Confessions of A Twilight Shirker

I have a confession: I have never read the Twilight books. Or seen the movies. I am not on Team Edward, or even Team Jacob. For a girl who has watched a long parade of intermittently terrible and rapidly-canceled vampire shows (“Forever Knight,” anyone? “Kindred: The Embraced”? “Dracula: The Series”? I have watched them all), that’s pretty shocking. Everyone has seen/read Twilight. Or at least everyone not disqualified from reading foofy teenage romances by presence of excess testosterone.

I just can’t bring myself to do it. I know they are crazy popular. It’s like refusing to read Harry Potter. (Hey! I’ve read them! Don’t get excited!) All the same. I get the distinct impression from everything I’ve head that the books’ attitude toward women, relationships, sex, and what constitutes love is creeptastic. (Also, Robert Pattinson as a romantic lead makes me snicker, but that’s a separate problem.) I am pretty sure that they would annoy me, so I am just missing out on this massive cultural wave.

That’s not to say that I’m missing out on the current vampire mania entirely. There’s even more vampire fiction out there than there is talk about the Zombiepocalypse. The problem is, an awful lot of it is, well, trash. That doesn’t keep me from reading it (reference the above series that I really did watch anyway), but it gets a little tedious. Sex + scrappy heroine + gorgeous vampire = book sales, apparently. I like vampire books and films, but even I think the vampire thing has gone a little overboard.

Vampire lovers, don’t despair! I am here to hurl myself into the sea of mediocre vampire novels and throw out a few pearls for your delectation. Vampirism is a fascinating concept — like dragons, fantasy returns to them again and again. It’s just a question of finding the authors who have done something interesting with them. So, here are a few quality vampire novels that are distinctly not taking the easy way out. (I’m not including some of the better urban fantasy series that are not really “vampire books” even though they happen to include vampires, like Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series or Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson series; the books below are books focused on vampires.)

Fledgling by Octavia Butler. Anyone who’s familiar with Butler’s work knows that Butler never took the easy way out; her fantasy/sci-fi novels tackled issues of race and enslavement head-on. Fledgling (2005) was one of the last things she wrote before her tragically early death at age 58 in 2006. In this world, vampires (or the Ina) aren’t former humans, but a completely separate race struggling to survive despite their own prejudices in an increasingly modern world. Butler’s work occasionally gets a little preachy, but Fledgling manages to avoid that problem and deliver a compelling story in great writing.

Those Who Hunt The Night by Barbara Hambly. Those Who Hunt The Night and its sequel, Traveling With The Dead, are set in Edwardian London (and Europe). Those Who Hunt The Night predates the current mania by at least a decade, and is in a very different vein. The vampires here are not sexy; they’re unnerving, fascinating, and terrifying by turns. At moments, they’re also strangely sympathetic, people whose worlds left them behind a long time ago, preserving their lives for reasons that have sometimes vanished along with those worlds. The protagonist, the exhausted former spy James Asher, is drawn into their world against his will. These books are beautifully done if you’d like another take on what being a vampire would really mean.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley. This is honestly the closest of the books on the list to the “standard” pulp urban fiction vampire novel. Here’s the thing: this is the book all those novels wish they were. Sure, there’s sex, baked goods, a scrappy heroine, but it’s all done against the backdrop of a fully-developed post-apocalyptic world, with fully-developed and interesting characters. The things that happen here really seem to matter. The Boy tells me that from a guy’s perspective it’s a little heavy on the introspection, but even he really enjoyed it. I cannot wait for a sequel. (She’s writing a sequel, right? Possibly right now?)

If anyone has other favorites to contribute, bring them on!

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