There was a time when vampirism was considered overdone, passe, and trash literature that was just popular because of its transgressive overtones that nevertheless allowed a bunch of a mostly female fandom to enjoy it without crossing too many taboos. That time was 1897 where Bram Stoker was already jumping on a very popular literary trend that most people had forgotten had been going on for decades by that point. Varney the Vampire for example was published a good fifty years (!!) earlier in a penny dreadful and people still read it.
Vampires are not going anywhere and probably never will. There’s just something inherently interesting about the Devil’s bargain a person makes when one can gain immortality and superpowers at the mere cost of your soul (and maybe not depending on what the source of your powers are). The succubus and revenant (AKA zombie) have both had their thing stolen by the Children of Dracula and I am here for it. Hell, I wrote Straight Outta Fangton to get my love of nosferatu out of me and yet they keep appearing in most of my books.
But let’s be honest, there is a lot of vampire-ism that is terrible to read about. Badly written, stereotypical, or not written by me (just kidding–I am genuinely a hack). Here’s ten of my favorite works in the genre. Sadly, you must never share the list with my wife because she will be upset I didn’t mention her favorite vampire books of all time. Yes, those. They’re just not my bag, Kat.
Blurb: THERE ARE REASONS WE FEAR THE NIGHT. HE’S NOT ONE OF THEM.
Loud-mouthed gamer Bill Ryder thought the dice had finally rolled in his favor when he met Sally. Sadly, his triumph quickly turned into a critical failure – leaving him at death’s door with his throat torn out.
Now he’s a vampire, trapped in a world of monsters that are stronger, deadlier, and a hell of a lot cooler. They’re giving him just ninety days to prove he has what it takes to be an apex predator of the night, assuming he doesn’t give them a reason to dust his ass sooner.
This game isn’t over yet, though. Turns out a vamp like Bill hasn’t been seen in centuries. He’s got a few tricks up his sleeve, unexpected allies, and an attitude that’s too obnoxious to quit. He’ll need all that and more if he doesn’t want to end up even deader than last time.
Mini-Reviews: “What if the Big Bang Theory had vampires?” That kind of premise may intrigue or repulse you because Bill and his friends are incredibly obnoxious as well as endearingly dorky, just like the cast of said show. Bill’s transformation into the Chosen One known as the Freewill doesn’t make him any cooler, get him any closer to being a sexy creature of the night, and makes him a huge number of enemies. It’s a very fun series if you like antiheroes and vampires being driven off by the power of one’s faith in Optimus Prime.
Blurb: It was supposed to be a working vacation…
For Jacky Bouchard (aka, Artemis: vampire, former night-stalking dark avenger, and reluctant superhero), a trip to the Big Easy was a chance to solidify her new Bouchard identity, meet the grandmother she didn’t know she had, and do a favor for the New Orleans Police Department by helping them keep an eye on their local vampires.
Watching a bunch of fashion-obsessed goths with fangs should have been easy, but now she’s dressing in black and sleeping in a coffin even though living the whole Fiend of The Night stereotype makes her want to vomit. And for someone working undercover, she is getting attacked a lot. When Jacky learns that a master vampire capable of siring progeny with his blood (an urban myth—vampires don’t reproduce that way) may be haunting New Orleans, she decides to go hunting. But the streets of the French Quarter are dangerous when you don’t know who is hunting you, and Jacky finds herself in trouble up to her neck and needing all the help she can get…
Mini-Reviews: Superheroes and vampires have a long history together. The Wearing the Cape series isn’t a vampire or even supernatural series but has the fascinating premise that with must of the wield gaining superpowers, plenty of them have powers that take the form of vampirism. Artemis isn’t a vampire fan but she’s stuck in a world of Goths, vampire wannabes, and some genuinely dangerous serial killers. Artemis manages to put her own spin on the sexy ass kicking leather pants wearing urban fantasy heroine that I and so many other readers love. This deserved to be its own series.
Blurb: Obsessed with the acquiring the Holy Grail for the Lasombra clan, the vampire Montrovant sets out on a quest that leads him through the establishment of the Knights Templar, the lair of an ancient Egyptian evil, and the deserts of the Holy Land. Dark forces are pitted against him, and each ally must be watched in turn, as treachery leads to deceit and back agan in a race against time, the Church, and the mysterious Kli Kodesh, who is more ancient, even than Montrovant’s sire.
Only persistence, luck, and the power of his own will can see him through to his goal, and any mistake could mean his destruction.
Mini-Reviews: The Grail Covenant books are the best of the Vampire: The Masquerade novels despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that they are the most removed from the setting’s metaplot. Basically, a Lasombra elder named Montrovant attempts to find the Holy Grail and goes on a Medieval quest with his oddball collection of companions. Famously, the ending annoyed the author and you can find his unofficial sequel short tory in the DriveThru RPG anthology, “Through Darkened Streets.”
Blurb: Sink your teeth into the first novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling Sookie Stackhouse series—the books that gave life to the Dead and inspired the HBO® original series True Blood.
Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Bon Temps, Louisiana. She’s quiet, doesn’t get out much, and tends to mind her own business—except when it comes to her “disability.” Sookie can read minds. And that doesn’t make her too dateable. Then along comes Bill Compton. He’s tall, dark, handsome—and Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. He’s exactly the type of guy she’s been waiting for all her life…
But Bill has a disability of his own: he’s a vampire with a bad reputation. And when a string of murders hits Bon Temps—along with a gang of truly nasty bloodsuckers looking for Bill—Sookie starts to wonder if having a vampire for a boyfriend is such a bright idea.
Mini-Reviews: The Sookie Stackhouse Novels (or Southern Vampire Mysteries) are less famous than the True Blood series adapted from them on HBO but remain some of my favorite mystery novels. They’re not from the perspective of a vampire but a telepathic waitress who finds herself permanently attached to their world, despite how violent and nihilistic it is. I feel this outsider’s perspective on their complex society and mindsets really works well. I also prefer the Sookie of the books over the show, being far more proactive and prone to using a shotgun.
Blurb: Bloodlist introduces Jack Fleming, an investigative journalist in Prohibition-era Chicago who got
bitten by a vampire.
In Lifeblood and Bloodcircle Jack hunted for the men who killed him, and for his long-lost love, Maureen.
Now, the original vampire-noir cult classics by P.N. Elrod are together for the first time in one volume-easier for fans to sink their teeth into.
Mini-Reviews: Sadly, this isn’t available on Kindle or other ebooks but will hopefully happen eventually. I absolutely loved PN Elrod’s I, Strahd but felt like this was a better story to show their vampire writing chops. Jack Fleming is a noir protagonist who just so happens to be one of the undead. If he’s not the first vampire detective (that was probably Hannibal King in the 70s), he’s certainly one of the more influential ones.
Blurb: An instant classic, Brian Lumley’s astonishing feat of imagination spawned a universe that Lumley has explored and expanded through more than a baker’s dozen novels and novellas. Millions of copies of Necroscope and its successors are in print in a dozen languages throughout the world. Nominated for the British Fantasy Award, Necroscope has inspired everything from comic books and graphic novels to sculptures and soundtracks. This new edition of Necroscope uses the author’s preferred text and includes a special introduction by Brian Lumley, telling how the Necroscope saga came to be.
Harry Keogh is the man who can talk to the dead, the man for whom every grave willingly gives up its secrets, the one man who knows how to travel effortlessly through time and space to destroy the vampires that threaten all of humanity.
Mini-Reviews: What do the Cold War, aliens, vampires, and psychic powers all have in common? Well, the Necroscope series is the kind of “vampires are an existential threat to humanity” sort of book that eschews all romanticism for monstrous aggression. This is one of the early scientific interpretations of vampirism but in the “weird” science sort of way as psychic powers play a huge role. I recommend the audiobooks over the physical version.
Blurb: Urban fantasy meets paranormal mystery in this thrilling first installment in the Blood Books, starring paranormal private investigator Vicki Nelson.
When demons descend on Toronto, Vicki must team up with two unlikely partners: her ex-flame and the vampiric, romance-writing descendant of King Henry VIII.
Vicki Nelson, formerly of Toronto’s homicide unit and now a private detective, witnesses the first of many vicious attacks that are now plaguing the city of Toronto. As death follows unspeakable death, Vicki is forced to renew her tempestuous relationship with her former partner, Mike Celluci, to stop these forces of dark magic—along with another, unexpected ally…
Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, has learned over the course of his long life how to blend with humans, how to deny the call for blood in his veins. Without him, Vicki and Mike would not survive the ancient force of chaos that has been unleashed upon the world—but in doing so, his identity may be exposed, and his life forfeit.
Mini-Reviews: It was a difficult choice trying to figure out which urban fantasy story about heroines dealing with vampires or are vampires I should put down here. I have read a lot of them over the years. For me, I decided to go with Blood Price that was adapted to the Blood Ties TV show. Basically, Vicky Nelson is a night blind hardass detective who hates emotional ties. She becomes involved with Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry VIII, who turned out to have been turned into a vampire. They fight supernatural menaces! Part of what I like is Henry is bi (as all vampires should be) and not just as an informed attribute.
Blurb: It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction, the novel follows vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders.
Anno Dracula is a rich and panoramic tale, combining horror, politics, mystery and romance to create a unique and compelling alternate history. Acclaimed novelist Kim Newman explores the darkest depths of a reinvented Victorian London.
This brand-new edition of the bestselling novel contains unique bonus material, including a new afterword from Kim Newman, annotations, articles and alternate endings to the original novel.
Mini-Reviews: Anno Dracula is best enjoyed with annotations or a ridiculous knowledge of vampire fiction like myself or Elisa Hansen possesses. The basic premise is Dracula won the events of his titular novel, turned Queen Victoria, and has legalized undeath in the British Empire. Now the rich and powerful of society get regularly turned and the poor end up that way as well due to it also working as an STD. I’m just barely scratching the surface of how INSANE this premise is. I also absolutely love it and read most of the sequels. Notably, Kim Newman loved his character of Genevieve from the Warhammer Fantasy novels he wrote so much that he inserted her into these novels as the co-protagonist.
Blurb: A THRILLING REINVENTION OF THE VAMPIRE NOVEL BY THE MASTER OF MODERN FANTASY, GEORGE R. R. MARTIN
Abner Marsh, a struggling riverboat captain, suspects that something’s amiss when he is approached by a wealthy aristocrat with a lucrative offer. The hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York doesn’t care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh’s dilapidated fleet; nor does he care that he won’t earn back his investment in a decade. York’s reasons for traversing the powerful Mississippi are to be none of Marsh’s concern—no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious York’s actions may prove. Not until the maiden voyage of Fevre Dream does Marsh realize that he has joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare—and humankind’s most impossible dream.
Mini-Reviews: Deciding between this and one was extremely difficult a I may like this novel more but the other one was even more influential. Just barely, though, because while Mark Rein Hagen hadn’t read Interview with a Vampire when he wrote Vampire: The Masquerade, he’d read Fevre Dream. The premise of mixing plantation era Confederate America with vampirism is an easy one to make and the steamboat captain serves as an excellent perspective of the evil society’s fall (and I say this about my ancestors). It’s actually one of the most depressing vampire novels I’ve read because our heroes go through some serious shit.
Blurb: Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly sensual, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force—a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. It is a novel only Anne Rice could write.
Mini-Reviews: It was between this one and Fevre Dream. Anne Rice may not have created the sympathetic tragic vampire, that was probably Varney the Vampire who predates Dracula by about fifty years (!!), but she certainly popularized it for the late 20th century. I say the first two books are some of the best written vampire fiction of all time, the third book wraps up most of the plots, and the fourth book is a fascinating character study. Also, don’t bother with anything else. Sorry Anne.
Honorable Mentions: Vampire of the Mists by Christie Golden, Fred the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes, Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton, Clan Novel: Toreador by Stewart Wieck, I’m Glad You’re Dead by Hunter Blain, Halfway to the Grave by Jeanine Frost, Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore