Even as a young teenager, I never understood the Twilight phenomenon. I slogged my way through the first one and gave up halfway through the second. I disliked Meyer’s writing style and didn’t find her stories compelling, even at the age of fourteen.
But I’ve never begrudged Meyer her success; really, I was glad to see some of my friends who rarely picked up a book into a series. And I truly believe that Stephenie Meyer has encouraged a generation of teenagers to read who maybe missed the majority of the Harry Potter train, so I’m grateful to her for that.
But I’m not grateful for what she did to vampires.
I’m not even really into vampire stuff. I never read Anne Rice, and I’ve only seen a few seasons of Buffy. I don’t watch True Blood. But even I noticed as Meyer’s books transformed the popular image of vampires from terrifying creatures of the night into sparkling, brooding love interests. Go to any Barnes and Noble; the teen new release section is packed with them. And I’ve avoided most of them.
Recently I started a new novel on my Kindle that I picked up for cheap on a promotion - The Color of Light by Helen Maryles Shankman. I didn’t know much about it; I bought it on a whim. I had no idea it was about vampires. When I realized that it was, within the first thirty pages, my heart fell. Not another one! But I was on a bus and I’d already started reading, so I decided to give the book a chance and continue. At first I was glad I did - while there were some jarring mistakes in the Kindle edition, the story was compelling, and I appreciated the art side of the story. But as I neared halfway through, our vampire character, Raphael Sinclair, began to take on some distinctively Edward-like characteristics. I started predicting the plot before it happened. And the book went downhill. Still enjoyable, just not what I wanted.
Why do vampire novels have to be romances? And why do romantic vampires turn into Edward Cullen? If you’re interested in vampires, but don’t really want the romance or the sparkles, here are a few of my favorite suggestions.
If you’ve read any Pratchett, you probably have a guess at how he looks at vampires. Carpe Jugulum is a hilarious romp of a pastiche that takes the reader through every possible vampire cliché and out the other side into absurdity, featuring some younger vampires who wear bright colors and stay up until noon in a parody of goth culture. While this novel is entirely devoted to vampires, many of Pratchett’s other Discworld novels feature fantastic vampire supporting characters. The most notable thing about Pratchett’s vampires is that he seems to view the whole blood thing as an addiction similar to alcoholism. The vampires of the Temperance League (the black ribboners) have sworn off human blood and instead transferred their addiction to something else, coffee being a popular option. Pratchett’s vampires are perfect for anybody looking for a totally different take on the creatures, as he refuses, like he does with everything else, to take them seriously.
Robin McKinley is probably best known for The Hero and the Crown as well as her fairy tale retellings - she’s done Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, and two versions of Beauty and the Beast, her self-professed favorite. But in Sunshine, she proves she takes on modern just as well as medieval, and her vampires are totally unlike most of those seen in YA novels. Sunshine is just working at a bakery when she decides to take a walk and is abducted by the vampires that are in control of much of her world. Her escape and return with vampire Constantine, a wonderfully human character, bring only more questions. McKinley is known for is her strong female characters, and Sunshine doesn’t disappoint - she’s just as kickass as Aerin from The Hero and the Crown, just minus the sword. To cap it all off, McKinley’s prose is some of the most gorgeous in the business - Sunshine is not to be missed.
When he wasn’t writing the Uglies series, turns out Scott Westerfeld was putting out some pretty messed up parasite writing. That’s right - in Peeps, vampires are real, and vampirism is actually a disease you get from a parasite. The book also includes blurbs about other parasites throughout, leaving you with plenty of information that you never really wanted to know. Following Cal, a carrier of the disease who infected three of his ex-girlfriends, Peeps shows us the modern vampire hunter in the gritty setting of NYC, combining the fantastic nature of the vampire story with Westerfeld’s gift for stunning realism. If you’re tired the image of the cape-swirling, bat-transforming vampire as well as the sparking love interest vampire and ready for something a little creepier, something that hits a little closer to home, you might really enjoy Peeps - and there are sequels, too!
I’m always on the lookout for a fresh take on old themes - let me know if I’ve missed anything or if you have any recommendations for me by commenting below or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org!