Fri
Feb 24 2012 12:00pm

Stephenie Meyer, Meg Cabot, and Charlaine Harris: Who Does Vampire Fiction Best?

Insatiable by Meg CabotThere’s no escaping the fact that people have written an awful lot of novels in a short space of time featuring human-vamp couplings with Montague-Capulet-scale PR problems.

But how these inter-species soap operas play out can differ in subtle, yet marked ways; Stephenie Meyer does vampires straight up in Twilight; Meg Cabot teases the sub-genre in her affectionately satirical Insatiable series; and, Charlaine Harris strikes many moods with Sookie.

Who do you think does dead better?

My own experience with vampy novels began with the operatic seriousness of Bella and Edward’s world. Almost instantly, her uber-romantic story had its narcotic impact. The background mythologies Meyer created for vampires—the good ones and the bad ones and how they got that way—is solemn stuff. There’s no punch line in this overblown world.

Twilight by Stephenie MeyerThe reader is meant to take things seriously, a fact that has provided a lot of critics with a great time making fun of it. Yes, there’s overwrought teenage tumult. Yes, there are loopholes big enough to swallow the state of Washington. Yes, it actually doesn’t sound too yummy to cuddle up to an ice-cold dead guy who has the hardest of bodies, just not in the good way. But, come on! Who needs reality when you can safely intoxicate yourself with the ridiculous and bizarre?

As delightful as a walk on the wildly earnest side of vampire-dom can be there’s also a lot to be said for the yeah- yeah-wink-wink-let’s-have-a-bloodsucker-love-and-war-fest approach to vamp stories. Years after the debut of Twilight, Meg Cabot took time from her myriad other novels to pen Insatiable, which takes its inspiration from Bram Stoker, daytime television, the vampire craze and, actually, the repulsion to the vampire craze.

Cabot achieves a clever feat by making the reader take seriously what Cabot herself isn’t taking so seriously. Any criticisms you’ve had of stories with vampires and their human lovers? Cabot understands. And her sensible protagonist, Mina, also empathizes until, of course, she has her own vampire lover. It’s highly inconvenient for anyone to be confronted with what they are in denial of, except when they’re a sarcastic, but sympathetic heroine. In that case, heartstrings can be pulled with might and tears can be shed by the bucket load, and no one can blame her because she thinks it’s all just as crazy as we do. This is especially true when the cast of characters includes a jolly, vampire ass-kicking armed nun and a sword-wielding studly Dudley employed by the Vatican to fight vampires in mid-town Manhattan. Readers can enjoy this soapy world with all the emotion they can muster because everyone, even the characters, acknowledges how silly the whole thing is, anyway. And fun, too.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine HarrisPeople who like a mix of serious and silly can indulge in the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Sookie’s somewhere in the middle, or off in left-field, or maybe just scattered all over the place. Poor Sookie. She really does seem to be marginalized in so many ways. Part fae, married to a vampire, dalliances with various and sundry paranormal personages and an outcast mind-reader to boot, she really has so much on her plate.

Balancing on the line between heavy, bloody gore and cartoonish characterizations, the Sookie books still manage to effectively show a woman in rather pathetic circumstances who’s been dealt a tough hand in life. I mean, she struggles economically; she’s unpopular; she lost her parents at a young age; she has a wayward brother who’s more into women and trucks than supporting his only surviving immediate family member. And, like she really needed it, she’s pulled into the coming out activities of the paranormal population. You’ve got to feel for her.

You do feel for her – at least I do – but, at the same time, we sit back and watch the shenanigans in kind of the way we adults now view the old Batman and Robin television series. We’re simultaneously the kids who are totally eating up the whams! and pows!, and the grown-ups who look at those same whams! and pows! in all their kitsch, and think, ‘Are you serious?’ The Stackhouse books take readers on a romp through an unbelievably fantastical collision of normality and weirdness that moves us to sympathy for Sookie and eye-rolling at her shenanigans all at the same time. And, still, it’s pretty addictive.

So, who really does the dead thing better? Which is your favorite?


 

Aniko Eva Nagy reads, teaches and writes in Boston, Massachusetts which she is happy to call her hometown, perhaps one of the best cities for a book lover. Head over to her blog, bookbash.wordpress.com, for thoughts on the joy of books, and a bunch of general bookishness.

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16 comments
Chelsea Mueller
1. ChelseaMueller
I read a ton of vampire fiction, and can say Jeaniene Frost probably does it best. The beauty is she's created plausible rules for her vampires in her Night Huntress series. They can't be killed by many of the methods of traditional lore. How would they have survived for so long if every coffeetable could be converted into a weapon? She put the thought behind their mythology to make them old, but relateable. She gives us that blend of ruthless and loyal. Plus, Bones and his cohorts are pretty damn hot.

Runners-up: Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series (YA) and J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood.
Lynne Connolly
2. Lynne Connolly
There is no best. There is only different. IMO.
I started with Christine Feehan, who really started the current craze for vampires, and her early "Dark" books are terrific. Then Kenyon, and the early books are also terrific, though I didn't move into urban fantasy with her. I like my romance.
I don't read YA. Tried, but it doesn't appeal to me. | tried the first Twilight book, but Bella was clueless and Edward a creepy stalker, so I didn't finish it. If you don't care about the characters, there's not much point!
Currently Lynn Viehl is doing it best, IMO and the return of her Lords of the Darkyn is really welcome. Complex plots, great heroes and heroines you can really root for.
Vanessa Ouadi
3. Lafka
I am actually not that much into vampire romance. Which is weird, because I'm very much into vampires and very much into romance, but I prefer having each separately. It's probably because my first approach to vampires was through classic 19th century books (including Stoker's Count Dracula) or non-romance stories (Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles or Poppy Z Brite's Lost Souls for instance). Those books deal with sex of course, including with humans sometimes, but the plot doesn't focus on a love story per se.

I don't object to the principle of vampire romance _ I was a teenager who watched Buffy every single day, after all! ;) _ but I don't like much how many authors deal with it nowadays. First hand, I really dislike the stories in which the hero and the heroine fall in love at first sight because they are fated to be together for some mystical reason _ it really bores me to no end. For example, I liked Christine Feehan's Dark Series universe, I found it very interesting, but the fact that lifemates were involved prevented me from liking the books as much as I would have without them.

Plus I'm really picky because, if I do love vampires, I'm really not a big fan of faes, shapeshifters or even werewolves. I don't mind if they feature in a book I read, but I generally don't read book where they are the main characters. That's one of the reasons I didn't like much for instance Kresley Cole or Charlaine Harris' books : too many different species for my taste.


I really liked Stephenie Meyer's books but Bella became quickly boring _ she's not kick-ass enough for me, she seems to just go through the motions passively. The films ended ruining Twilight series definitely for me, I'm afraid :/

I do like Meg Cabot's books though ^^ But, generally speaking, I guess I'm just too fond of good old horror vampire stories to really subscribe to bit-lit romance. No matter how good the author or how interesting the universe, I can't help rolling my eyes every now and then at the characters or lines.
anieva
4. anieva
"Bit-lit"! I like that! Never heard it before. Very clever.
anieva
5. anieva
@ChelseaMueller I love this: "How would they have survived for so long if every coffeetable could be converted into a weapon?" What a fun way to criticize the wild stories these are! @lynnec You're right. It's not necessary to choose the best; but it's fun to talk about! And it's always nice to have good choices. ;-)
Elizabeth Halliday
6. Ibbitts
It really depends on what question you are answering. The characters I like the best may not necessarily fit the criteria of "human-vamp romance". I love Jeaniene Frost, but Cat isn't human, so that lets that series out. Most of the characters in the Immortals After Dark series are species other than human, so Kresley Cole's series is out. Anita Blake is a necromancer, Merry Gentry is fae, and no vampires there, so Laurell K. Hamilton is out. Beth and Mary are human, and Doc Jane used to be human, but considering the number of characters in the series, J. R. Ward's BDB just barely qualifies. I've narrowed my choices down to Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunters and Lara Adrian's Midnight Breed. Love them both ... toss a coin. As to the other question: Who does it best? I read 280 books in 2011; there's a lot to choose from. The better question is "Who do I think does it best today?" The PNR book I am most looking forward to is Jeaniene Frost's new Cat & Bones spin-off series starring Vlad: "Once Burned" out March 27th, and if you take romance out of the equation, I'll go with Anne Rice.
Vanessa Ouadi
7. Lafka
@anieva _ I just Googled bit-lit and it turns out it's an anglicism we use in France to describe a subgenre of urban fantasy focused on vampire stories (bit from "bite" and lit for "literature") but wich is not used in English-speaking countries. I guess it's just like for brushing (the word we use in France for blow-dry, based on the english word "brush").
How weird is that, lol! I really thought it was of american origin, my bad!
Glad you like it though ;-)
T Lee
8. nettxzl
What about Lynn Viehl's Darkyn series? (7 books in the first series with a new trilogy coming up.) One hardly ever hears a mention of her books (lynnec's comment is the first mention I've come across here) while Stephanie Meyer, Charlaine Harris, etc. keep coming up again and again. Won't someone on H&H do a blog post featuring Viehl's Darkyn? They're too good to be missed out.
Vanessa Ouadi
9. Lafka
There are many, many authors who write vampy books or more generally urban fantasy, I doubt it'll ever be possible to quote them all ^^ Thanks for mentionning Lynn Viehl though, I've never read her books but you guys make me curious ! :-)
nicole
10. eugenie1000
While I think I've read almost all of these authors and series (and enjoyed most of them), my favorite vampire book continues to be the stand-alone Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Rae is a great character: strong, not really that kick-ass, but learning who she is. While the POV can be very confusing (you are literally jumping into her head without background into where the story is taking place (both setting and time), it worked for me. The vampires are scary (and not gorgeous). very good read.
MaryJanice Davidson
11. MaryJanice
I love this thread (and there aren't words for how much I loved "bit-lit")! I have to say I prefer paranormal romance with little mysticism and lots of real-world problems (e.g. does their social security card still work? can they get/keep/hold down a job though they're undead?). Less "lo, the fates decreed we are lifemated through eternity' and more "do you want fries with that?" is how I like it. :-)
Karen Roma
12. ksroma
I must agree. If you are a Vampire Romance fan and like your stories with a little bit of edge and darkness, then you should definietly read Lynn Viehl's Darkyn Series. This series of seven books is amazing and not to be missed.
A new author with a new spin on our beloved Vampires is Caris Roane. Caris has four books and a novella out so far in her Guardians of Ascension series. The next instalment in this series is due April 24. Trust me I know, as I wait impatiently for each new release. Caris is an amazing author who's books are full of action, grit and passion and you can't put them down until the end. Not to be missed!
T Lee
13. nettxzl
I would add that I'm not a fan of vampires at all and would normally avoid them like the plague. The fact that Viehl's Darkyn sucked me in despite their vampirism is a tribute to her writing and story-telling.
anieva
14. MaryJanice
You've sold me! I'll definitely give them a try. :-)
T Lee
15. nettxzl
Yay! BTW, if you visit Viehl's blog (http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/) you'll find a link to her many free reads including several novellas in the Darkyn universe.
anieva
16. Sharks with Lasers
Apples. Oranges. There are so many authors with a take on the vampire myth, and most of them bring something different but interesting to the table. I don't think there's so much as a best as a personal favorite. Very personal. There's something about vampires that brings out the tastes of the shadow side, more than with other monsters.
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