The vampire, perennial monster, has received somewhat of a makeover in recent years. For almost two decades it has become romantic hero and seducer, often aimed at younger consumers. Twilight as well as the Vampire Diaries series may be the most obvious exponents of this trend, but the seeds were already planted in shows like Buffy (remember Angel?), and the territory continues to be watered with numerous vampire men in the urban fantasy or romance section of the bookstore, who must invariably profess eternal love to a nubile woman.
Before this trend kicked into full gear, vampires were more likely to be rich counts out to bite pretty young lasses à la Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi. Sexually magnetic, perhaps, but not boyfriend material.
(If I refer to the vampire as male it is because it is most often portrayed as a man. Count the most popular incarnations and you’ll find six Edward analogues for every Carmilla.)
My novel, Certain Dark Things, set in a Mexico where vampire drug lords are busy carving out territories for themselves, is not about vampires who you’d bring home to meet the family (the word “gritty” seems to show up a lot in reviews). In that spirit, here is a list of five vampires that definitely don’t sparkle. To boot, I decided to focus on books you are less likely to have read, so no ’Salem’s Lot, Interview with the Vampire, or Dracula.
Vlad — Carlos Fuentes
This short novel by literary darling Carlos Fuentes tells the story of a lawyer assisting an eccentric European refugee in finding proper lodgings in Mexico City. If you liked the black and white Mexican movie El Vampiro and ever wondered what it might look like in print, this is the book for you. Full of lush descriptions, it also features a nasty vampire, ensuring no romantic longings will be stirred upon the page. There are plenty of digs at Mexican bourgeoisie customs, but you do not need to get them all to enjoy it.
Fledgling — Octavia Butler
Science fiction vampires are not as common as fantasy ones and Octavia Butler provides us with one of the more interesting examples available. Shori looks like a 10 year-old black child but is far older, the member of an alien species which lives by establishing symbiotic relationships with humans. Butler explores notions of agency, as Shori’s bite makes humans dependant on her venom. Race is also tackled: Shori’s skin color is markedly different from her fellow pale vampires, melanin proving a useful adaptation for an organism that can’t stand sunlight, but it is also a trait that marks her as different.
My Soul to Keep — Tananarive Due
The African immortals in Due’s series of novels might best be called reverse vampires, since it is humans who would want to get a hold of the immortals’ blood due to its special healing and life-extending properties. Still, the immortals hold parallels with what we call vampires in popular culture, so I’m placing them on this list. Due’s books tackle issues of power dynamics and although Dawit, a 500 year-old Ethiopian man, is not unfeeling and has a human wife, he is not a cuddly romantic hero and would not hesitate to kill to protect himself.
Enter, Night — Michael Rowe
On top of becoming younger and more romantic, vampires have also become more urban. Enter, Night, however, bucks that trend, taking place in a small town in the 1970s (and in Canada, to boot; the Great White North doesn’t get too many bloodsuckers so that’s an extra yay from me). A 300-year old vampire is sleeping in an old Jesuit mission and is about to wake up. This vampire is not just mean, it’s plain evil. I mentioned Salem’s Lot at the beginning of this list, so if you liked that vibe you should like this one too.
Lost Souls — Poppy Z. Brite
Nowadays Billy Martin doesn’t write horror books anymore, but when he was still active penning stories and novels under the name Poppy Z. Brite he was an astounding example of the 1990s horror scene—the other astounding example of the 1990s was Kathe Koja—which rose from the ashes of the 1980s horror boom and bust. Lost Souls follows the colliding tales of a couple of musicians in a small North Carolina town, their associates, and a group of truly amoral and disturbing vampires. Random murder, incest, there’s very little these vampires won’t do and trying to become a vampire groupie is a very bad idea.
So there you have it: five books off the beaten path with vampires who won’t be sending you valentines. Stay fangy.
Originally published October 2016.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things focuses on Mexican vampires involved in turf battles. She is the British Fantasy, Locus, Aurora and Solaris nominated author of Signal to Noise and the editor of the World Fantasy finalist Lovecraft-themed anthology She Walks in Shadows.