Attention, world, I have a confession. My confession is this: I genuinely enjoy those literary moments when the Queen of England slays demons, or Toulouse-Lautrec fights off otherworldly villains. That’s right. I deeply and unabashedly appreciate a pulpy, fast-paced, supernatural alternative-history romp. Who are you to judge?
When the zombies-go–classic lit craze sparked by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies died down, it was probably a good thing for the sanctity of its sister subgenre, alt-history monsters-and-mayhem. Because, to be clear, there are many, many enjoyable, laugh-out-loud books that toss ghoulish chestnuts into your mixed historical assortment. (And I haven’t even had the chance to lose myself in Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers—A Canterbury Tale yet.) It’s a fictional niche that is imaginative, irreverent, and, just as important, doesn’t require your gray matter to go into hyperdrive.
Now to name some of my favorites of this monster-mashup sliver of the book world. You might be surprised how quickly you’ll turn the pages of these frightfully good reads:
Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman
The Anno Dracula series is the Holy Grail of canon-mixing lit, regaling you with the cornucopia of instances in which Dracula has almost ruined history as we know it. (And it’s a healthy one, too; the fourth installment, Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard, dropped in September.) In the first book, Vlad Tepes has wormed his way into the affections of Queen Victoria, sparking a fashionable vampiric craze across jolly old England. Add a dash of Jack the Ripper, Holmes canon, and cameos from Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and innumerable other Victorian names of note, and you’ve got a book you’ll be reading till the sun comes up.
Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith
Grahame-Smith is the man that launched a thousand supernatural ships with his ninja Bennet family. Here, he tackles the story of the three “wise” men and Bethlehem’s most famous birth, all while throwing the Biblical story up against various and sundry cutthroats and occult obstacles. It sounds blasphemous, but the unnatural roadshow is strangely touching when it reaches its conclusion.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith
Never judge a book by its subpar movie adaptation. The untold story of our 16th president (and his monolithic badassery) is popcorn-munching, engrossing fun. It inspired in me a desire for an entire U.S. presidents series, or at least a tag-team effort from Grahame-Smith and Doris Kearns Goodwin to recast Team of Rivals.
Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, by A.E. Moorat
Speaking of secretly fierce world leaders: Victoria, ladies and gentlemen, is made of far tougher mettle here than she was when dating Dracula. The Johnny Cash of monarchs falls into an underworldly web of intrigue and comes out the other side bent on destroying the minions of hell. The book has the good fortune of also being uproarious. But don’t take it from me; take it from the first line: “Much later, as he watched his manservant, Perkins, eating the dog, Quimby gloomily reflected on the unusual events of the evening.”
Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D’Art, By Christopher Moore
Art history class is in session with Professor Moore, and it’s vastly more entertaining and bawdy than you might remember. During the course of your reading, you will discover the truth behind Vincent Van Gogh’s death, the incessant amusement of partying with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and that a muse by any other name can really give a painter the blues. Bon appétit.
Marvel 1602, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove
It is near the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, and the Marvel universe has preemptively exploded in England in Gaiman’s graphic novel. The weather’s gone haywire, Daredevil’s a minstrel in disguise, and Doctor Strange answers questions as a disembodied head. There is more, but it wouldn’t get any less odd with further explanation.
Deck Z: The Titanic: Unsinkable. Undead, by Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon
I read Deck Z, a story of zombies overrunning the Titanic, in its entirety during an unending layover in Atlanta. Tolstoy it isn’t, but BOY is the image of Capt. Edward Smith running through the bowels of the ill-fated ocean liner with a rapier in hand and a pillowcase on head a delightful one.
Paul is Undead, by Alan Goldsher
They wanna hold your hand until theirs fall off. The Rolling Stones–Beatles rivalry gets an inventive twist when the band at the Toppermost of the Poppermost is actually comprised of three zombies and Ninja Lord Ringo Starr, and Mick Jagger is a zombie hunter who can’t get no satisfaction. Beatles fans will enjoy the detail. Everyone can enjoy a narrative in which Ringo gets his due.
Shakespeare Undead, by Lori Handeland
All the conspiracy theories have led to this: William Shakespeare, master of the story and czar of the sonnet, was indeed no ordinary man: he was a vampire. He also killed a lot of zombies. And he loved a lady who liked slaying zombies as well. Handeland’s spin on the playwright is one of the more amusing since Shakespeare’s Doctor Who cameo.