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Monday, January 11, 2016

Vampire Fiction I've Read

Public domain image.

In my tote bag at the moment is a Tanya Huff novel I unearthed while selecting books to give away. 

This one is Smoke And Shadows, one of her Henry Fitzroy novels. There are two series featuring Henry. In one series, the heroine is Vicki Nelson, a former cop who had to leave the force because of a medical condition with her eyesight that doesn't allow her to work by night. She has become a private detective. The other series is seen from the viewpoint of Tony Foster, a former street kid who is now working as a production assistant for a TV series about a vampire detective(and no, it's not Forever Knight!). 

Both novel series are connected by Henry Fitzroy. Henry was the son of Henry VIII by his mistress Elizabeth Blount. He died at about seventeen, except that in these novels he didn't. Well, not in the normal sense, anyway. He is a vampire, currently living in Canada and making a living as a romance novelist. 

It's fun comparing this with other vampire books, so let's begin. 

In this universe, vampires don't have to kill to feed. Henry feeds, but a little blood from the wrist will do, thank you, and he has found a very pleasant way to do that, as part of his partners' orgasms. 

There is no problem with holy water or crucifixes. In fact, Henry was turned - on request - by a sweet young vampire who was a devout Catholic. 

You can see yourself in the mirror, which is a good thing, as Henry loves his fashion and preens in front of his own mirror. 

What is true is that you can't go out by day, but that's not a problem for Henry, who has set up his bedroom to block out the light completely - and, by the way, doesn't need a coffin or native soil, so can sleep quite comfortably in his bed. 

He has a small group of friends who know about him, but there's no "spend eternity with me!" here. In fact, vampires don't hang out with each other much, unlike in most vampire fiction with their nests and masters and being dominated by the person who turned you.  Once you have turned, you might get a bit of help adjusting to your new life, but then you're on your own. 

I haven't read Dracula in a long time, but I do vaguely recall that Dracula can go out by day. It just isn't a good idea, as he can't use his powers. He can turn people against their will, and does. He kills a lot and needs the blood to reverse ageing. I think a lot of the perceptions we have of vamps come from this book.

Catherine Jinks's Reformed Vampire Support Group is set in modern Sydney. The characters of the title are a group of vampires who really don't want to be vampires. One of the members was a doctor in his lifetime and has created a medicine that will allow them to avoid killing people, though they do need to fang something sometimes, so they keep guinea pigs, which breed quickly and can keep up the supply. The heroine was turned when she was fifteen and still lives with her ageing mother. As an apparent underage teenager she can't get a driver's licence and never will, so relies on the local priest for lifts(the group meets in the church hall). Like Henry Fitzroy, she makes her living out of writing - in her case, historical vampire adventures. One of the other members of the group is a woman who was turned in her eighties and as a result is suffering permanently from all the aches and pains of old age - something not usually considered in vampire fiction. The novel is great fun.

I've only read the first of the Twilight series. These vampires don't shrivel in the sun, they sparkle! Urk. Sorry. I know it's hugely popular and half her luck for that, but I just can't read the rest of the series. I found it dull; nothing happened till about two thirds of the way through, by which time I didn't care any more. Oh, and stakes don't kill these vamps, which didn't stop me from getting a T shirt that had the motto "And then Buffy Staked Edward. The End." I used it to tease one of my students, a  mad Twilight fan. 

Dan Simmons wrote a fascinating novel called Children Of The Night. In it, Dracula, Vlad Tepes, is still around in the present day. He has read the Bram Stoker novel and thinks it's garbage.  Vampirism is not a matter of being undead at all, but a genetic quirk which enables those who have it to regenerate their body cells, as long as they consume blood, which is processed by an organ most of us don't have. In Dracula's family, back in the fifteenth century, drinking blood was called  " the sacrament" and done with great ceremony.

Dracula has lost interest in the hunt and become enthusiastic about business; he is now a fabulously wealthy businessman. He's also sick and tired of his family - a big one after hundreds of years. He has plans... 

I enjoyed it because it played around with SF concepts while playing at being horror fiction. It's very different from other versions I've read.

But George R R Martin's Fevre Dream also involved vampires who are born that way, not undead. You can't be turned, though some of the nastier ones get what they want from humans by promising to turn them. There are two heroes in the book, one of them a man commissioned to build a great riverboat, the other a vampire who has come up with a formula that helps keep him off the human blood drinking - and has commissioned the riverboat to enable him to find other vampires who are fed up with having to kill people.

In Barbara Hambly's James Asher series, you can't be forced into vampirism, because it's a slow process that involves the vampire looking after your soul whole your body dies, then putting it back. It requires utter trust and determination on the part of the person turned. It's set in the Edwardian era, about James and Lydia Asher, a couple who start off being blackmailed into helping the vampires of London, who are being murdered in their beds. The main vampire character is a sixteenth century Spanish gentleman who came to England in the train of Phillip of Spain when he married Mary Tudor and has simply never left. He is their friend, though they keep having to remember, uncomfortably, that he is a murderer thousands of times over. 

There's Peeps and Last Days by Scott Westerfeld in which vampirism is caused by a parasite which keeps you alive because it's in the parasite's own interests to do so. You can get it from your cat!

There's nothing wrong with all these different ideas about how vampirism might work. These creatures of the night appear in different forms all over the world. In medieval Europe, it was believed you could be a vampire if you were born in Christmas Day or if you had red hair(associated with Judas), that one way to keep a vamp in its grave was to bury it with seeds or grains to keep it too busy counting to bother leaving the grave. This OCD theory about vampires was used, cheekily, by Tara Moss in her YA novel Skeleton Key. The heroine carries around rice to scatter at any vampires she meets. The poor things simply must stop to count the grains. 

But vampires weren't just in Europe. I did quite a lot of research for my first book, Monsters And Creatures Of The Night, and found, among others, the story of a vampire cat from Japan and a Malaysian vampire that liked fish!  

So, why not do what you like with your vampires in fiction? 

Anybody out there got any other favourite children of the night?


Pamela said...

Oooooo vampire fiction! Children of the Night is on my TBR, as I'm a fan of Simmons' earlier work (now, not so much). Have you read his book Carrion Comfort? It's kind of a vampire book but more of a life-force sucking vampire, not just blood.

I also really love Carmilla by Le Fanu, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. The last one, I've noticed, is a rather love-it-or-hate-it book. I loved it. <3

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, I've read Carrion Comfort, a very fine piece of horror fiction - so good, in fact, that I hesitated to read more horror fiction, because Dan Simmons was quite willing to destroy characters I cared about.

I've read Carmilla too, the first horror fiction with a flavour of lesbianism. ;-) Classic stuff! Have you read Polidori's The Vampyre? That may have been the first sexy vampire, or at least not some scary creature from beyond the grave, and it 's said he based the vampire on Byron, a personal friend who had annoyed him lately. He began it on *that* weekend which produced Frankenstein.