The history of vampires in literature is extensive and ever-expanding, and it’s no wonder why. The use of the vampiric trope has been used to explore a variety of topics that withstand the test of time, from dreamy romance to explorations of societal norms and values. It is because of the multi-faceted nature of this sub-genre that vampire novels have become so well-loved and pervasive within popular culture.
We’ve reviewed the pantheon of literature, both classic and contemporary, and have selected ten that have proven themselves to be some of the best of their kind.
Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Carmilla follows the young protagonist, Laura, along with her father, who lives in the wilderness of Styria. Twelve years after an original encounter with an unwelcome visitor in which Laura believes she was bitten, the small family is visited in their gothic castle by a young woman by the name of Carmilla. During the extent of her visit, the two girls become increasingly close to one another, interacting in ways that blur the lines between romance and companionship. The longer the mysterious stranger stays within the realm of the family, the more her peculiarities are noticed, and the strange happenings within the manor become unignorable. When past memories of the biting phantom in Laura’s youth begin to resurface, father and daughter are left to navigate the truth behind what they have invited into their home.
This novel, while not as distinct within popular culture, is believed to have influenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula and has gained popularity in the modern age for its homoerotic undertones.
“You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me and still come with me, and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature.”
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula is likely one of the most well-known classic vampire novels of all time, having been adapted countless times into films and TV series, as well as influencing the formation of many of the books on this list. The epistolary novel, published in 1897, recounts the story of Count Dracula, a nobleman residing in Transylvania who terrorizes the public with his vampiric deeds.
Though the novel has no one protagonist in particular, the reader is able to explore Stoker’s depictions of good and evil through the point of view of English Lawyer Jonathan Harker and his nightmarish encounters with the Count.
“No man knows till he experiences it, what it is like to feel his own life-blood drawn away into the woman he loves.”
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Following the death of his brother, protagonist and plantation owner Louis de Pointe du Lac is left to grapple with his own mortality. In meeting a vampire by the name of Lestat, Louis is turned into his immortal companion, experiencing both the awe and anguish that come along with immortality. As the title implies, the novel takes the form of Louis’ account of his experience as a vampire to a young reporter and serves as a warning for what an immortal life truly entails.
“God kills, and so shall we; indiscriminately He takes the richest and the poorest, and so shall we; for no creatures under God are as we are, none so like Him as ourselves, dark angels not confined to the stinking limits of hell but wandering His earth and all its kingdoms.”
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Stephen King’s second novel delves into the world of Jerusalem’s Lot, a small town in Maine in which writer Ben Mears returns to write a novel surrounding his early childhood years. As the death toll around Jerusalem’s Lot begins to increase, Ben and others must band together to combat the increasing power of vampires before their detrimental effects are irreversible.
“What was he doing, coming back to a town where he had lived for four years as a boy, trying to recapture something that was irrevocably lost? What magic could he expect to recapture by walking roads that he had once walked as a boy and were probably asphalted and straightened and logged off and littered with tourist beer cans?”
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Historian is a novel that arches over multiple genres and can be classified as equal parts gothic, adventure, and detective fiction. Inspired by the tales Kostova was told in her youth, her novel is an example of yet another vampiric narrative told through the epistolary form, composed of diary entries, documents, and more. The story is woven through multiple time periods with characters that are connected through their encounter with a book that reveals the lore of Dracula and leads to the characters’ discovery of how their personal pasts and that of the infamous vampire are linked.
“The very worst impulses of humankind can survive generations, centuries, even millennia. And the best of our individual efforts can die with us at the end of a single lifetime. It touched me to be trusted with something terrible.”
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
Trigger Warning: Please read the CWs/TWs prior to purchasing.
Fledgling follows a black female vampire in her attempts to uncover the truth of her identity in order to protect herself and put an end to those who are trying to cause her harm. In writing this novel, Octavia E. Butler composed a powerful allegory for the power of racism and white supremacy, melding real-life issues with the common tropes found in vampiric literature. The novel invokes a familiarity within the reader that, through its unique social lore, is subversive enough to stand out against its counterparts.
“All I need is fresh human blood when I’m healthy and everything’s normal. I need fresh meat for healing injuries and illnesses, for sustaining growth spurts, and for carrying a child.”
Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda
Woman, Eating is a modern vampiric novel surrounding a young woman, Lydia, and her struggle to balance both her vampiric desires and her desire to be a good person. The novel dives into compelling and relatable issues, such as coming of age in a world where one feels ostracized or separated from their peers. Khoda beautifully weaves in what it means to be a twenty-something-year-old on the precipice of adulthood while also touching on issues of parental trauma, self-loathing, and guilt, making Woman, Eating a perfect modern adaptation of the vampire novel.
“People — aging and mortal — are like flowers, seasonal, wilting and finite; while I’m like a tree. I’m not really sure what I am anymore, though- wether I’m a monster or wether I’m just a woman, or both.”
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Is it impossible to make a list of the top vampire novels of all time without including Twilight? Whether you are a fan or not, the impact that this paranormal teen drama has had in popular culture is undeniable, having sold over 160 million copies worldwide. If, by some chance, you have managed to escape the well-known Twilight craze, let me offer a quick introduction.
The Twilight Saga is a collection of four books in the fantasy genre that follow the main character, Bella Swan. When Bella leaves her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, to live with her father in Forks, Washington, she quickly falls in love with local vampire Edward Cullen. The series tells of her involvement within both the vampire and werewolf communities of Forks and the drama that ensues.
“Even more, I had never meant to love him. One thing I truly knew – knew it in the pit of my stomach, in the center of my bones, knew it from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, knew it deep in my empty chest – was how love gave someone the power to break you.”
A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson
As Constanta lies alone on the brink of death, she is rescued by none other than Dracula himself. She soon becomes his bride, and we learn about her experiences within Dracula’s estate in retrospect through letters she addresses to him. However, the secrets her husband keeps alter Constanta’s perception of him and force her to find comfort in her husband’s other companions. This story follows Constanta in her struggle between the man she loves and a life free from his control.
“War is the whetstone that grinds down all sense, all humanity. I will render you as you really were, neither cast in pristine stained glass or unholy fire. I will make you into nothing more than a man, tender and brutal in equal measure, and perhaps in doing so I will justify myself to you.”
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
This romantic fantasy blends the academic and the magical as we follow the main character and witch, Dr. Diana Bishop, as she navigates her identity and lineage. When Diana meets the mysterious and handsome vampire Matthew Clairemont, she embarks on a journey of embracing the powers that are rightfully hers through birth. In the midst of this self-discovery, the two fall for one another, creating a narrative in which two people must battle opposing forces in order to be together.
“If the butterfly wings its way to the sweet light that attracts it, it’s only because it doesn’t know that the fire can consume it.”
Vampire literature has only increased in publication output as time has continued. We have an innate fascination with the mythical creature with human appearances. Whether it’s due to the human condition, existential inquiries, or just the way in which these prolific writers continue to make us fall in love with monsters, the simple fact is we love vampires.
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