Monday, May 31, 2010

Vampire Novels Taking a Bite Out of Everyone’s Lists

You can blame the economic downturn for sending readers scurrying for the unreal. Or you could look at Stephanie Meyers or further back and point fingers at Bram Stoker or Anne Rice but, whatever the case, vampires are everywhere this season.

I can’t imagine that there is market enough for all of the books being published with vampiric themes. After all, once bitten, do you really need to go back? But, despite what the sheer volume of titles would indicate, several of these books are actually quite good and a few even add something to the vampire mythos.

Interestingly, in several cases, this latest batch of books introduces vampires with a purpose. Unlike the vampires of yore who supported themselves with very little effort and spent their free time languishing about looking waxen, this latest crop are mostly concerned with vampires making a living, one weird way or another.

Take Christopher Farnsworth’s Blood Oath (Putnam). In Farnsworth’s debut novel he introduces an entirely unexpected protaganist: Nathaniel Cade, a secret agent vampire sworn to protect the President of the United States. (I know, right? There could be useful applications to such a set-up.)

“A presidential vampire, huh?” Someone asks early in Blood Oath. “Is he a Democrat or a Republican?”

“That’s a bit like asking a shark is he want red or white with its meal,” comes the note entirely unpredictable reply.

Farnsworth has said that the germ of thought that began his presidential vampire journey was uncovering an item of history: President Andrew Johnson pardoned an accused vampire in 1867. Farnsworth’s imagination went into overdrive and Nathaniel Cade wasn’t far behind.

Shakespeare Undead (St. Martin’s Griffin) is something of a mash-up -- vampires, zombies and history in one uneven soup. Actually, reimagining William Shakespeare as a vampire is not too big a leap for fiction. After all, the Bard has been accused of all sorts of magical shenanigans in producing his remarkable body of work. In that context, the undead part begins to make sense. The problem is, author Lori Handeland plays it all a bit too much for laughs. We end up with a hilarious romp rather than a thoughtful re-imagining, which somehow manages to make the book feel somewhat pointless.

If gay vampire erotica sounds more like your thing, Michael Schiefelbein’s Vampire Maker (St. Martin’s Press) may well appeal. This is the fourth novel in Schiefelbein’s series featuring the 2000 year old vampire and vampire-maker, former Roman Legionnaire Victor Decimus.

Two of Schiefelbein’s vampire novels -- Vampire Vow and Vampire Thrall -- have been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award. Schiefelbein’s story is present, but I found the writing somewhat florid for my taste (“The priest’s expression became fierce and his eyes showed a consciousness of a surging power within him. He suddenly came at Victor, clutching him by the throat”) but I could certainly understand that working within this sub-genre. And it’s obvious Schiefelbein knows the world he’s created here -- and the rules that must be played by -- very well.

Fans of this series won’t be disappointed by this entry, those new to Schiefelbein’s work might want to step cautiously. There’s more here than meets the eye: and not all readers will be comfortable with that.

Though I’m reluctant to lump it in with the vampire novels -- it really is so much more -- since everyone else is doing so, I’ll mention the about-to-be-blockbuster The Passage (Ballantine) here.

Written by award-winning literary novelist Justin Cronin, whose previous book, The Summer Guest, sold 12,000 copies, word is Ballantine has ordered 250,000 copies of The Passage. Since we tend to judge media push by the number of copies that find their way into the January offices, we know The Passage is getting a big push: the book won’t be out for a week yet and we’ve already seen four copies.

Aside from the hype, though, The Passage is fantastic. A big, commanding epic novel, rights have been sold to 26 countries and film rights were sold in enthusiastic auction to Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions.

The vampire connection here is slight and technologically based. I won’t say too much prior to the the book’s official publication date, other than to tell you that early readers have compared The Passage to works by Stephen King, Michael Crichton and Margaret Atwood. While that’s a little silly -- obviously -- a case can be made in all three instances: King for his understanding of what frightens the human heart; Crichton for his mastery of all things technical and Atwood who is unrivaled at creating post-Apocalyptic worlds that seem distant and yet inhabitable. And, like King and Atwood, Cronin writes so very, very well. The Passage is remarkable.



Post a Comment

<< Home