There’s just something about being a teenager and loving vampires and Goth culture. Maybe it’s all that romantic, tragic, blood-sucking sensuality that surrounds these batty night dwellers. I mean, they ARE monsters, but usually good looking, brooding, broken-hearted monsters that pull at your heartstrings as much as they frighten you. And in my experience, no one can better understand the pain of a broken heart or the power of a good scare more than teens. While some of the titles listed below are good old vamp classics, I also hope this list introduces you to some new neck-biting fiends, uh, friends. So go ahead, light some candles, put on your darkest Nine Inch Nails or Cure album and sink your teeth into these very vampiric reads!
Imagine waking up after a party to discover that all your friends are dead—except your jerky ex-boyfriend. Tana can’t believe that somehow a pack of illegal vampires not only wiped out most of her social circle, but that they then left her sleazy ex-boyfriend Aiden tied to a bed as snack for one of their own named Gavriel. Tana ends up escaping the awakening vampire hoard with both Aiden and the weakened vampire Gavriel, but in the process is scraped by an errant vamp fang. Worried that she and bitten Aiden are now Cold (a state of blood-hungry limbo between humanity and full on vampirism) Tana has no choice but to drive them all to the nearest Coldtown–walled cities that legally contain vampires and the humans who feed them. There she becomes drawn into a dark plot to destroy one of the most powerful vampires of all time, while becoming dangerously attracted to the moody, broody, and quite possibly insane Gavriel. This complex, richly characterized horror show is no Twilight, people. The near future setting is a chillingly real amalgamation of high Victorian camp and social media mania where I could see the imaginary Coldtowns all too clearly. Holly Black takes the tired blood sucker genre and pumps it up to a new level with atmospheric writing like the following platelet passage that, well, if you’ll allow me, makes your blood sing. “The scent of it was iron and basements and losing baby teeth so her big-girl teeth could come in. It was skinned knees and Gavriel’s mouth on hers. It was smeared walls and staring eyes.” You’ll want to make this one your first back to school read when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you!
I thought I was done with the played out vampire genre, and then this beastly little beauty walked into my life. Creator Scott Snyder and the legendaryStephen King have penned a new breed of vampire, one who can walk in the sun and was born to wreak havoc from the day he was “born” by the rough rails of the Old West. Skinner Sweet (who Rafael Albuquerque has drawn to look like a bargain basement Brad Pitt from Legends of the Fall) was a notorious bank robber in the 1880’s who was known for his brutality and love of candy. But it was when he crossed paths with some pale European gentleman that he REALLY got fangerous. These dudes were businessmen vamps who tried to teach Sweet a lesson when he robbed their train, but they were the ones who ended up getting schooled when Sweet didn’t die. Instead, he evolved into something entirely new: an American Vampire, unique in his ability to feed in direct sunlight. Now it’s 1925 and Sweet has kept those old school vampires on the run for a few decades by popping up again every time they think they’ve buried him for good. And he’s added a new wrinkle: showgirl Pearl, who he has decided to turn into the second American vampire just for fun after she nearly dies from a night out with the European bloodsuckers. How will these two new creatures change the face of the young country? Only time will tell, and good thing these two have an eternity to find out! Now listen up, teen peeps. This horror comic, written for adults, is way more True Blood than Vampire Diaries. It’s graphic, gruesome and truly gory, not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. In other words, if the only vampire you’ve ever met is of the Edward Cullen variety, then Skinner Sweet is probably NOT for you. But if you’re looking for some scary sour to take the edge off all that stale Halloween candy sweet, then this insomnia-inducing, spooktacular GN might be just what the Dr. Frankenstein ordered.
What if your adolescent baby fat turned out to be a permanent situation? That’s our dude Doug’s issue. He’s fifteen and pudgy, and now that he’s been turned into a vampire, he’s destined to be fifteen and pudgy forever. He’s also dealing with his clueless best friend Jay’s complete lack of social skillz and an impossible crush on a gorgeous Indian exchange student named Sejal. And then there’s that nagging itch in his gums that says his fangs are out and it’s time to feed. The problem is, because of his lack of Edward-Cullen sparkle, Doug’s having a hard time getting close enough to a girl to kiss her, let alone take a sip from her jugular. So he’s reduced to sinking his fangs into the local dairy cows, but that’s like hitting Mickey D’s when you really want filet mignon. Doug’s gonna have to figure out how get some high octane Type O pronto, or his vampire a** is grass. Adam Rex’s first teen novel reminds me a lot of funnyman Christopher Moore’s paranormal comedies. I laughed my way through Doug & Jay’s serious awe at attending their first Comic Con (“…this goblin market at the nexus of all realities where a circa 1980s Iron Man and an original 1963 Iron Man and Naruto and Sherlock Holmes could all be waiting for the same bathroom. Would it convey the scale of the thing to know that there was a person who elected to dress as the Kool-Aid Man? Would it convey it better to know there were two?”) and their run-in with some hecklers at a Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight showing. At first I thought I was reading a nerderiffic anti-Twilight. But Rex shifts gears about half way through as Doug starts to come into his own as a vamp. The jokes get a little darker around the edges as Doug tries to hold on to his goofy humanity as his heart relentlessly grows colder and colder. This two-for-the-price-of-one comedy angst-fest comes with an out-of-the-box ending that’ll either leave you shaking your head or cheering on Rex’s refusal to be nailed down when it comes to deciding Doug’s fate. Either way, I’d love to know what you think–please come back and post! (And can we give it up for what just might be the best cover art of the year?!)
Something’s rotten in the halls of Nighshade High, and to junior sleuth Daisy Giordano, it smells suspiciously like the undead! For Daisy, fighting the powers of darkness is nothing new—after all, her mother works for the police as a psychic investigator, and her big sisters Poppy and Rose employ their abilities of telekinesis and mind-reading respectively whenever mom needs some assistance. The only “normal” in the family is Daisy, who’s determined to show her sibs that she has crime-fighting talents, too—even if they are just your average surveillance-and-stakeout skills. Members of the Nightshade High cheerleading team are suddenly falling prey to a mysterious illness that leaves them wasted and, well, CHEERLESS. Prime suspect is head cheerleader Samantha Devereaux, who seems to have caught a serious case of O-My-Goth over the summer, trading her pink & green prepster duds and Jansport backpack for black fishnets and a tiny, made to order wheelie coffin. Has Samantha turned into a jealous vampire draining the cheerleaders of their vital peppiness? Or is there a more sinister force at work? To find out, Daisy will have to join the squad and date football hottie (and son of the police chief) Ryan Mendez—all in the name of solving the case, of course. And if she happens to fall in love on the way? Well, that’s just one of the unexpected bonuses of being “dead”icated to your job! This lil’ bit of fuschia-colored fluff was an enormously satisfactory way to wile away a Sunday afternoon, and chock-full of entertaining lines like these: “She was a soul-sucking vampire and I was a sixteen-year-old cheerleader, but I was damned if she was going to suck the life out of my friends. High school is hard enough!” It is indeed, but fun stories like this make infinitely more bearable. Follow the further adventures of Daisy and Co. in Dead Is a State of Mind and Dead is So Last Year.
Whatever you do, don’t call them “vampires.” Why, they’re nothing like those cartoon-ish pasty-faced blood-suckers who hiss and turn into bats. Cole and his crew may be immortal and allergic to sunlight, but that’s about all they share in common with the murderous undead who haunt every strip mall multiplex screen. Instead, they call themselves “hemovores,” blood-eaters who got that way from a “smart virus” that rewired their systems to crave hemoglobin instead of hamburgers. Quiet and subtle, hemovores revere the humans they feed on, realizing that they would soon die without their life-giving blood. Now Cole, who after centuries still hasn’t fully adjusted to the hemovore life himself, must teach newly turned Gordon how to get around after dark. The best place to do that is the open road, where a new town every night guarantees that no one notices if a feed goes wrong. Except Gordon’s not exactly the most cooperative student. And, despite the decades under his belt, Cole is hardly a patient teacher. So when these two take a road trip together along with Cole’s wise-cracking friend Sandor, nothing goes as planned, and before long these hemovores are on the run—from each other. A moody and broody look at what it means to live (and drive) forever, this is the perfect choice for that next long car trip with your parents that feels ENDLESS.
Somewhere in the deep woods of seventeenth-century Eastern Europe, Peter and his father Tomas, woodcutters by trade, settle down on the outskirts of a tiny village called Chust. Peter is grateful to finally have a place to call home, as most of his short life he has traveled from town to town with his alcoholic and silent father, who never seems to want to stay in one place for too long and refuses to give an explanation why. But as fall turns into winter, Chust is gripped with terror as bodies begin to litter the snowy landscape, bodies of friends and neighbors that have been horribly mutilated. Soon the suspicious villagers are whispering that maybe the murderers are the woodcutter and his son. After all, they are new to the village, and the killings didn’t start until after they arrived. Peter is frightened, but his father is strangely unmoved, calling the villagers superstitious fools. Does Tomas know more than he’s telling about the brutal murders? What followed Peter and his father to the remote village? And can it be stopped from fulfilling its bloody destiny? Peter believes the answers lies in the large, weather-beaten box that Tomas refuses to allow him to open–a box long enough to hold a sword…Brit author Marcus Sedgwick manages to write an entire terrifying historical novel about the mythological European origins of the blood sucking undead without once using the “V” word. His fascinating story is full of interesting tidbits of forgotten folklore, like the Nunta Mortului, or The Wedding of the Dead. If a young unmarried man dies in his prime, his corpse is “married” to the oldest village girl, who must live in isolation for forty days as she “mourns” him and is considered a widow forever after. A deliciously horrible ritual that I can only guess Sedgwick uncovered in his research of the oldest vampire legends of eastern Europe. But even if folklore isn’t your thing, how can you resist one of the best opening lines ever? “When he fell for the fifth time, when his face plunged into the deep snow, when his hands burnt from the cold but he didn’t care…the woodcutter knew he was going to die.” Can you say, “BRRRRRRRR!” times a thousand? This book screams to read, in more ways than one!
Romanian Lord Radu Arisztidescu, (vampire royalty in his country, but a seller of beer in ours) owns and operates the Last Stop quickie-mart. Keeping good help is hard, so Radu just bites himself a new undead employee when he needs a fresh pair of hands to unload the milk and rotate the hot dogs. Enter Dave, Lord Radu’s latest convenience store wage-slave, and reluctant vampire. Dave just can’t seem to get the hang of the bloodsucker-gig. He hates night shifts, and the sight and smell of fresh plasma makes him gag. So he spends his evenings ogling the hot Goth girls who frequent the nightclub next door, and snacking on Radu’s underground blood beer and beef jerky made out of you-don’t-want-to-know-what. He’s in love with a human Goth princess named Rosa, but between trying hide his pesky fang condition and fending off her other suitors, namely a studly vampire surfer named Wes and a bisexual human Goth named Alistair, Dave’s in over his hemoglobin. What’s a bat boy to do? Can Dave learn to overcome his Type-O revulsion in order to up his vampire strength so he can trounce muscle-bound Wes and win Rosa’s hand? Or is he doomed to an eternity of nursing his lonely heart while ringing up cigarettes and pulling Slurpees? It’s hard to believe that anyone could create anything new from the tired old vampire genre, but Abel (of La Perdida fame), Soria and Pleece have done it with this funny, sexy, scary graphic novel that is equal parts Clerks, Buffy, and Revenge of the Nerds. Although this GN has some moments of real fright, it’s mostly just real funny–especially when Dave’s master Lord Radu comes on the scene. How can you do anything but howl with laughter when Radu, sporting a Tom Selleck ‘stache and some serious chest hair says stuff like “Dave, Dave, Dave…vhat am I do viss you? I give you geeft of eternal life, I promote you to assistant manager, and ziss iss how you repay? By not punching out on break?” God, I love this GN.
Think about this: there are places in Alaska that, due to rotation of the earth, don’t see a sunrise for at least a month in the very dead of winter. And this winter, the dead are going to take advantage of it! The underground network of vampires has discovered the small town of Barrow, Alaska, where for 30 days every year, there is nothing but darkness. It’s feeding time unless the very clever sheriff and his police officer wife can come up with a plan to outsmart the bloodsuckers. Fabulously gruesome and wonderfully gory, with blood that splatters across the page like a Jackson Pollack painting, this is NOT a graphic novel to read without every light in the house ablaze. I think I’ve finally found something that rivals Salem’s Lot as one of the scariest vampire books I have ever read. (But you can skip the movie–it sucks, and NOT in a good way!)
An Open Letter to Stephenie Meyer:
Dear Ms. Meyer,
In all the years that I have been writing Reading Rants, I have never received as much email about a title as I have about your debut novel, Twilight. Your story of star-crossed lovers, one human, one vampire, has been so embraced by teen readers everywhere, that they have let me know, in no uncertain terms, how extremely remiss I am in not having posted a review of Twilight on Reading Rants. So here it is, for those of you vampire lovers who haven’t already devoured it (and the voluminous sequels, New Moon, Eclipse, & Breaking Dawn).
Bella Swan loves the sun, but she loves her dad more, so she agrees to come live with him in his perpetually rainy abode in Washington State. There, she meets gorgeous, brooding Edward Cullen, for whom the rainy climate is perfect. You see, Edward and his family are all vampires and tend to turn translucent in sunlight (as opposed to shrivel into smoldering ash), which can be difficult to explain, hence his frequent absences from school when the weather’s fine. Luckily for Bella, who has fallen head over heels for the stunning bloodsucker, Edward and his clan only hunt animals, not people. But the teen lovers are forced to keep their ardent kisses in check, because as Edward’s Bella-lust begins to rise, so does his bloodlust, and the chances that Bella will suffer more than just your run-of-the-mill hickey. The two manage to balance their unusual relationship until a roving band of real bloodsuckers invades Edward’s family’s territory and threaten Bella. Can Edward overcome his natural desires to save Bella? Or will the new vampires cause him to cross over to the dark side? Lushly written and hauntingly atmospheric, you’ll want to follow up this read with Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, and The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause.