Friday, September 18, 2009

Monster Love

Love. It’s a wonderful thing, even when your new guy or gal is a vampire. Or a werewolf. Or even a zombie. Sure, it can be dangerous dating an undead, shape-shifting creature of the night, but that doesn’t mean the romance is gone. As these stories of inter-species and paranormal relationships show, sparks can really fly when a human falls in love with a monster--especially when every kiss might end with your head being bitten off.

Vampires are the monsters we most often fall in love with. They’re immensely popular and trendy--Twilight, anyone?--even though authors have been writing about vampires for over a hundred years. But really, it’s no wonder. Vampires rise from the dead to bite and suck the blood of humans so they can remain immortal. There’s something definitely sensual about that, and the vampire’s best weapon is his power of seduction. Vampires are ageless, mysterious, and they need us humans to stay that way. No wonder we’re irresistibly drawn to them.

Dracula by Bram Stoker, 2009, Puffin Classics, originally published 1897 (Fiction Classics/ Fantasy/ Horror)

There are two basic kinds of vampire books—those where we fall in love with the vampire and those where we hunt the vampire. Dracula, believe it or not, is both, as well as being the first major vampire novel. On one hand, it’s the story of the hunt for the evil Count Dracula, the original undead monster who sucks the blood of his victims so he can live forever. On the other hand, it’s the story of two beautiful young women and the men who love them. Sweet, lovely Lucy receives three marriage proposals in one day—and then finds herself in the cold embrace of Count Dracula. Her suitors, led by Professor Van Helsing and accompanied by intelligent, vibrant Mina and her boy-toy Jonathon Harker, set out to avenge Lucy. But Mina soon encounters Dracula and forges a deep connection with him, and keeping her safe becomes a daunting task for the vampire hunters. Dracula is the source of almost everything we know and love about vampire mythology, from sleeping in coffins to turning into bats to how to make a new vampire. Even though Count Dracula is a grade-A creep and not a hunky vamp to fall over head heels in love with, there’s still dark romance and intrigue aplenty. And if you’re going to call yourself a fan of vampire fiction, you really have to know your Dracula.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, 1997, Ballantine Books, originally published 1976 (Fiction/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Romance)

Vampire romance would not get far without Anne Rice’s vampire series, which begins here with the vampires Lestat and Louis. Amongst the steamy moss-draped streets of New Orleans in 1791, lonely lovesick Louis agrees to let the overwhelmingly persuasive vampire Lestat turn him into a fellow bloodsucker. For the next two hundred years, Louis and Lestat wander the earth, prey on humans, and seek out others of their kind—most notably the esteemed Parisian vampire Armand and Claudia, a doomed little girl whom Louis can’t bear to kill or to have as a fellow killer. The interview of the title takes place between Louis and a skeptical human reporter; the narrative is framed as Louis shares his tale in intimate, luxurious, atmospheric detail. There are many relationships in Interview with the Vampire—Louis and Lestat, Louis and Claudia, human and vampire—some based on love and some on hate, and most with an intriguing and complex blend of both. Anne Rice single-handedly transformed the vampire genre with this book. Because of Louis and company and their all-too-human desires, we stopped hunting vampires and let them seduce us, even though we know how deathly dangerous they are. Of course, the risk has been worth it—vampire romance is a flourishing genre of its own now and Anne Rice herself has contributed over half a dozen related titles. Interview with the Vampire, however, remains her masterpiece.

The Twilight Saga: Twilight/ New Moon/ Eclipse/ Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer, 2005-2008, Little, Brown and Co. (Teen Fiction/ Fantasy/ Romance)

Few vampires have proved as irresistible as the hero of the Twilight series: smoldering, brooding, intensely hunky Edward Cullen. Twilight is the first book in a quartet that chronicles the challenges high school loner Bella Swan faces when she falls fangs-over-heels for Edward, a mysterious classmate who is also an immortal vampire. Even though theirs is a very dangerous attraction (Edward’s non-human-killing vampire family guards their secret carefully, and Bella is so appealing to Edward that he’s in constant danger of losing control and eating her), it’s Love At First Sight. Their love is continually tested by well-intentioned humans, desperate vampires, and a love-triangle threat in the shape of young Jacob. Jacob’s personality seems as sunny as Edward’s is moody—but he’s got a dark shape-shifting secret of his own and an increasingly important role to play in Bella’s life. Ultimately, despite the vampires and otherworldly creatures that haunt the Twilight saga, the series is Classic Romance all the way: two young lovers must fight against all odds to stay together. It’s a dark, twisted, intense courtship but still, fans of paranormal relationships have sunk their teeth into Twilight and its fellow books with an obsession that transcends mere trendiness. To readers who dearly love a good interspecies romance, Edward and Bella’s is one for the ages.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley, 2003, Berkley Books (Teen Fiction/ Fantasy/ Romance)

In the world of Sunshine, vampires are a constant presence. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone, that’s the general rule. Anyway, Rae “Sunshine” Seddon doesn’t have time to worry about vampires. She’s too busy baking cinnamon rolls for her loyal customers at the bakery, getting into tiffs with her well-intentioned mother, and trying to decide how serious to get with her on-again-off-again biker boyfriend. Until one night Sunshine gets a little fed up with the regular characters in her life and wanders off for some peace and quiet—only to end up surrounded by characters of the undead, blood-sucking kind. Sunshine is chained to a desperately thirsty (but still good-looking) vampire named Constantine who—surprisingly and mysteriously—refuses to kill her. In a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque sort of way, Sunshine finds herself drawing on untapped magical powers instilled in her by a sorceress grandmother and is soon caught between the desires of the human and vampire populations. Nevertheless, she’s determined to protect Constantine, for whom (like Buffy for Angel) Sunshine has developed something of a soft spot. Author Robin McKinley is best known for her modern retellings of fairy tales. Here, McKinley puts an urban spin on vampire lore. A thoroughly modern girl falls in with an old-fashioned forever-young vampire. Monsters are just as likely to lurk outside city bakeries as they are outside abandoned lakeside cabins. And savvy readers are sure to be alternately spooked and charmed by Sunshine.

The Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries: Book 1, Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, 2001, Ace Books (Fiction/ Mystery/ Fantasy)

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-town waitress on a seemingly permanent streak of bad luck. She can read minds (which is annoying), one of her coworkers has been murdered (which is unpleasant), and her new love interest is a vampire (which means he might kill her). Life in rural Louisiana has just gotten very complicated. Still, Bill is a hunk and dating a vampire does have its benefits—Sookie can’t hear the thoughts in his head, for one thing, which is a refreshing change—but it’s not all fun in the dark. Bill has some decidedly unsavory friends, and there is that pesky murder—and that’s just the first book! But Sookie’s no damsel in distress. She’s a smart, thoughtful, generous young woman who readers care about, even as author Charlaine Harris causes thrills and chills with a quirky array of supporting characters and suspenseful mystery plots. Plus there are vampires, and let’s face it, we all love a mystery with a blood-sucking undead creature of the night. Sookie’s relationships with various mythical creatures continue in eight other books. Each one is as colorful and atmospheric as Dead Until Dark, which serves as the introduction to Sookie and her distinctly unusual lifestyle (and is the inspiration for the hit TV-show True Blood). Cleverly blending romance, action, and the paranormal, Sookie Stackhouse is the go-to girl for some seriously spooky sleuthing.

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore, 1995, Simon and Schuster Books (Fiction/ Fantasy/ Romance/ Comedy)

When Jody is attacked and turned into a vampire on her way home from work, she doesn’t panic. Instead she gets help, someone to do all the things she can’t do during the sunny daylight hours. Aspiring writer Tommy is destined to be Jody’s boy-toy, and he doesn’t mind at all. Jody’s sexy and mysterious, and what better to inspire art than with a hot-and-heavy love affair? But everyday life soon gets in the way of romance—the fledgling couple can’t spend enough time together with Tommy working the late shift, their wildly different dining habits are interfering with date nights, the vampire who created Jody is framing her for murder, and the cops are mighty suspicious. The narrative of Bloodsucking Fiends is a tad uneven at times, but author Christopher Moore is juggling a lot of inventive genres—mystery, comedy, satire, and fantasy among them. And the story has its moments, among them Tommy and Jody’s gleeful experiments to find out which vampire myths are fact and which are fiction. Bloodsucking Fiends is a breath of fresh air in the moody, intense atmosphere of vampire-human romances. Even die-hard vamp-fans will appreciate the well-intentioned elbow in the ribs. Finally, someone acknowledges the weird, awkward, funny side of paranormal romance, and with a 2008 sequel titled You Suck, Moore doesn’t show any intention of letting up.

Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, 2007, Thomas Dunne Books (Fiction/ Horror/ Fantasy)


Republished as Let the Right One in after an internationally successful movie adaptation of the same name, the originally titled Let Me In is Scandinavia’s contribution to the vampire fad that is sweeping the globe—and for good reason.  Vampires are creepy and fantastic, and when the setting is a lonesome snow-covered suburb in Sweden, the moody intensity just grows and grows.  Oskar is a twelve-year-old boy who is constantly bullied and beaten at school.  With no friends to turn to, Oskar’s outlets are daydreaming, shoplifting, and keeping a scrapbook of gruesome crimes clipped from the newspapers.  Then he meets Eli, a girl about his age who moves into the apartment next door.  Eli only comes out at night and smells a bit funny, but Oskar is desperate for companionship and Eli’s quirks suit his own oddness.  Meanwhile, a series of brutal deaths begin to plague the area—bodies are drained of blood.  It doesn’t take long to discover that Eli is a vampire stuck in a permanent childhood, a deadly little creature who is both desperate to survive and genuinely fond of Oskar.  Their sweet, awkward relationship is a splendidly creepy contrast to the blood and gore of the murders.  Author John Ajvide Lindqvist adds some original twists to an occasionally predictable story that is part crime novel, part horror story, part paranormal crush.  The dark, atmospheric quiet of the film is an excellent companion to the novel and will allow you to be delightfully creeped out on both page and screen.     

Vampires are solitary creatures of the night, but Werewolves—humans who transform into powerful super-wolves—roam in packs. This means lots of fussing, fighting, and family feuding. And when it comes to romance, no creature is more passionate than a wild untamed werewolf. Plus, you can date during the day. If you thought vampires were attractive, get ready to turn the pages of these next books. No doubt about it--werewolves are a rowdy, feisty, sexy pack of wild animals.

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, 1997, Delacorte Press (Teen Fiction/ Fantasy/ Romance)

In Blood and Chocolate, the worthy werewolf finally gets a chance at love. Vivian is sweet sixteen, strong and beautiful, with all the boys on her tail—literally, because Vivian is a werewolf. But life is not as sweet as chocolate. Her close-knit werewolf pack has moved to a new home, needs a new leader, and definitely does not approve of Vivian’s new human boyfriend. But Aiden is sensitive and kind, and Vivian is sure that he will understand her other, wilder self. Her divided loyalties are put to the test when a contender for new pack leader takes an intimate interest in her, and life becomes even more complicated when a human is murdered and a werewolf is the culprit. Vivian’s attempt to lead a double life is endangering both the humans and the werewolves she cares about. Who is Vivian supposed to protect? Who is she supposed to be? The werewolves of Blood and Chocolate are sassy and stubborn, and they don’t make Vivian’s choices easy—but they certainly do make things interesting. Even with a pack of wild animals roaming through the pages, Blood and Chocolate remains a fierce, sexy, gripping coming-of-age story about love, betrayal, trust, and acceptance. And fans of author Annette Curtis Klause’s werewolf love will be pleased to know that she played matchmaker with our other favorite monster, the vampire, in her first book The Silver Kiss.

·      Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009, Scholastic Books (Teen Fiction/ Fantasy/ Romance)


Shiver is a werewolf’s hungry reply to the best-selling, blockbusting, fan-favorite Twilight Saga, and Shiver’s young lovers Grace and Sam are more than a match for the moody intensity of Bella and Edward’s love affair.  Grace is a solitary, intelligent girl who relishes the wild tranquility of the woods behind her house.  The wolves that dwell there are especially fascinating, and one wolf in particular—a yellow-eyed handsome creature who once saved her from the rest of his pack—holds a unique attraction for her.  That wolf is Sam, a werewolf who was bitten as a boy and who is just as smitten with Grace as she is with him.  For years Grace and Sam keep their distance despite their curiosity, but during Grace’s seventeenth year they are thrown suddenly and violently together when wolves kill a boy and human hunters retaliate.  Now, Grace finds herself nursing a wounded yellow-eyed boy who must be her beloved wolf, and the star-crossed lovers finally get to know each other.  Sam and Grace’s romance is tender and true but fraught with danger.  Author Maggie Stiefvater creates a werewolf mythology that keeps the creatures in wolf-form during the frigid winter months and allows the warm weather to transform them into humans for the few brief summer months.  Sam’s injury makes him revert to teenage boy form, but the wolves, the humans, and the winter cold are swiftly approaching and threaten to destroy this new relationship and Sam and Grace’s very lives.  Shiver is told from Sam and Grace’s alternating points of view, making this Romeo and Juliet plot (with a sequel, Linger, due in July 2010) all the more suspenseful, passionate, thrilling, and chilling.              

Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar, 2008, Soft Skull Press (Fiction/ Fantasy)

Kalix is a lonely werewolf girl. She’s seventeen and angst-filled, not to mention drug-addicted, antisocial, and lovesick. She’s attacked her father, the Thane of the powerful MacRinnalch werewolf clan, and is on the lam in London. And no one is going to leave her alone. Her brothers Sarapen and Markus both want Kalix dead and are fighting each other for the throne, her sister Thrix is too busy designing a fashion wardrobe for the Fire Queen Malveria to be bothered with her little sister’s problems, her ex-lover Gawain has been banished, and a guild of professional werewolf hunters is hot on her trail. But when two human students, Daniel and Moonglow, take a kindly interest in Kalix, the lonely werewolf’s luck might just be about to change—even as civil war is about to erupt in the Scottish Highlands where her werewolf family dwells. And these werewolves are violent, passionate, impatient, and beautiful—which makes for a playful, witty, wicked page-turner of a story. The many love affairs, love triangles, and lovers’ quarrels play a big part of the action. Werewolves are, after all, a lusty bunch who really know how to hold a grudge. With a cast of characters ranging from a punkish Fire Elemental to twin werewolf rock star wannabes to childish, moody, endearing Kalix herself, Lonely Werewolf Girl is one helluva gritty, grungy urban fantasy.

Zombies come back from the dead to eat the brains of the living. Most authors won’t stoop so low as to pair a human with a zombie love interest, but there’s still a lot of romance to be mined when the undead roam the earth. But are flesh-eating zombies really deserving of love? Absolutely. After all, there’s someone for everyone--even rotting, moaning, stumbling reanimated corpses.

Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Browne, 2008, Broadway Books (Fiction/ Fantasy/ Romance/ Comedy/ Horror)

Andy Warner died in a car crash. After his chemical treatment at the funeral home but before his funeral, Andy woke up as a zombie. This is not incredibly unusual; it just happens sometimes. But zombies are not exactly welcomed back into their everyday lives as examples of a miraculous escape from death. Instead they’re barely tolerated, looked down upon as less-than-human and policed by Animal Control. Andy’s too dazed to mind at first—he can’t even talk because his lips are stitched together—but he finds time to emerge from his parents’ basement and attend Undead Anonymous meetings. There he meets a sexy suicide named Rita and Jerry, a banged-up walking-dead stoner. The trio is introduced to fellow zombie Ray, and Ray introduces them to the joys of the afterlife. Soon Andy is refusing to sit in the back of the bus and picketing for the return of zombie civil rights. With pretty Rita at his side, Andy just might get used to the zombie life—unless the human “breathers” have anything to say about it. Feeling sympathy for a flesh-hungry zombie is a new emotion for most readers, but we want Andy to have it all. We also don’t want to get eaten, and that’s what makes Breathers such a unique and unusual read—it’s gruesome, endearing, tragic, and darkly comic all at the same time. Author S.G. Browne describes his debut novel as a zom-rom-com—a zombie romantic comedy. With a genre-bending label like that, what more can you ask for?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, 2009, Quirk Books (Fiction Classics/ Romance/ Fantasy/ Humor)

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is one of the most beloved love stories of classic literature. Author Seth Grahame-Smith decided that the only thing that could improve the story was, naturally, zombies. And even die-hard fans of Jane Austen will be hard pressed to disagree. As our story begins, a mysterious plague is bringing the deceased back to life to roam the English countryside in search of fresh human brains. Miss Elizabeth Bennett, well-versed in both the feminine and the deadly arts, is content to defend her family against the zombie threat—until she meets the dashing, arrogant, equally-skilled Mr. Darcy. Scenes from the original Pride and Prejudice are intermingled with zombie mayhem. Darcy admires Elizabeth’s fine eyes at the Meryton ball; zombies attack. Elizabeth promenades at Pemberley; zombies attack. Elizabeth and Darcy are recast as scornful acquaintances occasionally united in battle against the moaning, groaning walking dead. And still, the classic romance unfolds exactly the way it’s supposed to. After all, nothing brings a couple together like fighting off zombie hoards.

Note:  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has spawned a whole slew of Jane Austen-monster hybrids. Not only is Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters lurking on bookshelves nearby, but Mr. Darcy, Vampyre and Vampire Darcy's Desires hide in the shadows, and Jane herself is a vampire out for revenge in Jane Bites Back. When vampires, werewolves (maybe Werewolves at Mansfield Park?), and zombies starts breeding with the great classics of literature, well, that’s some real wild monster love.

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