Note: This post discusses, in detail, Evernight (2008), Mr. Darcy, Vampyre (2009), Sunshine (2003) and Companions of the Night (1995). If you have not read these books and are planning to, you should probably not read this post, since it contains key plot information and spoilers.
In my quest to attempt to understand the new vampire mythos and the flowering of YA vampire novels which has sprung up, I’ve read a few books which readers have identified as departures from the mold (and a few which I’ve identified on my own). I wanted to read these to get a sense of balance, and because I thought that readers who enjoy YA books or who have teenagers interested in vampire books might want some recommendations for books that won’t make you want to tear your eyes out/ears off when you read/listen to them.
What makes a book depart from the mold? Well, pretty much anything that doesn’t revolve around “young broken/innocent human girl meets vampire, is swept away by love, romance romance, the end.” Specifically, I looked for books with role reversals, like human men and vampire women, books with strong female characters, books in which the female characters were friends rather than lovers with the men, and books in which the plot took off in some new and interesting directions.
bme recommended Sunshine by Robin McKinley. This book is a definite departure. It’s written in a very different style from a lot of the vamp books, with a lot of fun and interesting wordplay, set in a world where there are magic users, demons, ordinary humans, and vampires, and the vampires appear to be winning. The book opens with the lead character being abducted by a group of vampires, and the story unfolds in several different directions as she befriends a vampire who is being tormented by other vampires, tries to navigate her life as a budding magic user, and balances all this with her job at the family restaurant as the baker.
A couple of things about this book stand out. One is that although Sunshine does experience romantic feelings for the vampire, they aren’t as creepy as the ones in a lot of vampire romance. She feels personally conflicted and disturbed by them, and recognizes that she identifies with him not because she is swept up by love, but because they are going through something intense together. She’s also a strong character, fully realized, opinionated, and interesting. And I like the way the book opens worlds upon worlds, introducing us to half demons and other grey areas.
This is, perhaps, one of the greatest things about Sunshine. There are grey areas, and we grow through them with our character. She recognizes that the world is not simple and that you can’t make blanket statements or judgments and expect them to be right. All in all, it’s a good read and one I would definitely recommend.
Companions of the Night was recommended by Aoede. It’s an older entry in the new vampire mythos, since it came out in 1995, way before vampires became so hugely trendy. It’s also a reversal of trends; our human female lead is dragged into the world of vampires by accident when she goes to the laundrymat one night, and she ends up helping a vampire who is being tormented by vampire hunters. Something I like about both Sunshine and Companions of the Night is that the books feature a resourceful female lead who helps a vampire, using skills he does not have or cannot access.
I also like that the vamp in this book is pretty amoral. He kidnaps Kerry to get what he wants, and while he attends to her basic needs, he’s definitely not interested in romance, and neither is she. She doesn’t, for example, succumb to his charms while they are hiding in the abandoned subway tunnels one night. She helps him because she recognizes him as another living (well, undead) person who needs help, but the two are clearly not going to be lovers, or even friends, really. Yet, the book is still dynamic and interesting, illustrating that you don’t need romance to drive a story, even a vampire story.
Lonecow recommended Evernight, a book which also breaks the mold in some major ways. I admit it. When I started reading it, I thought “what is Lonecow thinking? This is so formulaic.” But, I waited, and I read, and then bam the story exploded and I went AHA! This is a book with a female vampire lead and a male human love interest! It also takes the basic mythology behind vampires in a new direction, bringing up a lot of questions about choices and how far you are willing to go for love and so forth, but it also incorporates betrayal and heartbreak.
In a way, Evernight mirrors real adolescent experiences, especially for young women. When you’re in your teens, you do discover things about yourself and your body. Even when you think you know what’s going to happen and how, when you actually go through maturing events, they change you in ways you didn’t expect and couldn’t prepare for. Bianca may understand what it is to be a vampire in theory, but actually experiencing it and being faced with real choices is much more difficult.
It’s a bit unfortunate that Lucas, the male love interest, has some stalker tendencies. But, in a way, it’s part of the trend reversal; normally it’s the vampire being stalkery and protective and gross, but in this case, it’s the human. It’s a human mistaking a vampire for another human and mistakenly thinking that he needs to defend her from the evil vampires. And, as it turns out, the human is a bad guy, but not in a simplistic black and white sense, either. I don’t mind stalkery characters so much when it’s actually a deeper exploration and partial refution of the norm; unlike the stalkery gross overprotective vampire love interests in the modern vampire mythos over whom women are supposed to swoon, Lucas is really just a jerk. Whom Bianca can’t seem to quit, but that’s a rant for another day.
Mr. Darcy, Vampyre jumped out at me when I was in the bookstore, so I picked it up, and I really ended up enjoying it. It’s part of the Jane Austen mashup trend, but it’s fresh, and done in a way which manages to avoid doing the hipster -ism to make a funny which makes Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters so grating for me. This book picks up where Pride and Prejudice left off, with Elizabeth being whisked away on a whirlwind European tour by Mr. Darcy. Except that Mr. Darcy has a secret, and we spend the book watching her fit pieces of the puzzle together to figure out that Mr. Darcy is a vampire.
This is where it gets interesting, though. Mr. Darcy decides that their relationship is doomed to fail because they are different. Elizabeth decides she’s ready to be turned to be with him. (Formulaic, right?) Except that, in the end, a cure for vampirism is revealed, and the two characters are left with a choice; should she become a vampire, or should Mr. Darcy become human? He opts to become human, and the two go through a series of trials together to “break the curse.”
I’m not so into the idea of vampirism as a disease which needs to be cured, but at least Mr. Darcy, Vampyre tried to take things in a new direction. As did all of these books. They provided different and much needed perspectives on the vampire romance trend by showing us that there’s more than one way to tell this old, old story.