Vampire fiction that doesn’t suck: Where to start reading

If you know anything about me then you know I love vampire fiction. Ever since I picked up Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition at the tender age of fourteen, I’ve been obsessed with the undead rulers of the night. I’ve written more than a couple of books about the undead myself with Straight Outta Fangton being my primary series. However, there is a lot of trashy vampire fiction.

I mean, a lot.

That isn’t to say that vampires are themselves a concept meant to be reserved for the dust bin or guilty pleasures. It also isn’t to say that trashy fiction isn’t something that can be enjoyed for its own sake. I read at least one book of literary fiction per year. Every year, I also read a hundred books or more books that you could drive a truck through the plot holes of. Guess which I enjoy more?

Here are some of the best vampire books I’ve read and a good place to start reading if you want “good” books about the undead. It leaves off some gems and doesn’t include a lot of my favorites. However, if I were to dump my forty-years of vampire reading in your lap then you’d probably run screaming for the sun.

10. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Grady Hendrix is a master of writing throw-back novels to the Eighties. One of these is a sort of Stranger Things for adults where a vampire comes to a small Southern town that reminds me a good deal of my own in the worst ways. The middle aged women have to deal with class and sexism plus their own privilege as the vampire predominately preys on the poor African American portion of town. A lot darker than expected and genuinely horrifying places.

You can read our review here.

The book

Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on her endless to-do list. The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. At these meetings they’re as likely to talk about the Manson family as they are about their own families.

One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor’s handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well traveled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind-and Patricia has already invited him in.

Little by little, James will insinuate himself into Patricia’s life and try to take everything she took for granted-including the book club-but she won’t surrender without a fight in this blood-soaked tale of neighborly kindness gone wrong.

Read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

9. Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

Bloodsucking FiendsThe only comedy on this list, Christopher Moore’s classic story of a young yuppie woman’s transformation into one of the undead and her younger idiot lover is one of my all-time favorites. I learned a lot about writing comedy from Christopher Moore and these books are hilarious. The book hasn’t aged 100% well with some issues regarding race and consent but it is still something I strongly recommend. Jody the Vampire is also someone who has a rare reaction to being dead: “This is awesome!”

The book

Jody never asked to become a vampire. But when she wakes up under an alley Dumpster with a badly burned arm, an aching back, superhuman strength, and a distinctly Nosferatuan thirst, she realizes the decision has been made for her.

Making the transition from the nine-to-five grind to an eternity of nocturnal prowlings is going to take some doing, however, and that’s where C. Thomas Flood fits in. A would-be Kerouac from Incontinence, Indiana, Tommy (to his friends) is biding his time night-clerking and frozen-turkey bowling in a San Francisco Safeway. But all that changes when a beautiful undead redhead walks through the door…and proceeds to rock Tommy’s life–and afterlife–in ways he never thought possible.

Read Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

8. This is my Blood by David Niall Wilson

Stoker award winning author David Niall Wilson tackles the age old subject of “What if Jesus was a vampire?” Oh, wait, that’s only something stoners talk about. Besides, it’s not entirely accurate as it’s actually Mary Magdalene. You may or may not like combining religion and horror but the Devil creates a vampire to tempt Jesus and she proceeds to Forrest Gump her way through the final days of Rabbi Joshua ben Joseph’s life.

Read our review here.

The Book

First published in 1999, This is My Blood is David Niall Wilson’s first and most important novel. It is a retelling of the gospel from a very different perspective. When Jesus goes into the desert and is tempted by the devil, there is one temptation added. One of the fallen is raised as a woman to tempt him with the flesh. Instead, the woman, named Mary of Magdalene, falls in love with Jesus and his promise of returning her to Heaven.

Cursed to follow him and drink the blood of his followers, Mary walks a fine line between her desire to love and support the Christ, and her burning need to return to Heaven. This novel takes the world of faith, which was the world of men, and of the apostles, and shows it through the eyes of a fallen angel – one who has, in her own words, walked the roads of both Heaven, and Hell. She doesn’t believe there is a God…she knows.

Faithful to the storyline of the original gospels, only weaving in new things when there are gaps in the old, this is a novel of faith, redemption, and ultimate sacrifice.

Read This is my Blood by David Niall Wilson

7. Sunglasses after Dark by Nancy A. Collins

Sunglasses after Dark I had to pick at least one book that occupied the urban fantasy genre and it was a doozy. There’s a lot of knock offs and some really good originators. Sunglasses after Dark is my favorite, though. A young woman becomes a vampire and finds herself in a world where every corner hides a monster of some sort. Sonya Blue remains enigmatic on the page even as she prefers to feed on her fellow monsters rather than normal humans. She does make an exception every now and then, though.

The book

One spring night in London, heiress Denise Thorne disappears while partying at a nightclub, never to be seen again. That very same night, Sonja Blue, a tough-as-nails punk vampire/vampire-slayer, conceived in terror and blood, is borne from the city’s gutters. Saved by modern medicine before she could die, she is a living vampire who still possesses a soul and is determined to fight for what remains of her humanity. In the years since her bizarre resurrection, Sonja Blue travels the globe, hunting down and disposing of those creatures that prey on the innocent while searching for the vampire Noble who created her. But when she investigates a sleazy televangelist named Catherine Wheele, who is exploiting Denise Thorne’s parents, Sonja finds herself up against a powerful inhuman adversary. But as dangerous as Catherine Wheele proves to be, Sonja’s greatest foe remains the Other, the demonic personality with whom she is locked in a constant battle for control of their shared body. Can Sonja Blue overcome her inner demon in time to rescue an innocent man from Catherine Wheele’s unholy clutches?

Read Sunglasses after Dark by Nancy A. Collins

6. Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Fledgling by Octavia E. ButlerOctavia Butler is rightly one of the most celebrated writers out there and this is a fantastic example why. Shori is a young Ina who wakes up amnesiac with a cave and a powerful appetite. The book is brilliant with its deconstruction of many vampire myths and how weird as well as creepy their relationships would be with their human servants. Race plays a big role but in a subdued way that highlights the inherent silliness of prejudice based upon it.

The book

This is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly unhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted-and still wants-to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself.

Read Fledgling by Octavia Butler

5. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

'Salem's Lot by Stephen KingOne of the greatest of Stephen King’s works, he manages to tell a vampire story that restores a great deal of their terror by simply re-telling the original Dracula tale in the modern day without any of the flourishes. When a mysterious stranger arrives in the titular town, it proceeds to spread pestilance and horror among the town while increasing its number of minions. Its just, unlike Dracula, Barlow is far-far more successful than turning just Lucy Westernra.

Read out review here.

The book

Salem’s Lot is a small New England town with the usual quota of gossips, drinkers, weirdos and respectable folk. Of course there are tales of strange happenings – but not more than in any other town its size.

Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer, returns to the Lot to write a novel based on his early years, and to exorcise the terrors that have haunted him since childhood. The event he witnessed in the house now rented by a new resident. A newcomer with a strange allure. A man who causes Ben some unease as things start to happen: a child disappears, a dog is brutally killed – nothing unusual, except the list starts to grow.

Soon surprise will turn to bewilderment, bewilderment to confusion and finally to terror . . .

Read Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

4. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

Anna Dracula by Kim Newman“What if Dracula won?” is the central conceit of Kim Newman’s book along with the lesser idea of, “What if every character from Victorian fiction all lived together in one shared universe?” Anno Dracula has Dracula as the ruler of the British Isles after marrying Queen Victoria and turning most of the aristocracy into his undead slaves. Jack the Ripper has started killing vampire prostitutes, though, and there’s quite a bit of confusion over whether this is a bad thing or not.

The book

It is 1888 and Dracula has married Queen Victoria and turned a large percentage of the English population into the undead.

Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction (Dr Jekyll, Oscar Wilde, Swinburne, John Jago), the novel tells the story of vampire Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders.

Read Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

3. Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

Fevre Dream by George R.R. MartinThe Antebellum South is the perfect place for vampires to exist and multiple series have recognized this. After all, there are few places where the metaphor of a monstrous ruling class preying on those enslaved to them fits more aptly. Fevre Dream is about a luxury steamboat plying the rivers of the Deep South during this period. It also, unsurprisingly, has vampires in it.

The book

Abner Marsh has had his dearest wish come true – he has built the Fevre Dream, the finest steamship ever to sail the Mississippi. Abner hopes to race the boat someday, but his partner is making it hard for him to realise his ambition.

Joshua York put up the money for the Fevre Dream, but now rumours have started about the company he keeps, his odd eating habits and strange hours.

As the Dream sails the great river, it leaves in its wake one too many dark tales, until Abner is forced to face down the man who helped to make his dreams become reality.

Read Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

2. Necroscope by Brian Lumley

A strange story about a man with the ability to talk to the dead and borrow their abilities. After dealing with a Russian spy who murdered his mother, protagonist Harry finds himself in a secret war against the Wamphyri. It is a very strange and fun series with some truly great writing.

The book

Harry Keogh is the man who can talk to the dead, the man for whom every grave willingly gives up its secrets, the one man who knows how to travel effortlessly through time and space to destroy the vampires that threaten all humanity.

In Necroscope, Harry is startled to discover that he is not the only person with unusual mental powers–Britain and the Soviet Union both maintain super-secret, psychically-powered espionage organizations. But Harry is the only person who knows about Thibor Ferenczy, a vampire long buried in the mountains of Romania–still horribly alive, in undeath–and Thibor’s insane offspring, Boris Dragosani, who rips information from the souls of the dead in a terrible, ever-lasting form of torture.

Somehow, Harry must convince Britain’s E-Branch that only by working together can they locate and destroy Dragosani and his army of demonic warriors–before the half-vampire succeeds in taking over the world!

Read Necroscope by Brian Lumley

1. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Interview with the Vampire by Anne RiceNo list of vampire fiction would be complete without this novel. I would also state that its sequel, The Vampire Lestat, is actually the better novel and the two books should be read back to back. I admit the series loses some of its luster after awhile and goes in weird directions so I would recommend reading the first four books then stopping. Louie and Lestat are a pair of fantastic protagonists that compliment each other like night plus, well, later night.

The book

Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly sensual, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force–a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. It is a novel only Anne Rice could write.

Read Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

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CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.