If this were ‘My Top Ten … Vampire Novels’ I would have to include classics such as Carmilla and Dracula, but I may as well just refer people to David Stuart Davies’s Children of the Night: Classic Vampire Stories. I’m making my life easier and sticking to modern vampire novels, where ‘modern’ essentially means 1976 and after.
If this were ‘My Top Ten … Most Influential Modern Vampire Novels’ then I would probably have to include the Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse series, and maybe Vampire Diaries. I haven’t read these, although I have seen bits on TV. They have their good points, but ultimately they, like most paranormal romance, are very focussed on the vampires as gorgeous, sexy boyfriends. I have nothing against romance in vampire novels, but if the romance takes precedence over the vampiric elements, then it doesn’t work for me.
There are other excellent modern vampire novels, of course. I haven’t read them all. Many of these I haven’t read for years, and so I’m rather vague on details, sorry. As and when I re-read them, I’ll update this page.
Here, in order of publication, and almost the order in which I read them, are my top ten modern vampire novels:
Interview with the Vampire
I don’t know what the first vampire book I ever read was, but Interview with the Vampire certainly stands out. Here were vampires who weren’t creatures of horror to be feared, but rather beautiful, elegant, powerful creatures with real character, vampires you could imagine being, and love being. It opened up a whole new world of imagination. The sequels were good also, but Interview with the Vampire is the only one I have re-read, and the only one I’d care to re-read now.
Note: I have decided not to include Whitley Strieber’s The Hunger (published 1980) in this list, although I do consider it a five-star book, mainly because I love the film rather than the book (see why). Interview with the Vampire presents a similar dilemma, but I loved the book long before the (excellent) film was made.
The Vampire Tapestry
Suzy McKee Charnas
Published December 31st 1980
I couldn’t honestly say whether I read this before or after Interview with the Vampire, but the name Suzy McKee Charnas is one I have never forgotten, even if my memories of her book had faded. I really want to read it again…
Published January 1st 1987
This is one of those books that I read as a teenager and has stuck in my mind ever since. Almost every vampire book I have read since, no matter how good, has failed to capture the raw blood/sex/love/horror blend of this. It was good to read it again recently.
I haven’t read the sequel, Night Life.
Sunglasses After Dark
Nancy A. Collins
This is the urban fantasy that started it all. Sunglasses and its sequels present a world full of all manner of demonic and angelic creatures, and Sonja Blue is the vampire seeking vengeance against her maker. The first two books (Sunglasses After Dark and In the Blood) are an excellent pair, but I feel the series loses something after that. Both on my re-read list.
I have the 1996 edition of this. I suspect it was in a bargain bookstore, which is a shame because I would love to have discovered it three years before… The main character, Dora, is cynical and vindictive, and within five pages of my third re-read I am grinning. I love this book.
From the back cover: A blackly funny vampire novel set in upwardly-mobile London, Suckers takes a caustic bite out of the ‘greed is good’ generation.
Poppy Z. Brite
Published September 10th 1993
I have completely forgotten the plot of this, but I remember that it was intense. Poppy Z. Brite doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects. Ever since reading it, Lost Souls has stuck in my mind as the modern vampire novel.
Given the themes of this blog, I really should give Lost Souls a proper review. Soon, …
Published December 1st 1994
This is a long series of books, and I read only the first seven or so, but it’s full of astonishing and well-developed ideas, and the vampires are truly terrifying. These are vampires as creatures of creeping, mutating horror.
Published February 6th 2006
This is about the search for Dracula, but it’s a very literary quest, cleverly told by different characters in different places (notably Istanbul and Bulgaria) in different time periods through the use of historical accounts and journal entries. This is very much a book for people who love books.
Let the Right One In
John Ajvide Lindqvist
Published August 2nd 2007
Rather than a grand castle in the forest, and a tall, elegant count with persuasive eyes, Let the Right One In is set on a council estate in a suburb of Stockholm. Oskar, the protagonist, is just a twelve-year-old boy caught in an escalating cycle of bullying and retaliation after he makes friends with Eli who moves in next door. Eli’s vampiric need for blood sets in motion a chain of horrific events.
This book is at once sweet and horrific, and is brilliantly written in terms of character and setting. Already it has been adapted into two very similar but excellent movies: Låt den rätte komma in and Let Me In.
Published March 2nd 2009
Skarlet is the first in a trilogy of books about a vampire apocalypse. It starts small, with a nightclub in London full of people poisoned with vampiric essence. Doorman Jake Lawton gets the blame, but he’s a veteran of the Iraq war and is determined to uncover the truth. Soon he, and the city, have to deal with an outbreak of vampires, and a conspiracy of corrupt authorities seeking to raise a vampire god.
It’s a very tense read, almost impossible to put down. Krimson, on the other hand, suffers a little from sequel-itis. (We need bigger monsters! And more of them!) It’s still a tense read, but the tension doesn’t come quite so naturally from the setting. As with all apocalyptic stories, the gradual destruction of society is far more interesting at the beginning when the setting is more familiar and the events more real to us. I haven’t got round to Kardinal yet, but it’s on my reading list.
Thought I’d add links to some other Top Ten … Vampire Books type lists:
- Kevin Jackson’s top 10 vampire novels at The Guardian
- My Top Ten Vampire Books, at Literary Mayhem
- 10 Greatest Vampire Novels of All Time! at Dead in the South
- Best Vampire Books by Nicola Borasinski at Author Attic
- Top Five Underappreciated Vampire Novels by Jody Harkavy
If you have links to other good lists, or just want to state your own Top 10 list, leave a comment…