandfather of all vampire books, the work that brought these creatures of the night out of folk tales and into the literary world. It was written around the same time as Frankenstein, and if you enjoy Victorian literature you should definitely check this one out.
I tried to stay away from YA and Romance novels because I felt like the people reading those probably have different criteria for what’s good and what isn’t. Books from those categories were only included if the author had problems writing on a basic level.
1. Sunshine by Robin McKinley- The premise is interesting enough, although it’s one I’ve heard before. (Human society is surprised to find that vampires, werewolves, demons, etc. are real. Chaos and tension ensue as society attempts to regulate their activity, and/or exterminate them.) I enjoyed the style. I liked the world the story was set in.
The problem lies in the author’s addiction to narration and exposition. A lot could have been gained by revealing more information through dialog or action. I kept getting lost in the main character’s thoughts. Very distracting. With better editing and some brevity it could have had a feel of Ray Bradbury meets Janet Evanovich’s Lizzie and Diesel novels, but the main character’s inner monologue is unending. Combine that with long and strangely structured sentences, and you lose my attention. If the narrative and exposition had been broken up, pared down, and interlaced with action for better flow, I would have liked this book. Also, I suggest the author read Elements of Style by Strunk and White, specifically the section titled “Omit Needless Words.” As it stands, I can’t recommend it.
2. The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman- I could be wrong about this one. If I am, will someone with a superior attention span please let me know? I wanted to like this book. It has tons of historical detail, a classic representation of Dracula, and Mycroft Holms (Sherlock’s brother) is in the Diogenes Club, fighting The Terror. (Whatever that means. It sounds badass, but I was so confused by the number of characters and plot lines, that I gave up before I could figure it out.)
50 pages into the book, I was still unclear about who was fighting whom and why. It had something to do with Dracula, of course, and maybe WWI? And the Allies? And a war committee of vampires? And… Huns? Edgar Allen Poe makes an appearance, so do Franz Kafka and Winston Churchill. I’d like to give this one another try when I have more time to keep track of everything going on in this book. Maybe make a chart…
3. The Vampire Files Series by P.N. Elrod- Every vampire cliché, and every private investigator cliché rolled into one. Pass.
4.Thirst by Christopher Pike- I accidentally picked up the second book in this series, so I suspected I might have some issues catching up with who the characters were, what they were doing and why. I didn’t think I’d care so little. The opening scene, the big hook to draw the reader in, was a snobby vampire’s birthday party. (WTF? Who knew vampires even celebrated birthdays?) That may sound boring, but wait! There’s more. The snobby vampire’s friends have no taste! The main character is forced to open tacky gift after tacky gift and respond politely! Now, can’t you just feel the tension? The drama? The suspense? Me neither.
1. (and only) The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer- This series is only part of this post because it’s such a phenomenon that everyone would be asking me why I excluded it if it wasn’t here. Why would I be tempted to exclude it? Because I don’t count these books as vampire novels! I have read the books. My friends loved them. I read them with the sincere hope that I would like them too. I don’t.
My biggest problem with these books is that I didn’t care about the plot at all because I couldn’t bring myself to care what happened to the characters. The Cullen vampires were the only characters who seemed to have back stories at all, and even theirs were sparse at best. I trudged my way through the first book and started the second because Twilight seemed to hint that perhaps Bella did have a personality, and we just weren’t seeing much of it right now. It gave me hope that I would get to know her and the other characters more. I chalked the delay up to it being the author’s first novel and decided to give her another chance.
After starting New Moon, I was about to give up hope. All Bella did was talk and think about Edward. All Edward did was sulk. Then Edward took off and I thought, “Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel. Now Bella can experience some personal growth. We can find out who she is apart from her love interest! Learn about her family, her past, her likes, dislikes, thoughts, hopes!” I turned the page… nothing happens in September… nothing happens in October… are you kidding me? Okay, I remind myself, this guy has been everything to her for a year. Maybe she just needs some time… A motorcycle? That’s different. Seems like a start… Wait. Who’s selling her the motorcycle? Jacob? The runner-up hot dude? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! I put the book down. I stopped myself from throwing it only because it was borrowed from a friend. I felt as though Stephanie Meyer was laughing at me, pointing and saying, “Gotcha!” Like I’d been hit in the face with a pie. I was almost hoping Ashton Kutcher would jump out and tell me I’d been punked. At that point, I was done with this series forever.
I like my vampires frightening, mysterious, and complete with personality and back story. If an author strays from tradition, I’m fine with that- as long as the changes make the end result better. Otherwise you might as well forget the vampire idea and just call it something else. I don’t view sparkly skin, melodrama, teenage angst, tiny or non-existent fangs (depending on whether you’re going by the book or the movie*), a recreational baseball league, or trading in black Harleys and Ferraris for a silver Volvo as improvements. Call me crazy, but I’m sticking to that.
Ultimately, all that is beside the point. This book is not well written. It is clumsy, pandering, and two-dimensional. Not only is Stephanie Meyer an unskilled author, she shows no signs of wanting to improve. Why should she, really, when she keeps ending up on the bestseller list?
*Yes, I saw the first movie with my previously mentioned friends. My therapist and I are hopeful about my recovery.