The best vampire novels of the past, present and future

Who am I?

My love of vampire stories can be put down to two men: Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing—Dracula and Van Helsing. I can’t remember how old I was, but undoubtedly too young to be allowed to sit up and watch late-night Hammer movies on the BBC. I was into science fiction too, particularly Doctor Who, and it was that, in part, which inspired me to become a scientist, studying physics at Cambridge. It may seem odd that someone so grounded in what is real should so enjoy writing about the impossible. But it’s reassuring to know that what I write can never actually be. Probably.


I wrote...

Twelve

By Jasper Kent,

Book cover of Twelve

What is my book about?

Russia, 1812. Desperate to save the motherland from Napoleon’s onslaught, Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, an officer of the Russian guards, enlists the support of a mysterious group of Wallachian mercenaries. The visitors are ruthlessly effective, but their awful powers are soon revealed to be more than human. And once the Grande Armée has been sent packing, only the Russians themselves remain to be preyed upon. Soon Aleksei realizes that the fight isn’t just to save his country, but to save his very soul.

Twelve is the first book of The Danilov Quintet, which takes the story onwards through the nineteenth century and beyond, revealing a blood curse upon the Romanov dynasty, and climaxing with the terror of the Russian Revolution.

The books I picked & why

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The Lesser Dead

By Christopher Buehlman,

Book cover of The Lesser Dead

Why this book?

The Lesser Dead is set in the past, but it’s not what you’d expect from an historical vampire novel. The setting is New York City, 1978, and so the atmosphere is more like the American police movies and TV shows that I grew up with than a gothic shocker.

Told by an unreliable narrator with an authentic, claustrophobic voice, the story follows an internecine conflict between two groups of the undead beneath the streets of Manhattan. Buehlman expertly mixes a twisting plot with believable vampires, who both disturb the reader and elicit their compassion, making this my favourite vampire novel of the 21st century.


Interview with the Vampire

By Anne Rice,

Book cover of Interview with the Vampire

Why this book?

Interview with the Vampire is far more the typical—if not archetypal—vampire novel. Again, it’s written from the vampire’s point of view, but the style is sprawling and opulent, spanning two centuries and two continents. 

Echoing the period glamour of many Hammer movies, this book must have affected my writing in many subconscious ways. One section however, specifically inspired me. Seeking their heritage, the protagonists travel to Eastern Europe, but discover that their vampiric cousins are feral creatures, mere animals, interested only in blood. I tended in this direction with some of my vampires, but not others, and then found that a major theme of the whole series was explaining the reason why this division occurred. 


'Salem's Lot

By Stephen King,

Book cover of 'Salem's Lot

Why this book?

Written and set in the Seventies, we’ve come to a contemporary novel. King’s epic sprawls, not in space or time, but in the vast range of characters whose lives unfold, intertwined with a horror narrative which grips the reader. It’s appropriate that the title is the location, because the story is about the disintegration of the whole town, not simply the battle between protagonists and monsters. I first encountered ’Salem’s Lot in the form of the TV miniseries, which quickly put me on to the book. I’m not sure there’s very much from here in my novels, though I did notice on a recent reread the use, in passing, of a Russian word for vampire, ‘vurderlak’, which in the form ‘voordalak’ I use throughout to describe my undead.


I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson,

Book cover of I Am Legend

Why this book?

A vampire novel of the future. At least, 1976 was the future when I Am Legend was published, in 1954. Richard Matheson’s view of New York City in the 70s is very different from Christopher Buehlman’s. Indeed, it’s a very different kind of vampire novel altogether. This is the end of most other stories, where the vampires have triumphed. They are in the majority and hunt the lone creature standing against them, almost like a zombie novel. It’s also a lot shorter than most vampire novels. I first read the book straight through, on a flight to New York. It’s great to get so close to a story by reading it in a single session, though I was a bit nervous of what I’d encounter when we landed.


Dracula

By Bram Stoker,

Book cover of Dracula

Why this book?

Here, we have a contemporary novel—and that’s one of the confusing things about this foundational book. It’s set when it was written, in the 1890s, and revels in its then modernity, from pioneering blood transfusions to Dr. Seward’s phonographic diary. But viewed from more than a century later, it seems like a period piece, the apogee of gothic horror. Its influence is vast, affecting authors way beyond those of us who simply concoct tales of vampires. We all imitate Stoker, but who is paying the more faithful homage? Those who bring vampires into their own present day, or those like me who let their creations lurk in the past, where it is all too plausible that such monsters might have been real. I think there’s room for both.


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