I hereby present a brief selection of my favourite recent YA vampire novels.
The Reformed Vampires Support Group, by Catherine Jinks, is unusual for many reasons, not least of which being that its vampire heroine is not the tiniest bit romantic. Not for forever-fifteen-year-old Nina the glamour of silky nightgowns or dark eye makeup. She's more likely to be helplessly vomiting than swanning around seducing hapless mortals, and her diet is a steady one guinea pig a day, rather than tasty human blood.
The life of an ethical vampire in Australia is a tough one, full of chronic illness and pain, but with the support of her fellow guinea pig bloodsuckers and the friendly neighbourhood priest who runs their weekly support group, Nina manages. But when she and her friends discover an illegal werewolf-fighting business, much more than managing is going to be necessary. Can Nina and the adorable Dave be heroes? Spoiler: Yes.
Solace and Grief, by Foz Meadows, is another Australian vampire tale. Unusually for YA, which tends to feature characters of middle class or upper class upbringings, orphaned vampire Solace grows up in foster care, and the plethora of supernatural friends she later makes are also largely from underprivileged backgrounds.
Solace is actually—of course—a vampire princess, but her life is no fairy tale. Exiled from her birthright, her Sydney castle is a squat, her glorious raiment are other people's castoffs, and the nightly banquets are whatever she and her companions can find. Unaware of her origins, she is happy to be with people who finally understand. But her history is about to haunt them all, and unless she and her allies find some answers, they're all in terrible danger.
Miranda, the dubious heroine of Cynthia Leitich Smith's Eternal has a much more privileged second life. She's the "daughter" of the most powerful vampire in this strange new world, and life is an ongoing swirl of pretty dresses and attentive servants and innocent victims upon whom to slake her unending thirst. Oh yes, Miranda is an old school amoral vamp, perfectly au fait with murder and mayhem. Until, that is, fallen guardian angel (literally) Zachary becomes her personal assistant.
Zachary's quest is to save Miranda's soul, but to me, the most interesting aspect of this entertainingly grisly novel is Miranda's ability to save herself. She is inspired by Zachary's efforts, but the final choice is her own, making this a courageous morality tale as well as a fun read.
Super awesome fun times can be found in Alyxandra Harvey's Hearts at Stake (also known as My Love Lies Bleeding), where vampire-born Solange and her human best friend Lucy must contend with 1) complicated vampire politics that prophesy Solange will be the queen of vampires, a position she has no desire to hold 2) Solange's seven overprotective vampire older brothers and 3) BOY TROUBLE.
The best part of this book is the strong relationship between the two girls, but I am also a sucker for a good vampire romance, and Hearts at Stake delivers. The romance between Solange and vampire hunter Kieran is all well and good, but I am really into Lucy and her love interest, Solange's brother Nick, who has loved her forever, and expressed this in the traditional manner of best friend's brothers—by being a total pain in the ass on all possible occasions. Feisty Lucy, who decorates her stakes with rhinestones and deplores Solange's habit of wearing cargo pants and T-shirts when she ought to be wearing lacy gowns, has no idea of his Deep Feelings until everything goes to hell, whereupon the stresses of battle bring out her own affections.
Harvey's take on the vampire mythos is also appealing; there are several kinds of vampires roaming about, all with different histories and aims, which rings agreeably true—humans have many different cultures, so why shouldn't vampires?
Scott Westerfeld's books are reliably full of excellently paced plot and exciting ideas, but sometimes feel a little shallow when it comes to characterization. The exception is Peeps, a vampire novel where vampirism is the result of a parasite. Protagonist Cal is a good ol' Texan boy, unused to the bright lights and excitement of New York City. Then he meets a girl in a bar, and changes forever.
Fortunately, Cal is one of the few people carrying the vampire parasite who don't turn into irrational day-hating blood-gorging monsters, instead becoming an operative of the organization intent upon capturing these dangerous people. Unfortunately, he can never so much as kiss a girl again, for fear of passing on his infection.
Then he meets the fabulous Lace—who he cannot kiss! The torment!—and begins delving into the history of his employers. Conspiracy theories, epidemiology, and adventure combine in this excellent novel. Warning: you will never look at your adorable kitty in the same fond light.
Unlike the other works on this list, Alaya Johnson's Moonshine isn't set in the present day. Moonshine slants to a slightly older audience, but its crossover appeal makes it an equally excellent choice for young readers. In this setting, vampires aren't a dirty little secret, but a fact of public life—everyone in 1920s New York is aware that vampires exist, where they are less a frightening menace, and more an irritating social problem. It's easy enough to ignore the human starving homeless, but when the starving homeless are vampires, you kind of have to feed them, or they'll feed themselves.
Heroine Zephyr is a vegetarian suffragist do-gooder who eschews sleep in favour of turning up at rallies in support of indigents, immigrants, and the oppressed fanged. She has well and truly renounced the demon-hunting ways of her family, but has not forgotten all her fighting skills—fortunately, because when vampire mob bosses, crooked politicians, and a devastatingly attractive djinn start adding items to her already crowded to-do list, she's going to need to fight.
That's six great books in a full field—and I'm leaving plenty off the list. Great vampire YA will, I hope, be eternally with us.
Now, back to watching The Vampire Diaries. I've just acquired a large chunk of Season Two, and I'm very excited—apparently there are going to be werewolves.
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