The Allure Of Books With Bite

I'll admit it: I like vampire fiction. But who in Lestat's name decided to call the genre "urban fantasy"?

Salon's Laura Miller explains that fiction like the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the Anita Blake books is sometimes called "paranormal romance," even though they break the rules of "romance" novels: the heroes are not swashbuckling studs but deeply flawed; people rarely live happily ever after; relationships are "uncertain and ambiguous."

Miller also notes that many of these books are shelved "haphazardly" in stores — " in their romance, science fiction or horror sections, none of which is a perfect fit."

Still, readers seek out these kinds of stories, and Miller gets to the heart of what makes vampire fiction so irresistible:

Urban fantasy seems equally concerned with the erotic allure of masculine power and how women come to terms with it. The teenage narrator of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" may swoon in the arms of her masterful vampire boyfriend without a second thought, but the adult heroines created by Hamilton, Briggs, Harris and dozens of other authors oscillate between resistance and consent, worrying away at insolvable romantic algorithms. Is it possible to bed an alpha male without submitting to his will? Does his protection come at too high a cost? And can a man who sometimes needs your protection ever be quite as exciting?

A surprising number of urban fantasy heroines get into romantic triangles with a vampire and a werewolf, a rivalry redolent of more than a B-movie monster feud. If vampires are upper-class — rich, well-dressed, owners of nightclubs and vast yet shadowy business interests — werewolves tend to be blue-collar types, working in construction and driving pickup trucks. Vampires engage in labyrinthine political intrigues, while werewolves prize loyalty to their pack mates over everything else, potentially at the expense of their commitment to the heroine, who can feel excluded from the intense, nonverbal connection they share and their obsession with pecking orders.

Complicated power dynamics between men and women; hints of danger, highbrow vs. lowbrow — that's what interests me — but rarely is it done well. In fact, there are plenty of cheesy, poorly written books in the genre, which is why (sometimes) a person is loathe to admit they're into it. I've had my fill of Anne Rice, checked out some Laurell K. Hamilton; the Blue Bloods book was okay, and Blood And Chocolate was fine. I even read frothy stuff like Fangs For The Memories. (Why do they always have to be virgins?!?!) And yes, I read the Twilight books, but I did not enjoy them. I'm about to check out Alex Flinn's Beastly, which isn't technically a vamp book, but whatever. Any suggestions? And what do you look for in a vamp story?

Buffy Fans: Read This [Salon]

Earlier: Vampires Will Not Die
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Twilight's Stephenie Meyer Admits Her Writing Sorta Sucks