In this post-Twilight world, it can be hard to sift through the sheer variety of vampire books out there to find ones that satisfy your specific tastes. Do you prefer urban fantasy vampire stories, or ones with a scientific angle? Are you hungry for books with a horror bite, or those that poke a little fun at the genre's tropes?
Below, we've curated a list of 17 great books from across the broad spectrum of vampire literature that are guaranteed not to—ahem—suck.
To Walk the Night
To the vampires she hunts, Kat is known as 'Lady Death.' But she herself has been cursed with eternal life. Kat the lethal vampire hunter is in fact a vampire herself, turned against her will when she and her brother Thomas were captured during a hunt. Kat was cursed with being a vampire that night, but her brother vanished. Still haunted by her loss and struggling against the new darkness inside her, Kat ruthlessly hunts her own kind to protect Purebloods—humans—from meeting her own fate. But when a vampire count decides to join his house with a powerful werewolf clan, Kat will struggle to suppress her own dark urges while she fights to prevent this deadly merger.
A gritty urban fantasy story with a capable female heroine, To Walk the Night will leave you salivating for the next story in the Kat Redding series.
When Michael left small-town Nebraska to attend prestigious Archangel Academy boarding school in England, he knew he'd be in for a culture shock. That turned out to be an understatement. Now, having discovered his true identity while at Archangel, Michael is an immortal vampire whose destiny is intertwined with an ancient vampire feud. And as his time at Archangel draws to a close, Michael and his group of supernatural friends will face dangers and rivalries they never could have expected. A modern fantasy with a romantic side, Unafraid is the perfect read for anyone who wishes Harry Potter had featured a little more bloodsucking.
After the violence of the Voodoo Wars, the small town of New Arcadia was one of only a handful left standing in the country. But even it isn’t safe from the invasion of the Darkest Others: Vampires. 25-year-old Rae Seddon, known as Sunshine to her family and friends, has a busy life as head baker at her family’s New Arcadian café. Between cinnamon rolls, bakery politics, her mother’s bad moods, and her convenient, long-term relationship with biker Mel, Sunshine doesn’t have a lot of time to indulge her fascination with the Dark Others. But when she heads out to her family’s old lake house for a few moments of deserved solitude and is abducted by a group of vampires, she gets to know them far more intimately than she bargained for. This urban fantasy tale will delight fans of True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is buoyed by Sunshine's distinct, funny narrative voice.
Those Who Hunt the Night
The first book in the Locus Award-winning James Asher series, this Edwardian urban fantasy novel follows Professor James Asher, a former spy enjoying a peaceful retirement after years of dangerous service for the Queen. But Asher’s golden years are rudely interrupted by the demands of Simon Ysidro, oldest of the London vampires. A serial killer has been ripping vampires from their coffins throughout London, and burning them in the light of day. Ysidro blackmails Asher into taking on the case, threatening Asher's wife if the professor fails to comply. But of course, there's really no coming back from being a vampire's detective—once Asher has seen the secrets of London's thirstiest residents, will they ever allow him to be truly free again?
What's more bad-ass than a vampire slayer? A vampire slayer who can manipulate time, of course! In this audacious Dracula re-imagining from Hugo and Nebula Award-winner Brian Aldiss, a horrifying race of highly intelligent predators threatens humanity’s very existence—and inventor Joe Bodeland may be the only one who can stop them. After discovering a means of time travel, Joe commandeers a vampire train and rides it to Victorian England to enlist the aid of a powerful ally: Dracula author Bram Stoker. Together, Stoker and Bodenland team up to defeat Dracula himself, who is intent on killing Stoker before he can write his seminal work. If you're a fan of gothic horror and self-referential sci-fi, this is a truly unique Dracula retelling you won't want to miss.
Hôtel Transylvania is the first book in a long-running historical fantasy series following the exploits of the ancient vampire Saint-Germain, who was turned in his 30s in 2119 BCE. In Hôtel Transylvania, set in France during the reign of Louis XV, our undead hero is known as Le Comte de Saint-Germain, a wealthy French aristocrat. Although Saint-Germain is a sympathetic hero, he still brings danger to the lives of those he cares for. That includes his love interest Madelaine de Montalia, whose connection to le comte makes her a target for Satanist sacrifice (ladies, that should be a dealbreaker). Full of detail that will please fans of historical fiction, and featuring a vampire-with-a-conscience whose lengthy existence gives him a unique outlook on the world, Hôtel Transylvania is a great gateway to the other satisfying tales in the Saint-Germain series.
Conceived of and edited by Bram Stoker Award-winner Jonathan Maberry, V-Wars is an anthology of ‘eyewitness accounts’ and ‘frontline reports’ from the vampire apocalypse, and will particularly thrill fans of Max Brooks' World War Z. After an ancient virus that causes vampire-like symptoms is accidentally released during an Antarctic expedition, humanity must scramble to survive. In this collection of interconnected but unique tales, contributing authors Nancy Holder, Yvonne Navarro, James A. Moore, Gregory Frost, John Everson, Keith R. A. DeCandido, and Scott Nicholson offer gripping accounts of a world spinning towards war and destruction.
The final work sci-fi titan Octavia Butler published during her lifetime, Fledgling is unique in its emphasis on vampire sociology. Like many of Butler’s works, the story follows a woman forced to adapt to unmanageable circumstances. When Shori is found on the side of the road, she appears to be a Black ten-year-old human girl, but in fact she's a 50-something Ina woman. The Ina are a long-living, fast-healing, vampire-like race that have a symbiotic and codependent relationship with humans. Ina need human blood to survive; humans ingest Ina venom to increase their longevity, but withdrawal is fatal. The lone Ina with dark skin, Fledgling follows Shori as she comes to grips with her unique identity.
I Am Legend
If you weren't a fan of the Will Smith adaptation, you should still give Richard Matheson's tense, devastating novel a chance. Robert Neville believes he is the last human alive on Earth. He spends his days staking his undead neighbors and scavenging through post-apocalyptic L.A. for supplies left over by those who passed in the pandemic. He spends his nights barricaded in his home, drinking to drown out the taunts of the vampires outside his door. Although nearly out of his mind with grief, Robert dares to hope and love again, and ultimately turns to science to aid in his fight against the new bloodsucking world order. Apocalypse pro-tip from Richard Matheson: when in doubt, go to your local library.
I’m a sucker for a good vampire story set in New York, and Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain—the inspiration behind the TV series of the same name—delivers all the claustrophobic terror I could possibly want. The first book in a trilogy of the same name, the story begins when a Boeing 757 from Berlin to JFK stops responding on the tarmac. When emergency officials finally enter the dark aircraft, they discover that all but one crew member and three passengers are dead of unknown causes. The CDC’s Doctor Ephraim Goodweather finds himself caught between his responsibilities to his family and his duty to stop an unthinkable pandemic, as one by one the plane’s deceased passengers come back to 'life'—and an ancient evil spreads throughout the five boroughs.
Dead Until Dark
Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries is one of the most consistently enjoyable urban fantasy vampire series out there (and will be familiar to fans of HBO’s far less consistent adaptation, True Blood). The first in the series, Dead Until Dark, introduces Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Humans and vampires co-exist semi-peacefully following The Great Revelation, in which the world's vampire population 'came out of the coffin.' Now, vampires subsist on Tru Blood, a synthetic meal that hypothetically prevents them from turning to humans for blood. When Sookie meets vampire and Civil War veteran Bill Compton while waitressing at Merlotte's Bar and Grill, she realizes that she can’t read his mind. Never having felt that freedom with a man before, Sookie develops a cautious attraction to Bill. When it becomes clear that a vampire serial killer is on the loose—and picking off Sookie’s Bon Temps friends—she enlists his aid to do some investigating of her own.
Another New York vampire story, Already Dead is the first of the Joe Pitt Casebooks, which follow the adventures of nocturnal gumshoe Joe Pitt. A hard-boiled vampyre private eye, Joe has his work cut out for him in Already Dead as he rushes to find patient zero in a zombie epidemic sweeping through New York. Already Dead is a violent, tense urban fantasy noir filled with warring vampire gangs, seedy supernatural creatures, and a genuine affection for New York.
All men must die—even if they're already undead. In 1982, George R.R. Martin penned this moody tale of vampires on the Mississippi. Fevre Dream follows Abner Marsh, a steamboat captain down on his luck in 1857 after the failure of a recent business venture. When wealthy businessman Joshua York offers to finance the construction of the most magnificent steamboat ever seen on the Mississippi in exchange for Abner's services as captain, Abner jumps at the chance. But after the Fevre Dream sets sail, Abner can no longer ignore his suspicions about his strange patron. Joshua and his friends are rarely glimpsed during daylight, and Joshua seems obsessed with mysterious local deaths. Abner finally realizes the unbelievable truth: his dream boat is a floating home base for vampire slayers.
The first in a trilogy, The Passage begins in a near-future where scientists attempting to develop an immune-boosting drug accidentally unleash a horrifying virus on the world. Told partially through primary documents and journal entries, the book then moves nearly a century into the future to explore how humans persist in a world overrun by vampires. Hailed as a vivid fantasy epic by Stephen King, The Passage is a gripping start to a harrowing and hopeful saga.
After an emotional epic like The Passage, you'll probably need a Terry Pratchett palate cleanser! Carpe Jugulum is the 23rd novel in Pratchett’s beloved, delightful Discworld series. King Verence and Queen Magrat of Lancre make the unfortunate mistake of inviting the de Magpyr vampires to the naming ceremony for their first child. Of course, the de Magpyrs then refuse to leave, hypnotizing the court into accepting their new vampire overlords. Only the witches and the Omnian priest Mightily Oats can save the kingdom from the de Magpyrs' odious rule.
Skinwalker is the first title in the dark urban fantasy Jane Yellowrock series, which follows the adventures of Jane, the last of the Cherokee skinwalkers and a vamp killer for hire. Jane, who shares her soul with a mountain lion named "Beast," is in need of a job after taking time off from a work-related injury (read: near-beheading), and heads down to New Orleans for a gig hunting down a rogue, cop-killing vampire.
What if Bram Stoker's Dracula decided to settle down in small-town America? The results would probably look a lot like Stephen King's World Fantasy Award and Locus Award-winning novel, Salem's Lot. Writer Ben Mears returns to his hometown of Jerusalem's Lot, Maine, and begins writing a book about the Marsten House, a local abandoned home where he had a mysterious traumatic experience as a child. The old house has recently been purchased by Kurt Barlow, a reclusive Austrian businessman whose arrival in town coincides with a rash of disappearances and deaths. Coincidence? I think not.
Although Salem's Lot skews more towards straight horror than many of the other titles on this list, urban fantasy fans will still find a lot to enjoy in this story of everyday people caught in a battle with ancient evil. Salem's Lot also serves as a semi-prequel for King's The Dark Tower series, which has more explicit sci-fi and fantasy elements.
This post is sponsored by Open Road Media. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Portalist to celebrate the sci-fi and fantasy stories you love.
This article was originally published on February 17th, 2017.
Featured photo via promotional poster for "The Strain"