24 books to sink your teeth into
Nov. 8, 2017 marks the 170th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s birth. Though the Victorian author did not initiate the myth of the vampire into pop culture (legends of bloodsucking creatures date back centuries), he at least perfected it. Stoker’s Dracula has come to be the most influential vampire of them all — his Transylvanian roots, ability to control his victim’s minds, love of darkness, aversion to garlic and metal stakes, and the sexual undertones of his blood-sucking have cast a long shadow over how we envision vampires ever since. Stoker’s Dracula was further immortalized in Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of the titular vampire in the 1931 film, forever linking the ill-intentioned count with our perception of blood-sucking creatures. Ahead, check out 23 more literary vampires that don’t suck.
The Vampyre by John William Polidori (1819)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein may be the most famous monstrous creation inspired by Lord Byron, but the poet’s personal physician crafted this tale of the blood-sucking Lord Ruthven. Ruthven bears a striking similarity to Polidori’s illustrious patient, and the blueprint for the vampire as a brooding, Byronic hero can be found here. The story itself was inspired by a fragment of Byron’s writing and was the first to make the folkloric vampire a mysterious member of the aristocracy.
La Morte Amoureuse (The Dead Woman in Love) by Théophile Gautier (1836)
If you think lusty, seductive vampires are an invention of modern romance novels, think again. Here, the vampire’s bite is pure metaphor for more sexual encounters — and it doesn’t hurt that the central member of the undead in question is a vampire courtesan. The hero Romuald is lured away from the priesthood to a life of extravagance and lust by vampire Clairmonde.
Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu (1872)
In the midst of Victorian repression and moral hysteria came this taboo-breaking novel about a lesbian vampire named Carmilla. Though she is the villain of the story, possessing supernatural powers and stealing blood from children, she also is portrayed in a surprisingly sympathetic light — engaging in a lengthy seduction and romantic friendship with the young Laura, Carmilla makes compelling arguments for why she deserves to live despite her unnatural existence.
Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer (1845-47)
In its finished form, the tale of Varney the Vampire stretches well over 1,000 pages, but that’s because it originated as a “penny dreadful” — a Victorian form of cheap serialized fiction that focused on sensational, pulpy stories. Varney is a self-loathing vampire who is often foiled in his plots, only to come back from the undead again and again. He’s basically the Wile E. Coyote of vampires.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)
Anne Rice’s s The Vampire Chronicles, beginning with Interview with a Vampire, launched a new phase of pop culture vampiric obsession, further heightened by the 1994 film adaptation starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Here, Rice introduces Lestat, “the Brat Prince” and antihero of the series known for his cold-blooded nature and gorgeous, sensual appearance. With Lestat, Rice helped transform readers’ — and movie audiences’ — image of the vampire from creepy monster to seductive, brooding leading man.
'Salem's Lot by Stephen King (1975)
King brought his signature brand of horror to the vampire genre with this updated American twist on Dracula. When author Ben Mears returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot in Maine, he begins to write about the abandoned Marsten House where he experienced a traumatic childhood incident. Things get weird when Austrian reclusive businessman Kurt Barlow buys the house and his arrival sets off a spate of deaths and disappearances in town. If you want a read as pitch black as the souls of the undead, look no further — Barlow’s taste for children and swath of destruction makes Dracula look kindly.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005)
If you prefer your vampire fiction with a heavy dose of historical intrigue and accuracy, look no further than this take on a quest for Dracula that includes vampire librarians, exotic locales, and strong ties to the real-life Vlad the Impaler’s actual historical background. A book about Vlad, a.k.a. Dracula, sets our narrator and his father on a decades-long quest to uncover the monster. It offers both appropriate reference to Stoker’s Dracula while providing a fresh and inventive take on the myth via the probing of the Dracula’s real-life historical equivalent and inspiration.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004)
Now a film and stage play, Let the Right One In offers a unique take on vampires with its haunting tale of child vampirism and pre-teen friendship. When Oskar meets the new girl next door, Eli, things get weird when he discovers she’s a vampire — but Eli helps Oskar fight back against his bullies as they build a bond of friendship in this novel that’s more about the ties that bind and the wounds of childhood than the proclivities of things that go bump in the night.
The Hunger by Whitley Strieber (1981)
Nowadays, this title is more well-known for its 1983 film adaptation and notorious sex scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, but the original novel is every bit as tantalizing. Miriam Blaylock is a vampire who is on a quest to discover the secrets of immortality to help extend the lives of her human lovers. She’s insatiable and bloodthirsty — in more ways than one.
Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz (2006)
If the fabulously wealthy members of the upper classes have always seemed a bit vampiric in nature, well, that’s because they are — at least, in Melissa de la Cruz’s world. Her Blue Bloods series follows a group of Upper East Side elite private school students who also happen to be vampires from families that have reincarnated from the original Mayflower Pilgrims. High school drama and gossip intermix with historical oddities like a reincarnated Myles Standish. If you ever wished Gossip Girl had more vampires, read this.
Blood Ties series by Tanya Huff (1991-1997)
Fans of Tudor history may recall Henry VIII’s bastard son Henry FitzRoy — in this series by Tanya Huff, he’s a 400-year-old vampire who teams with a private eye and active-duty cop to solve supernatural crimes. The popular procedural series also became a Lifetime television show.
Fledgling by Octavia Butler (2005)
For her final work published during her lifetime, sci-fi behemoth Octavia Butler delved into the world of vampires as a metaphor for racism. Shori appears to be a 10-year-old black girl but is, in fact, a 50-year-old Ina, a vampiric race who shares a co-dependent relationship with humans addicted to their life-extending venom. As the sole Ina with dark skin, Shori struggles with her identity and her place in the world.
Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe (1979)
If you’re looking for something a bit more light-hearted, this children’s book is a fun take on the Dracula myth. When the Monroe family discover a rabbit at a screening of Dracula, they take him home and jokingly name him “Bunnicula” — but their dog and cat are convinced the rabbit, which coincidentally has fangs, might just actually be a vampire.
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (2000-2015)
Vampire courts (four of them to be precise) are a key part of the supernatural mysteries that “consulting wizard” Harry Dresden works to solve. However, perhaps most prominent of all is White Court vampire Thomas Raith, who also happens to be Dresden’s half-brother. Raith is charming and seductive, with a secret vulnerable side — so, you know, par for the course on the whole bad boy vampire thing.
Night World series by L.J. Smith (1996-present)
In this YA fantasy series, supernatural creatures, including vampires, live among humans as part of a secret society known as Night World. The world has two rules: protect the secret of its existence, and never fall in love with a human. Naturally then, each book in the series centers on a supernatural being falling in love with a human. The first book Secret Vampire follows James, a vampire who seeks to turn his terminally ill best friend (and soulmate) into a fellow vamp to save her life.
House of Night series by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast (2007-2014)
Though the Harry Potter universe was always relatively short on vampires, this series more than makes up for that with the House of Night boarding school for “fledgling” vampyres. A small percentage of the world’s teenagers discover they’re vampires and are sent to school at the “House of Night” where they must either learn how to adapt to their supernatural change or die.
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (2007-2010)
St. Vladimir’s Academy is the titular Vampire Academy in question here. The YA series follows Rosemarie “Rose” Hathaway, a human-vampire mix who is studying to become a guardian of the royal vampires known as the Moroi and her best friend Princess Lissa. Rose trains to learn how to defeat evil undead vampires called Strigoi, all the while striking up a taboo romance with her instructor Dimitri.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (2011)
In her 2011 novel, Harkness introduces us to the ancient vampire family of the Clairmonts — chiefly, Matthew Clairmont, a brooding scientist who falls in love with the headstrong witch Diana Bishop as they find themselves drawn into a centuries-old mystery that holds the future of all supernatural beings in the balance. Matthew is joined by a diverse brood, from his imperious mother Ysabeau to his Norse God-esque brother Gallowglass, across the entire All Souls Trilogy, as well as facing off against other more bloodthirsty vamps. Primed to become a TV series with Matthew Goode portraying Matthew Clairmont, A Discovery of Witches might just be the next vampire pop culture obsession.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005)
Okay, yes, many vampire aficionados took umbrage with Edward Cullen, his stalker behavior, and his sparkly clan, but it’s undeniable that the Twilight phenomenon launched a new era of vampire obsession in pop culture. Bella Swan moves to Forks, Wash. and finds herself drawn to the mysterious and moody Edward Cullen, who resists their obvious attraction because of his secret identity. Sparkle factor aside, Edward bears many of the characteristics inherent to his literary vampire brethren that have made them central to romance narratives.
The Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward (2005-present)
Vampires have long been a core feature of the paranormal romance sub-genre, and J.R. Ward’s Blackdagger Brotherhood series centers on a society of vampire warriors who live together to defend themselves against de-souled humans. Each book in the series follows a different member of the brotherhood as they fight to stay alive and inevitably fall in love.
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (2001)
Dead Until Dark is the first of Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels. Sookie is a telepathic witch who lives in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisana in a world where vampires can now exist off Tru Blood, a synthetic blood that eliminates their need for human sustenance. The series boasts multiple vampires, but as the two sides of Sookie’s love triangle, Civil War veteran Bill Compton and Viking vampire sheriff Eric Northman merit the most attention. The series boasts 13 books in total and inspired hit HBO series True Blood.
Archangel's Blade by Nalini Singh (2011)
Nalini Singh’s paranormal romance “Guild Hunter” series focuses primarily on those who hunt vampires and the archangels who employ vampires as their servants. Here, vampire Dmitri sets out to uncover the secrets of his past and crosses paths with Guild Hunter Honor as they track a murderer.
Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly (1988)
Private consulting detectives get a lot of odd requests, but Victorian Professor James Asher is perturbed when his retirement is disturbed by the demands of one of London’s oldest vampires, Simon Ysidro. Ysidro calls on Asher to investigate serial murders against the city’s vampires, leading Asher into a dark London underworld and kicking off a series of novels. Ysidro is a frightening vampire, but toes the line between villanious and anti-hero.