An excellent question. Of all the humanoid mythological beings, the mermaids, sirens, zombies, ghouls, werewolves, witches and fae, why in the name of all that is unholy are vampires the most beloved, speculated about and – it must be said – lusted after? Why is it that even after their fictional ubiquity has rendered them almost unremarkable, they are still the foundation of more best-selling novels than any other fantastical creature?
Vampires are actually quite disgusting, when you think about it. They kill people. They drink their warm blood as though it were ice cold Coke. They’re room temperature and often blindingly white-hued. They’re dead, and yet they’re walking around.
They can shapeshift into all manner of beasties. They can control wolves and bats and rats and bees with but a thought. They can read thoughts, invade minds, and force the hapless into being their minions. They occasionally wear capes. They’re dead, and yet they’re walking around!
So… just why do we love them? How can we love them? The origins of the vampire myth are nothing if not shrouded in the scariness and the horror, and even the latter-day bloodsuckers we’ve come to know and have the hots for are often cold-blooded killers… literally. And yet this slightly – or not so slightly – morbid fascination persists, with what are basically homicidal corpses who see us as their next meal.
Over the past few decades, vampires have become the heroes of our fondest imaginings and darkest fantasies, and have most recently blossomed into the ultimate romantic lover, most of their novels falling under the banner of “Paranormal Romance”. Whether it be Lestat, Sinclair, Eric Northman or Edward Cullen, there’s a vampire for every temperament, level of squeamishness and interest in S&M. Their stories can make you cringe or make you laugh or make you blush; some can make you weep for the feminist generation who came before, liberating women from their sexual servitude, only to have so-called “heroines” succumb to a whole lot of “’No’ means ‘yes’” seduction.
The main sub-genera of vampire romance fiction are:
The Twilight Series and its progenitor, L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries fall into this category – obviously. Even Buffy fell into it – was anything ever more tortured, more tumultuous, and more teenage than Angel and Buffy’s forbidden love? While not solely the province of teens, its appeal to that demographic is very easy to understand. They usually star the “ordinary” girl who becomes absolutely vital to the ongoing existence of the powerful and beautiful people – essentially, the cool kids in school. She becomes the object of worship and adoration – essentially, Homecoming Queen. And what teenage girl doesn’t wish for an older boyfriend? A century or so older? Perfect.
This is personified by MaryJanice Davidson’s Queen Betsy and Molly Harper’s Jane Jameson, among several hilarious others. These are the tales in which a sharp-witted single girl becomes a reluctant vampire and thence finds her true love, often with attendant will-they-won’t-they banter. Humorous and entertaining, usually crackling with pop culture references (they will definitely mention Buffy at least once) and self-deprecating snark to go along with the sex, these vampire chick tales give us a lighter side of being undead. Their titles are almost always pun-based. And who doesn’t love a good pun?
A cousin to above, this genre is exemplified by Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse and Tate Hallaway’s Garnet Lacey. Our heroines aren’t vampires, but they are usually far from mundane. Sookie’s a psychic, Garnet’s a witch, and the occasional seer or werewolf or necromancer will show up in this capacity as well. Funny, at times frightening, often fascinating and fun and full of forbidden romance, these series add a different dimension to the vampire romance canon. But do they still bear the amusing, vampire pun-based titles? Of course!
Often involving a detective or investigator of some kind, our heroines stalk the mean streets in these books, solving largely supernatural crimes. DB Reynolds’ Vampires in America and early Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter are in here; this is one of the more versatile of categories, as even a hint of the Urban Fantasy can turn a Chick Lit series like, say, Katie MacAlister’s light-hearted (and paradoxically-named) Dark Ones into a surprisingly intense experience.
These are the books that dwell lovingly for dozens of pages on things like creamy, satin-smooth skin, flowering femininity and overwhelming, insistent manhoods. The purple prose is only heightened by such considerations as increased vampire strength, stamina and zero need for oxygen. For examples, see J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood or Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark. Tanned, shirtless (often headless) men with diamond-cut abs are the norm on these books’ covers.
Anita Blake fits almost exclusively in here nowadays; Christine Feehan’s Dark Series has always lived here. If you like your sexual encounters with a hint of the felony about them, then these books are for you.
Of course, many vampire-centric series comprise several of these elements, some defy category, and others create categories all their own. But one thing holds true of all of them: these vampires get some play. And still we wonder… why?
Seriously? Why vampires?
In this new ongoing series, we will examine, in loving detail, a different vampire laden universe each week—its mythology, its heroes and heroines, and the disgustingness of its bodily fluid transfer, in an effort to figure it out, once and for all.
Though, to be honest with you, we probably won’t mind too much if we fail…
NEXT TIME: Anita Blake!