With the final Twilight instalment heading to cinemas later this year – vampire literature seems to be springing up from every direction. In light of the end to Stephanie Meyer’s popular tale, here is a top nine list of the best vampire books that you should really sink your teeth into.
One of the first vampire novels ever written, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu electrically brings to life the female vampire in Carmilla. The story begins with protagonist Laura who lives in the picturesque town Styria. One day, an unexpected carriage crash brings Carmilla thundering into Laura’s life and instantly the two girls become inseparable. Although this novel is slow at times, stick with it as the mysteries surrounding Carmilla unfold to bring you face to face with the first lesbian vampire. The text picks up energy as it reaches a climatic ending with the arrival of baron Vordenburg who appears as this tales answer to Van Helsing. Steeped in original mythology and published in 1872, Fanu offers a classic view of the vampire whilst linking it to Victorian concerns about female sexuality. A fantastic read!
It would be impossible to compile a ‘best of’ vampire fiction without paying homage to the text that kicked it into action. Join Jonathan Harker as he journeys to Transylvania to meet the elusive Count Dracula. Harker, when wandering the castle at night, falls under the spell of three female vampires and escapes the castle just in time. Not long after a storm brings Count Dracula to England and places the young Lucy Westenra directly in his path. The style and language of this novel can be inaccessible at times to a modern reader but persisting with each page is well worth it, especially with the arrival of Van Helsing. Dracula and Helsing’s relationship is depicted in an intense cat and mouse game, with Harker’s fiancée Mina getting caught in the middle. With iconic imagery (the vampire as a shape shifter and the fundamental stake-through-the-heart killing method) Bram Stoker’s story is worthwhile read for true addicts of vampire fiction.
This reinvention of Stoker’s Dracula places the vampire in the twenty-first century in a post 9/11 New York. Fangland mimics the form of Dracula as the story unfolds via different emails and journal entries, as we follow Evangeline Harker on her work to uncover stories surrounding the elusive Ion Torgu. Playing upon the rumours surrounding Transylvania, Marks’ novel cleverly transposes vampirism for the modern reader; news readers are killed in dangerous territories, disease is spread via communication and the setting is the TV production industry. This satirical book offers a refreshing new voice in the world of vampire fiction as it cleverly draws your attention to modern society and its flaws. Sink your teeth into the murky, blood stained world of Fangland and watch as Stoker’s novel is resurrected in the present day.
Lost Souls is vibrant and the vampires are sensual, sexy creatures. Brite was only a tender nineteen years of age when she wrote Lost Souls and this permeates through as the novel drives home a real teen spirit. The vampires take drugs, have identity crises’ and embody the trauma of being a teenager in this engaging novel. The characters are brutally real and the most interesting aspect of this novel is the freedom Brite grants her characters in terms of their gender and sexuality. By far the most compelling character is the vampire Nothing. Raised by a human family, Nothing sets off in search of his real family and true identity. It is his journey that resonates deeply as you really feel for his urge to figure out who he is, a journey we all go on as teenagers.
A delectable cocktail of vampires, werewolves and Dr. Frankenstein make Blood Oath a highly original take on the vampire tale. Nathaniel Cade is sworn to protect the President of the United States and this book weaves together two great myths, creating a modern Frankenstein who appears to be a terrorist. With humorous insights, such as Cade attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to curb his desire for human blood, Farnsworth cleverly crafts a poetic tale with deep characters and a thrilling plot line. Taking the war on terror quite literally, Fansworth creates a gothic, mythic terrorist out of Frankenstein which poses a great threat to the U.S.A. By combining this engrossing concept with a fast-pace, Fansworth propels his story forward like an action film. An incredible debut novel that really does leave you hankering for more.
Smack bang in the eclectic eighties Anne Billson’s novel appears to be the vampire’s answer to The Devil Wears Prada. Like many of the modern books in this list, it takes a satirical stance – this time the publishing world comes under fire. Billson creates a publishing house with a vampire at the helm. The protagonist Dora heads to Bellini – the vampire Vogue- and soon realises that a love triangle she was enveloped in years ago, is not as finished as she thought. Written with verve and style Suckers reels you in at page one. A brilliant novel that will make you laugh out loud as Billson puts everything – even the vampire novel – under her sharp, direct and keen eye.
The first in a planned trilogy The Passage is set in an apocalyptic world where the world is over run with a vampire virus. Cronin’s novel is epic spanning ninety-three years with the story taking shape from a variety of narrative voices. This panoramic view of the pandemic creates an eerie and terrifying story as you begin to realise the full breadth of the dangers that face potential survivors. Amy is the main character whose body adapts with the infection and her story is well crafted as she learns to accept the changes in her body and her position in the world. The complex web of voices in this book is carefully managed by Cronin and Amy grows into a compelling character. This first instalment leaves you with high hopes for the remaining books.
Before the broody and vegetarian vampire Edward Cullen came along, there was Louis de Ponte de Lac. Set in New Orleans in 1791, Rice’s story follows Louis trying to reconcile with his vampire identity. Louis is sired by fellow vampire Lestat and both vampires reside on a plantation. They are forced to flee when the slaves, fearful of their bosses, revolt. During their travels Louis feeds on a young-girl one evening that is cruelly immortalised as a child vampire by the wicked Lestat. Beautifully crafted and with complex and enticing characters, Rice manages to bring a realism to the vampire which completely seduces the reader. Louis is more human than vampire and his relationship with little Claudia is heart wrenching. By far the most intriguing character of this text is Claudia herself, who becomes the antithesis to Peter Pan in this twisted take on the immortal child. With strong character development and beautiful language, Rice’s novel is a deserving second place in any list of the best Vampire books.
Top of this Best Vampire Books list is Matheson’s masterpiece I Am Legend. Set in a dystopian future, the story follows the life of Robert Neville. A disease has spread throughout the world turning those infected into vampires, with Robert left as the lone survivor. Barricading himself into his house with only a dog for company, Neville’s fight for survival is depicted in raw, sharp tones and Matheson cleverly transposes the legend status of the vampire onto the human race, cleverly captured in the emphatic statement “I am legend.” Matheson never explicitly relates the disease to vampires and for that reason this book is the creme de la creme of vampire fiction. It manages to take the mythology of the vampire, combine it with modern concepts surrounding an apocalypse and force a confrontation with what it is to be human, and more directly completely alone. An incredible psychological tale that places the vampire back into its most dangerous place – the shadows – leaving you as the reader as alone as Matheson in your interpretation of this tale.
All of these books are only but a handful of the amazing books that can be found in Vampire literature. A few notable books that did not feature in this top ten list of the best Vampire books would include Stephen King’s fabolously horrific tale Salem’s Lot. Set in a small town that soon becomes overrun with a vampire virus, King creates a chilling fight for human survival. Another great read is George RR Martin’s beautifully written Fevre Dream – Published in 1982, it follows the story of Joshua York a Vampire determined to protect human life from hoards of evil vampires. With the ever increasing popularity of the vampire genre, this is truly evolving into an exciting and varied category filled with numerous books that tackle a range of significant human issues such as love, identity and growing up.