I'm about to reveal something about myself that's not particularly surprising but that I tend to hide: I have read the Twilight series. I have owned and read every single one of those books. I was a virgin in high school, but reading Twilight during my junior year gave me my first taste of secret shame sex: the rush of emotion, the insatiable urge to consume it, and then the self-loathing and urge to take a shower and wash myself clean.
Even at 17, I knew that these were not good books, nor were they good for me. I knew Bella was a terrible, antiquated role model, and that Edward — beautiful Edward — was an overly controlling psycho. But although years before I had Buffy, at the time I felt like I had no other vampire story to turn to. I settled for Twilight even though I deserved much better.
If only I had known all of the great vampire stories that were out there, tapping on my window and begging to be let in! (See what I did there?) I compiled some of my favorite vampire tales as an alternative to reading about sparkly monsters and damsels-in-distress. Go ahead: put a stake through Twilight and try one of these novels instead.
Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
You can't go wrong with a classic. Louis, a 200-year-old vampire, tells a human reporter how he came to be a member of the undead. The novel looks at his creation at the hands of the murderous and manipulative Lestat, The two travel together for years, even creating a vampire "daughter," Claudia, to complete their family, but after Claudia attempts to kill Lestat, she and Louis flee to Europe. There, they encounter a number of older vampires who kill their victims in elaborate, theatrical productions in front of a live human audience. Eventually Lestat finds them again, determined to punish Louis and Claudia for their betrayal (in his defense, they did try to kill him twice). This novel spawned a ton of sequels AND a movie with Brad Pitt in it, so it's probably worth checking out.
The Quick by Lauren Owen
This is probably the last vampire novel that I got really, really excited about. Like, call up all my book nerd friends and insist they read it RIGHT NOW excited. The Quick is a tricky vampire story, because for at least the first third of the novel it masquerades as a Victorian homoerotic novel (which I can also totally get behind). Then BAM! Vampires! When Charlotte's brother James disappears after getting involved with a secret London society, she decides that it's up to her to find him. Unfortunately, this society is more powerful (and undead) then she realized. With the help of two unlikely but deadly assassins and a cast of characters featuring a rival vampire gang, this novel will fulfill all of the Victorian era vampire fantasies you didn't know you had.
'Salem's Lot by Stephen King
If your interests run more towards hot vampires and forbidden love affairs, you probably want to take your business elsewhere. This is Stephen King we're talking about, and Stephen King doesn't write swoon-worthy vampiric heroes. Ben Mears, a writer, returns to his childhood home, Jersualem's Lot, Maine. Once there, he learns that the creepy abandoned house that he avoided as a child has a new tenant, which does not bode well for those in 'Salem's Lot that want to keep living. There's nothing suave or brooding about Kurt Barlow; he's a terrifying monster with a taste for children, priests, and everything in between. Mears and a ragtag group of townspeople team up to try to stop the undead, but even if they manage to get rid of Barlow, what are they going to do about the vampire army he's created in the town? Sorry readers, but the first rays of dawn aren't going to do much to save our heroes, so prepare for a somewhat bleak ending.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Two words: vampire librarian. This is pretty much what I aspire to be when I grow up. To attempt to sum up a fairly long and convuluted plot: our unnamed narrator stumbles across a book about Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. The narrator's father, Paul, an academic, reveals that he came across the same book as a grad student, only to have his academic advisor murdered shortly after sharing his discovery with him. Paul is convinced that the death is linked to Dracula, a suspicion that's confirmed when a librarian attacks and bites Helen, his adivsor's daughter, when he tries to speak with her about the book. Paul and Helen then decide to find Dracula's tomb and confront the monster, a quest that carries over into the present day and merges with our narrator's storyline. Adventure, romance, exotic, locales, vampires, libraries: this novel has everything that I hold dear.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Finally, a story about child vampires that doesn't just use the concept to lend The Shining-like creepiness. (We get it, kids are scary. Show us something more interesting!) Oskar is a 12-year-old Swedish boy who has no friends and is constantly getting bullied. Eli is the new "girl" who has moved in next door, though she's not exactly a girl and definitely not human. Eli is a vampire who was turned as a child and castrated, and now relies on his henchman Hakan, a pedophile, to get him enough blood to survive. Oskar and Eli become friends, but after Hakan is accidentally turned into a vampire Eli must protect himself from his former ally, just as Oskar must eventually stand up to the bullies who torment him. A really amazing, original vampire story for anyone who thinks there's nothing new under the sun when it comes to this genre.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Apparently every one of my fangirl friends got obsessed with this book without telling me, which should already be a pretty decent recommendation. Diana Bishop is a professor of alchemical history at Oxford (uhm, can I have this job, please?) who also happens to be from a long line of powerful witches. She's been trying to avoid using her magic, but after accidentally discovering a rare, previous lost magical manuscript she finds herself bombarded by all manner of magical creatures who want to get their hands on the book. Including the sexy vampire-scientist Matthew Clairmont. I know Twilight kind of ruined things for all of us for a while, but repeat after me: "Sometimes it's OK to want sexy vampires." So, if hot, tormented vampires are your thing, do you and give this one a read.
Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
Yup, the Game of Thrones guy is also partial to vampires. Abner Marsh is a riverboat captain on the Mississippi River who enters into a business deal with the mysterious Joshua York. York wants to build the largest, fastest steamboat on the Mississippi, and wants Marsh to captain it... as long as he doesn't ask too many questions about why York and his friends won't leave the cabin during the day. York and his companions are vampires who have created a potion that allows them to live without human blood, and York's goal is free his fellow vampires from their dependence on killing and drinking mankind. But not every vampire wants this, and soon Marsh's ship is getting a lot of unwanted, undead attention...