O Demon Lover! Why the Vampire Romance is Taking Over Your Grocery Market Shelf

O demon lover! O gentle demon lover!
Nature’s soft nurse, how I have frighted thee.1

The demon lover has come a long way since he was thrown off limits to innocent young gals by polite society. He’s been, shall we say, demonized through the ages by both religion and historical ballads, which still resurface even beyond the 18th century—Bob Dylan resurrected the morality tale of “The Daemon Lover” through the lyrics of House Carpenter. But despite all that, the “other” lover—the one whom society disapproves of; the mysterious shadow in the corner, endowed with a dark past—is making quite good sales these days as the sub-genre of paranormal romance explodes across your local grocery store rack.

Even before paranormal romance was making a killing in book sales, the theme of the demon lover was returning with a vengeance across science fiction and fantasy. These weren’t the highly successful vampires of Anne Rice, tortured and elegant souls living across the tormented centuries of drama and emo vamping. They were the vampires of Anne Rice supercharged with sexual context. Think Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter and the main character’s relationship with Jean-Claude, a 400-year old vampire. While undoubtedly successful, the audiences for Anita Blake and similar series did not reach out across an audience of millions.

No. That honor definitely goes to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which through humorous and unremitting pastiche, yet serious character relationships, yielded the best arena to field the vampire lover to the fans of one of the most successful television series. For many, the tension-filled relationship between Buffy and the vampire Angel, fraught with disapproval, contradictions, and literal moral consequences, became the epitome of vampire romance. And those years in the 90s hailed the true birth of the modern demon lover—the vampiric lover. And yes, to be politically correct, also the lycanthorpically challenged, but while vampireromancebooks.com is well-established, I don’t see werewolfromancebooks.com anywhere.

(I sense domain sitting in 5, 4, 3…)

Some of us may be wondering: What’s up with this? Haven’t we gotten over the bad boy rhetoric already?

I come not, friends, to steal away your demon lover.2

Where romance is concerned, the traditional bad boy is truly out of popular fashion, and has been for a while now. The evil, experienced, risque lover is bad for your health, while the nice guy actually cares about you. And since abuse and murder are not the ingredients for a healthy relationship, the nice guy wins in the end (even tragedies prove that the Nice Guy was the Right Choice).

The vampire lover, on the other hand…if timed right, you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can have both adventure and the Right Choice. Generally, these days vampire romances turn out well, unlike the tales of yore.

The best vampire candidates for love have the following:

Centuries of experience

New vampires tend to be out of control and stupid, like the human bad boy, by around page 176. Their urges are out of line with their restraint. But centuries of living in vampire society, often portrayed as actively predatory amongst itself with power plays that end in servitude and/or permanent death, tends to whittle down the herd after the first couple centuries. It’s possible to remain both shallow and stupid after 500 years, but it’s also highly unlikely.

Plus, centuries in a hierarchical, aristocratic, and above all deadly society tends to teach older vampires manners, persuasion, and suavity. You don’t get this out of your stereotypical nice guy. Or your bad boy.

Do not take after Nosefuratu

Nosefuratu and/or his line: ugly vulture-like wrinkled bastards. Kind of like Alan Greenspan in the aughts.

The best vampire lovers are in their 20s to 30s forever. We shouldn’t be swayed by looks and skin quality. And yet we are. More importantly, this characteristic gets over age discrimination and lets us block out “centuries old” from the equation.

Tempted by redemption that may destroy him

And that’s where the vampire lover really wins. To flirt with him is already risking death, because, well, he’s a vampire. But it’s not assured destruction (and, hey, it’s supernatural and thus ultimately cool, and he’s a vampire).

And yes, the darkness in him because he is a vampire also encompasses that ever important provocation of the desire to turn him to the good, which also applies to human bad boys. This, in novels and in real life, is often a deadly trap. However, the story of the vampire is—thanks to Anne Rice—threaded with the theme of regret and redemption. There’s no guarantees, but he’s had some centuries to think it over. He usually regrets the terrible things he’s done. He knows that redemption may kill him (either the act itself, or the other vampires if they find out, or both, or something). He’s actively seeking it.

This is not just the desire to help him. Turning to good, for a vampire, is a decision more involved than commitment. In a way, it’s the ultimate commitment. Now that’s just downright attractive.

As an extra, usually the woman needs to kick butt to help him achieve this. And it’s righteous butt-kicking. You aren’t waiting around for the nice guy to rescue you from your wicked mistakes. You’re helping a nice guy in a bad guy position, and you must overcome boundaries above and beyond the norm. (And sometimes not. That’s why Twilight gets panned as badly as it does among experienced romance readers: it’s more in the traditional bad boy mode than not, except that there is no nice guy. Not even inside the bad boy.)

And that’s why the paranormal romance, often replete with vampires, is taking over your grocery rack.

But that does leave some questions. Or rather, a few variations on the same question.

She’s beautiful and therefore to be wooed;
She is a demon lover, therefore to be won.3

You might wonder: what about vampire romances for lesbians? Or gay men? Or transsexuals? Or, omg, straight guys?

There’s not much, if any, in the world of vampire romance for GLBT. Then again, there’s less in the world of romance for GLBT in general, at least in the West (over in the East, you’ve got your Yaoi and your Yuri manga). This makes me very sad. On the other hand, it’s a wide open narrative door, if you could ever get someone to publish you.

Tackling the straight guys: it’s said that guys don’t read romance, but adventure. And also that they don’t play with dolls (just G.I. Joes). Yet the vampire romance can offer much in the way of adventure—but for some reason the redemption curve doesn’t seem to hit female vampires. Perhaps it’s the nature of adventure, but I’m afraid guys still get stuck with the dichotomy of the dark, evil temptress and the pure, good girl. And vampiric women solidly get tossed into the first category.

It’s a double-standard! No cake and eating-it-too for you guys! And that’s another wide open narrative door that shouldn’t stay open.

I’m sure it’ll happen some day. Or at least that I have managed to induce a new kind of manuscript meme torture for editors and agents everywhere.

Thus the whirligig of time brings in his demon lover.4

With many apologies to Shakespeare, and possibly not enough:

1 King Henry IV part II, III.i
2 Julius Caesar, III.ii
3 Henry VI part I, V.iii
4 Twelfth Night, V.i — and yes, “whirligig” is actually part of the original quote.

A Note

Elsewheres on Tor.com I said that I hated vampires. This is mostly because I ODed on them. You can probably tell.

[Images of vampire with candle by DerrickT and vampire with car by Joe Shlabotnik, CC-licensed for commercial use.]


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