This list of under-the-radar vampire novels is sponsored by Carmilla by Kim Turrisi from KCP Loft.
An adaptation of Shaftesbury’s award-winning, groundbreaking queer vampire web series of the same name, Carmilla mixes the camp of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the snark of Veronica Mars, and the mysterious atmosphere of Welcome to Nightvale.
When I was in high school, like many teenagers, I became fascinated with vampires. I was a weird kid (shocking, I know), and over the course of many years, I amassed a collection of about 200 vampire novels. This was during the Interview with a Vampire heyday, pre-Twilight and True Blood. Dark Shadows, the vampire soap opera (it’s a real thing, look it up!) had just been remade, and Francis Ford Coppola released his version of Dracula (in which he gifted us Tom Waits as Renfield).
Part of it, for me, was discovering the many, many, many different ways authors told a vampire story. Some drank human blood, some drank animal blood. Some could go in the sun, some weren’t affected by garlic or holy water. Some were only hypothetical vampires. There were endless variations.
I outgrew my vampire phase and donated most of those books to Goodwill 15 years ago. (They must have been so freaked out, LOL.) But I still remember a few that blew my mind, that you don’t often hear mentioned, or that only die-hard vampire enthusiasts have read. For instance, Sunshine by Robin McKinley has 34,044 reviews on Goodreads, yet most of the general public still hasn’t heard of it. And compared to Twilight (4,403,361 reviews), Dracula (806,264 reviews), and Interview with a Vampire (438, 931 reviews), them’s small potatoes.
So here are 12 vampire books I have read and loved over the years that I think deserve more attention, even if it’s only from vampire enthusiasts. They deserve to be read because they don’t suck.
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
Unholy cats, this is probably my favorite vampire novel, because it combines two of my favorite things: vampires and Jack the Ripper. Newman puts forth the very fun idea that Jack the Ripper was actually a vampire hunter. I love chocolate in my peanut butter! There are four books in this series, but I have only read this one, because why improve on perfection?
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This is a kick-ass story about gangs of vampires, descended from the Aztecs, fighting it out on the streets of Mexico City. Ana is a cop who winds up in the middle of it while following the trail of bodies.
Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon
This is an epistolary novel, told through a case file of George Smith kept by Dr. Philip Outerbridge. Smith, an American soldier, was transferred to the military psychiatric clinic after a problem with a superior officer. And let’s just say good old George has some other problems, too.
The Quick by Lauren Owen
For being called The Quick, this novel moves verrrrry slowly. But I think that’s what is beautiful about it. The first part is about a Victorian friendship between a poet and an aristocrat, and then the second covers the poet’s disappearance and his sister’s search for the truth. I wish it had received more attention so there would be a second one, because I think it’s absolutely worth the time.
The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman
What’s scarier than big vampires? Child vampires. And what’s scarier than that? Child vampires who feed on their own. In 1978 NYC, Joey Peacock has it made, using his youthful looks to feed as much as he wants, until he discovers a gang of young vampires who are interested in him.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Originally released as an adult novel but now packaged as YA, this is a fantastic novel about a young woman named Sunshine who is chained in the basement of a decaying mansion by vampires. Her only companion is another prisoner, a vampire named Constantine, who she will have to trust if she wants to survive.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
This lesbian classic is about an escaped slave named Gilda who is turned into a vampire by two women in a brothel in 1850s Louisiana and spends the next 200 years trying to decide where she fits in. Read it now before the television series airs!
Vampire$ by John Steakley
Okay, so it has been MANY years since I read this one, and I can’t promise that it isn’t dated, but I really loved it when I read it. It’s about a gang of vampire hunters for hire. It was also made into a really bad John Carpenter film, but at least Mark Boone Junior was in it. (Also, with a last name like Steakley, I think you are legally obligated to write about vampires.)
Fledgling by Octavia Butler
I feel like everyone always talks about Butler’s Parable of the Sower, but Fledgling is my favorite. It’s about a young amnesiac girl who discovers the disturbing truth about herself: she is in fact a genetically modified 53-year-old vampire. She seeks to discover where she came from and to hide from those who wish to destroy her.
Vlad by Carlos Fuentes
Another Mexico City–based vampire novel! This one is a kind of Dracula retelling, about a lawyer asked to help find a suitable place for his employer’s good friend, Count Vladimir Radu, who will be arriving in the city soon.
The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas
In this one, the vampire in question is an anthropology professor. And instead of being “turned” into a vampire, his condition is biological, and he feeds on blood stolen from labs.
Vampire Hunter D by Hideyuki Kikuchi
And this is another one that has been around for soooo long. I haven’t read it or watched it since high school. It’s about the end of a vampire-dominated world in 12,090 A.D. and the remaining humans attempts to start civilization over again.
Also In This Story Stream
- 9 Vampire Novels With a Unique Twist
- The Evolution of Vampires
- 7 Wonderfully Diverse Vampire Novels
- 4 Takes on Non-Western Vampires
- Lesbian Representation in the Vampire Classic CARMILLA
- How Teaching 6th Grade Made Me Unconditionally and Irrevocably Love TWILIGHT
- The Best Vampire Adaptations
- The Vampire as Sexual Predator in LOOK FOR ME BY MOONLIGHT
- Always Gold, Never Silver: Wealth, Art, and Vampires