As of May 2004, Spike and Angel have left our television screens. Fortunately, we can still encounter numerous vampire heroes and heroines in print and pixels. The late-twentieth-century trend of three-dimensional, often attractive and ethical vampires in fiction continues (although the backlash toward evil, bloodthirsty monsters fit only to be destroyed also lingers, especially in the movies). Interestingly, even when a vampire is portrayed as evil, he or she usually has a more complex, nuanced personality than comparable characters before 1970. The figure of the sympathetic vampire has altered the imaginative landscape so that readers and viewers apparently no longer want to accept a purely monstrous villain with no inner life. At the beginning of the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I found the Buffyverse undead disappointing. They appeared to be caricatures of horror movie monsters, pure stake fodder with no individuality. The Master, to me, was quite an uninteresting villain. But then Angel appeared, a fascinating descendant of Barnabas Collins and Nick Knight. And in the second season, Spike and Drusilla showed us that even an unredeemed Buffyverse vampire can have a complex personality and some sympathetic traits. (For a varied assortment of reflections on these and other characters in the two series by writers who include many well-known authors of vampire fiction, check out the essay anthologies Seven Seasons of Buffy and the forthcoming Five Seasons of Angel, both published by BenBella Books.) The older "evil spawn of Satan" approach undergirds Midnight Mass, an outstanding new novel by F. Paul Wilson, author of the much more unconventional modern vampire classic The Keep. Even though Wilson explicitly states his intention to return to the traditional portrayal of vampires as loathsome parasites, Midnight Mass contains one undead character that retains his personality and his ethics, illustrating the increased complexity of character development prevalent in most contemporary vampire fiction.
Concerning vampires who begin unlife as apparently evil but become the protagonists of their own stories, Anne Rice's Lestat leads the pack, in longevity at least. Rice says she has finished with her Vampire Chronicles and is permanently moving on to other themes; this time, she may be serious. Despite his obvious allure for millions of readers, I have never accepted Lestat as "good." While he may have his own code of ethics, in terms of human concepts of good and evil, he remains simply amoral. That distinction, of course, may be Rice's point; vampires, having passed through death into a new phase of existence beyond mortal understanding, have also passed beyond any need to adhere to human standards. I prefer the position taken by P. N. Elrod, who frames her vampires as people with an unusual condition and special needs that do not absolve them from making ethical decisions and respecting the rights of others. Having completed her eighteenth-century Jonathan Barrett series, Elrod returned to the Vampire Files, starring Jack Fleming, with Cold Streets as the most recent novel. Tanya Huff portrays her vampires with similar moral constraints. After a long hiatus, Huff's Henry Fitzroy resurfaces in Smoke and Shadows. Vicki Nelson does not appear in this book. Instead, Tony, a minor character in the earlier novels, moves to the fore, as he and Henry combat an evil sorcerer from another dimension. The setting, a Canadian TV show about a vampire detective, produces an abundance of in-jokes about Forever Knight, with some references to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No fan of TV vampires should miss this book.
Moral ambiguity dominates Laurell K. Hamilton's long-running Anita Blake series. Jean-Claude is another vampire who first appeared to be a villain, or at least an antagonist whom the heroine could not trust. Gradually, he has become Anita's ally and lover. As readers of the series know, the relationship is complicated by the presence of a werewolf who also loves Anita and sometimes shares her bed. With each successive novel, Anita gains a wider range of powers and loses more of her grip on the distinction between good and evil. Her fear of becoming one of the monsters is a dominant theme of the series. From the beginning, these books featured heavy doses of violence. In the later novels, lengthy, explicit sexual encounters also began to dominate the action. Some readers feel this aspect overshadows the plots, which have become thinner as a result. I must admit that I have found some of Hamilton's recent novels tedious, and I confess I skipped to the end of the latest Anita Blake rather than reading it all the way through. Set in a similar world, an alternate present-day America in which supernatural creatures are publicly known to exist and have (at least to some extent) legal rights, the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris resembles Anita Blake's universe with a lighter touch. The characters in Sookie's little Southern community provide some touches of humor. Her situation, however, does not lack for serious peril, as she gets embroiled in the rivalries of vampires and shapeshifters, some moral, some purely bloodthirsty, and some in between, but all potentially dangerous. The most recent book, Dead to the World, finds her on-and-off relationship with her vampire boyfriend growing still more complicated. A similar alternate Earth where supernatural creatures have gone public, including one very interesting female vampire who figures as a major character, is introduced by Kim Harrison in Dead Witch Walking; this, too, appears to be the beginning of a series.
Other authors have invented unusual approaches to the vampire mythos, for instance, Susan Sizemore with her "Laws of the Blood" series, which invents a complex subculture for the traditional undead. In I Burn for You, I Thirst for You, and the forthcoming I Hunger for You, Sizemore creates a different type of vampire, a humanoid species sharing the world with us and able to breed with human mates. Also in the vampire romance subgenre, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Christine Feehan have created unique vampire races and cultures. Feehan, like Sizemore, uses the increasingly popular concept of destined bondmates to unite vampire and human lovers. Meanwhile, long-established authors such as Nancy Gideon, Maggie Shayne, and Amanda Ashley continue to add to their respective vampire romance series. New author Debbie Raleigh follows in their footsteps in a Regency-era series beginning with My Lord Vampire.
For a wider supply of romantic vampire tales than the chain bookstores offer, check out the catalogue of small press ImaJinn Books (www.imajinnbooks.com), which specializes heavily in vampire and other paranormal romance. Small press Meisha Merlin has brought back Lee Killough's vampire police detective, originally introduced in Blood Hunt, predating Forever Knight. And be sure to explore the realm of e-publishing. Internet-based publishers have known all along that readers thirst for sympathetic, alluring vampire characters and have kept supplying the demand while mass market publishers mistakenly assumed the market was dead (so to speak). Their faith has been vindicated by the recent republication of MaryJanice Davidson's Undead and Unwed as a Berkley paperback; this hilarious novel of a young woman who wakes up in a coffin and discovers that the local vampires want to anoint her their long-prophesied queen was first published by erotic romance e-publisher Ellora's Cave (www.ellorascave.com). If you like your vampire love stories steamy, you can find dozens of them at Ellora's Cave. Many other e-publishers offer an abundance of unique vampire fiction, such as Hard Shell Word Factory (www.hardshell.com), Amber Quill (www.amberquill.com), and Novel Books (www.novelbooksinc.com). Award-winning science fiction vampire romance Blood Will Tell, by Jean Lorrah, was first published as an e-book before becoming a trade paperback. Lorrah, co-author with Jacqueline Lichtenberg of the classic Sime-Gen series, a symbiotic variant on the "energy vampire" concept, has a Sime-Gen romance, To Kiss or to Kill, forthcoming from Meisha Merlin. Lichtenberg's science fiction "vampire as alien" novels Those of My Blood and Dreamspy have also been reprinted.
Another trade paperback novel that first appeared as an e-book, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's In the Face of Death brings back her vampire heroine Madelaine, whom readers have eagerly awaited. Yarbro also continues to produce new Count Saint-Germain books. The romantic vampire trend her Hotel Transylvania pioneered in the 1970s has matured enough to indulge in gentle self-satire. I highly recommend the humorous vampire love stories of Lynsay Sands and Katie MacAlister. Sands' Single White Vampire, with a reclusive vampire author of paranormal romances unwillingly dragged to a romance convention, is an experience not to be missed. These titles represent only a few of the many recent books by new and established authors available for our delectation. More than ever before, our favorite bloodsuckers refuse to hide in their coffins!