20 years of Buffy: top 10 vampire novels

Ooh, there’s a bandwagon passing by, may as well hitch a ride…It’s been 20 years since one of my favourite TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired in the US (March 10, 1997), so in tribute to all things vampire-y, here are my top 10 novels on said creatures of the night . . .

  1. I am legend by Richard Matheson (1954)

I am legendOK, so not your traditional vampire novel, Matheson’s classic is a post-apocalyptic survival tale. The ‘survivors’ are vampires however; only coming out at night and hoping to feed on the last man alive’s blood. Matheson is such a terrific story-teller and this book really captures the isolation and terror of being the prey. There was also very little like it before!

 

  1. Night Watch by Sergie Lukyanenko (1998)The Night Watch

There’s something oddly enjoyable and readable about this Russian clichéd-ridden nonsense. The dark and the light battle it out in and around Moscow, starring Anton on the light side, reluctantly protecting the ordinaries from vampires and other demons.  I read this for some fluff, but found it very engaging. Oh, there’s also a chosen one motif!

  1. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (1992)

Anno DraculaApparently, Queen Victoria has married Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as Count Dracula. Newman chucks everything into this historical re-imagining of vampire and Dickensian classics, as ‘almost’ good vampire Geneviève Dieudonné investigates the so-called Ripper murders. This a rollicking tale with plenty of nods and winks.

 

  1. Already Dead by Charlie Huston (2005)Already Dead

And talking of almost good vampires, Already Dead constantly reminded me of Blade. Huston’s series of vampire novels is a horror/detective noir mash-up, featuring vampire detective Joe Pitt. Pitt solves cases using extreme violence and Hollywood sardonicism. Manhattan is as much a character in this novel as the humans and supernaturals, as Pitt battles against the various clans of New York.

  1. Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite (1992)

Lost SoulsClassic gothic vampires here, set in the American south. These tortured souls hang out in the Missing Mile club all dressed in black and moping around looking for meaning. Brite’s evocative prose and stark outlook lead to a fascinating and horrific road trip to New Orleans. You can feel the heat in the night.

 

  1. Salem’s Lot by Steven King (1975)Salem_s Lot

It would be remiss of the universe if Steven King hadn’t written a brilliant book on vampires. In only his second novel, King manages to put moments of vampire into everyday cultural context, such as the idea of a vampire floating outside the bedroom window. The town of Jerusalem’s Lot is being infected with vampires. A writer returns to confront his childhood memories. Terror ensues!

  1. The Radleys by Matt Haig (2010)

The RadleysA different kind of vampire story here. The Radleys just want to be a normal family. Left alone. They are vampires but they abstain from feeding. However, the kids don’t know what they are. Yet. Haig really taps into what makes people normal in this increasingly bloody novel. Touching, but great fun too.

 

  1. Fevre Dream by George RR Martin (1982)Fevre Dream

Who knew Martin wrote one of the best vampire novels of all time? Another one set in the American south, this novel features life on riverboats on the Mississippi in 1857. Martin also writes about the idea of a good vampire, but in this case, a quest to unite the vampire race with humanity, which is against the odds of the bad guys. Fevre Dream is a brutal description of vampirism during one of America’s most romantic eras.

  1. Let the right one in by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004)

Let the right one inWhat might it be like to really exist as a vampire? To be trapped in a 12 year old’s body but to live for decades? In Sweden? Lindqvist captures 80s life and the terror of changing from a child to something more in this classic. And what of being bullied for being different? And what if you could take revenge? This is an utterly brilliant book about so much more than supernatural creatures that only come out at night. Just like Buffy isn’t about a teenager who slays vampires at High School.

  1. Sunshine by Robin Mckinley (2003)Sunshine

I’ve already said a lot about Sunshine over here. I simply love this book. Mckinley’s writing and characters are evocative, awesome, fun to spend time with, intriguingly damaged and beautiful. Sunshine is a magical baker, but maybe something more supernatural too? When she’s imprisoned with the enigmatic vampire Constantine, she learns so much her life will change forever. Has the vampire fallen for her? Is this Buffy and Angel all over again . . . ?

And no, I haven’t read every vampire book so your favourite probably isn’t on my list and yes, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is intolerably dull and I didn’t like it.

Tell not show – Favourite re-reads: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

SunshineI’m always surprised, on reflection, that Sunshine by Robin McKinley isn’t as well known and well-loved as it should be! Originally published in 2003 it could have ridden on the back of the Buffy wave and came two years before Twilight. I think that fans of vampire novels and fans of fiction generally who haven’t read this book are seriously missing out on something which is (almost) very special.

Sunshine by name and sunshine by nature, our sun-loving protagonist slowly tells us the story of her post-Voodoo Wars life. It is from the outset, a fairly mundane life – of which she’s glad – but after a trip to her childhood lake house, well, everything changes. Sunshine is captured by a vampire gang and offered as a kind of prize to a chained-up vampire, revealed to be called Constantine – the enemy of this gang’s leader, Bo.

I picked this up again because I’ve not come across a decent vampire or original horror lately. I’d remember that Sunshine had a weird quality to it but forgotten that supernatural was common and integrated into society; integrated except for the vampires of course. The eternal enemies. There is a Global council and global information network similar to the internet. This is very much not our world, despite the occasional cultural reference (a mention of Einstein and The Borg as examples). And Sunshine talks about it a lot.

There is the famous maxim in writing of show don’t tell. Give the reader insights into the plot and the characters by their actions and relationships. McKinley spins this concept on its head. Sunshine narrates most of the plot and character development in the first person. This is how she perceives the world and the events that are happening to her. She tells us about the plot and the characters she comes across. She is our window. This storytelling device is perhaps the only way that the otherworldly weird quality of book can work. Sunshine’s world is revealed to the reader very slowly. It is only on page 67 of my edition (476 glorious, smelly pages) that we learn Sunshine’s name – Rae is her name, Sunshine is a nickname. And even towards to coda, we still learn new things about the world she lives in.

What of that world? It is a very interesting one. Sunshine is a baker. Her existence revolves around a coffeehouse and the people who orbit it. Her boss is married to her mother. Her father is estranged. Her boyfriend is the chef. Her best friend is the librarian over the road. The world is full of Others – demons, weres, vampires, ghouls, magic and such-like. But in other respects, it is like our own. People have lives and jobs and hangovers and rubbish cars. It is this mundanity that makes Sunshine’s life so fascinating.

The vampires in Sunshine are fairly typical in how they move, exist and can be killed. They do have some interesting features for the reader to discover…However, you completely buy into Con’s character, as it is from Sunshine’s perspective, and her internal monologue. McKinley cleverly makes the book about us, the reader. It is probably how we’d react in these situations.

The clash of the ordinary and fantastical are of course well-worn tropes but McKinley delivers them with brilliantly heartfelt writing and some pretty awesome characters. The prose is full of wit and verve, even though it is mostly exposition. I love how Sunshine finds out who she really is. And she’s not Buffy, suddenly becoming a superhero. She’s always vulnerable and unsure. Even at the end, she’s horrified by what she has done. I felt a little sorry for Mel, her boyfriend. Out of all the characters, he is short-changed the most. Hints at something deeper are offered but in the finale, he his left by the wayside. All the other characters are great. And there’s a lovely section – when Sunshine meets an old woman called Maud in a park – about the kindness of strangers that has no real relevance to the plot, but is just really, really nice.

I really love the way that this is a standalone book. There’s nothing else which can diminish the magic of Sunshine and her relationship with Con and the patrons and workers of Charlie’s Coffeehouse. It’s a place I’d love to visit and the people are people I’d be glad to know. But not in the diminishing pages of book 7 or whatever. So maybe I should be glad that Sunshine is not so well known. Maybe it’s my secret. But what a secret!