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Vampire fiction in the Twilight generation

You’d have to be a hermit not to have noticed the recent shift to the mainstream of supernatural fiction. Once the reserve of old-school Goths and LARPers, the supernatural is now dripping in cool.

You can barely fire up Google these days without falling over someone complaining about Twilight, but I would suggest The Escapist’s tounge-in-cheek (and spoilerific) take-down for an overview of just what’s wrong with the series. But it’s not just the über-conservative values Meyer espouses in her that make the series objectionable. There’s the terrible writing too. Meyer’s dearth of adverbs and adjectives  – dazzling, perfect, pale, glorious, er… marble – is as grating as it is lazy. It’s purple prose at its worst.

Twilight is popular, though, and not just with its target audience. Why? To YouTube!

Not long ago I wondered if the other books in the genre Twilight has spawned share these qualities. Are they all abstinence pushing, hastily written, throw-away fiction, or is Twilight the bushel under which a light is held? It’s totally unscientific experiment time.

I logged on and discovered that Amazon.co.uk now has a dedicated vampires store. I have underestimated the sheer number of titles available and I’m rather overwhelmed. There are hundreds of red-and-black covers to choose from, each wordy romantic title embossed in a drippy, curly font. I am sorely tempted by Vlad the Drac, a series aimed at a pre-teen audience about a mischievous but sweet-natured vegetarian mini-vamp, but, alas, it’s not what I’m here for. I pick out two titles aimed at a teenage audience without reading any reviews – I don’t want to unwittingly choose a novel that will confirm my bias – and await the parcel.

By the time the Amazon branded boox arrives I’m quite keen on the idea of being proven entirely wrong. I’m looking forward to some sassy, kickass vamp fiction and gettin’ my blood-lust on. I am only partially satisfied.

By Midnight name-checks Robert Pattinson; My Love Lies Bleeding, Buffy Summers. This small details encapsulates each novel’s attitude towards sex, relationships and feminism.

My Love Lies Bleeding by Alyxandra Harvey is the first of The Drake Chronicles. The cover blurb, to my surprise and delight, makes me actually interested to read on.

Solange has always known she is a vampire. And as the only female vampire ever born, not initiated, she is surrounded by danger on all sides…

The Drake Chronicles take place within a richly imagined mythology and this first novel of the series has got some really great snatches of writing. It’s got some fairly poor ones too, but at its very worse, it’s still better than Twilight.

My Love Lies Bleeding is definitely not my cup of decaf, but I can’t deny that it is rather good. The characters are distinct and interesting, the dialogue is (usually) sharp; there’s a Buffy-ish quality to the writing that makes for a pleasurable reading experience. My Love Lies Bleeding is nothing like Twilight. Harvey’s female characters are badass. Her protagonist, Solange, is unfeminine without being a tom boy and independent without being solitary. Well-rounded and savvy, none of the female characters are under the thrall of anyone and the inevitable love story sub-plot is dealt with honesty and humour.

The urban legend of a vampire in London’s Highgate Cemetery is the jumping off point for Tasmina and John Perry, working under nom de plume Mia James in By Midnight: A Ravenwood Mystery . This is a major selling point for me – I adore Highgate Cemetery and the Highgate vampire a fascinating bit of urban lore and it’s handled here with some skill.

It became clear within only a few pages that me and By Midnight were not going to  get on, and with this in mind I began tabbing each page on which I found the  content objectionable.  And, well, they say a picture speaks a thousand words…

That’s twenty-two sticky tabs. Twenty-two incidents that made me want to throw the damn thing against the wall and be done with it. And that’s not all of them. The protagonist is a teenage girl – she has teenage girl thoughts. With this in mind I cut her some slack. Yes, I would prefer her to be less obsessed with her looks, but it’s an unfortunate adolescent truism, and therfore grudgingly forgivable. But even with this taken into account, there’s an average of one horrifyingly anti-feminist sentiment every 20 pages.

The problem with By Midnight is the mixed messages. The grand denouement sees our protagonist April, whom I would call irritating if she wasn’t so characterless, discover her ‘chosen one’ identity and begin to show a little personality, and the beginnings of  a more capable and autonomous mindset.

…Which is pretty cool and wimmin power and rhharr and stuff, but it’s undermined by the constant anti-feminist messages in the preceding 400 or so pages. Romantic hero Gabriel pulls the same tricks that Twilight’s Edward does, spouting about how he’s a danger to April but OMG he just can’t bear to be away from her, turning up – at a teenage girl’s bedroom window – in the middle of the night and demanding a date Right Now and generally being brooding and what I can only assume is meant to come across as manly and protective.

You’re a honey trap for vampires. Everything about you is designed to draw them in: the way you look, the sound of your voice, even your smell.

By Midnight

There are countless examples. If this hatefulness was limited to Gabriel I could forgive it as a character trait, but the whole novel is dripping in misogyny and lazy female stereotypes. It is clearly the authors, not the characters, that are at fault. By Midnight is everything Twilight is but British. It has nothing to recommend it.

This leaves me nowhere. We have one book that absolutely lives up to the reputation Twilight has bestowed upon the genre and one that it emphatically does not. While this is far from a surprising conclusion it is not a satisfying one. More research is required. Can I bring myself to delve further into the depths of Young Adult supernatural fiction?

No. Not even for money*.

*I may actually do it for money. Just FYI.

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6 responses »

  1. I really liked Vlad the Drak when I was a little bit too old to be willing to read it in public.
    I’m glad to know that there are at least some Buffy-alikes in among the Bellalikes.

    Reply
  2. Unfortunately, now that Twilight has inspired a whole new generation of authors, readers have to go through bullshit to find a really good vampire book especially in the young adult section. Still, that has not deter me away from the YA paranormal romance. I’m bound to find something. If not, there is always Anne Rice…who I haven’t read in awhile.

    Reply
  3. This post rocked! It was so interesting to see you actually checking out the content of the books rather than just tutting at the shelf displays in Waterstones and walking on.

    We’d love you to guestpost with us some time!

    Reply
  4. Pingback: But it gets kids reading! Some thoughts on critical literacy | TreasuryIslands

  5. I’m a little late to this, but if you ever feel the desire to read some GOOD, non-Twilight,non-vamp YA fiction, I would recommend the Mediator series by Meg Cabot. It relates to ghosts instead of vampires (ghosts were the hip thing when I was a teenager….), and the main character kicks ass. She’s like Buffy, but the whole story is told first-person from her perspective.
    Give it a shot if you’re ever in the mood : )

    Reply

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