Just because a novel is on a national bestseller list—or sells hundreds of thousands of copies—doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. The reverse is also true, especially of genre fiction, fringy fiction—a lot of the good stuff comes and goes virtually unnoticed.
Take vampire fiction, for example.
I’ve been reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and horror for almost 20 years now—and I’ve been reading the stuff obsessively since I was a kid—and during that time, I’ve discovered some jaw-droppingly good vampire novels. And the fascinating thing is that quite a few of my most memorable bloodsucking reads have been either self-published or released by a relatively small press—including more than half of the titles listed below.
With the anniversary of Bram Stoker’s death coming up in a few days (he died April 20, 1912), I thought it would be fitting to shine the light on some of the most under-appreciated vampire novels of all time.
10. Impure: Resurrection by J. R. Bailey (2011)
This little self-published gem is essentially vampire-nuanced adventure fantasy. Darkly lyrical and deeply philosophical, it’s like R. A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden saga—with teeth. I loved how Bailey reimagined the vampire mythos in a classic adventure fantasy setting.
9. The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas (1980)
Although the New York Times Book Review called it “among the genre’s few modern classics” and Stephen King described it as “unputdownable,” this landmark work seems to have flown under the radar for many vampire fiction fans. I hadn’t run across it until Tor reissued it back in 2008—and I’m so thankful they did!
8. Fat White Vampire Blues by Andrew Fox (2003)
This and its sequel, Bride of the Fat White Vampire, are simply hilarious reads. Featuring a 500-pound, bloodsucking taxi driver named Jules Duchon, this story—set in New Orleans—is as entertaining as it is audacious. The tagline for Fat White Vampire Blues says it all: “He’s undead, overweight, and can’t get a date.” You will never read anything quite like these novels…
7. Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin (1982)
How can a Locus and World Fantasy Award-nominated novel written by a living legend be under-appreciated? Many people know GRRM only for his Song of Ice and Fire saga but, in my mind, this novel—largely set on the Mississippi River in 1857—is one of his best works ever.
6. Blood Blade by Marcus Pelegrimas (2009)
The first novel in Pelegrimas’s Skinners saga, this novel was marketed as paranormal fantasy and while it certainly is that, it is also an epic reimagining of vampires and various other monstrosities. Vampire fiction fans may never have even heard of this series before but at its heart, Skinners is nothing short of revolutionary vampire-powered horror.
5. Blood Vice by Keith Melton (2009)
I described the first book in Melton’s Nightfall Syndicate thusly: “Imagine Bram Stoker writing a crime fiction epic, or Mario Puzo penning a vampire-powered thriller. Blood Vice is a perfect graft of noir fiction and paranormal fantasy…”
4. Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley (2011)
This remarkable debut novel from Headley—which revisits Cleopatra’s life (and death) as the Roman Empire was conquering Egypt—is simultaneously a beautiful, glorious, and tragic love story; a unique work of literary fiction that fuses historical events with Egyptian and Greek mythology; and a dark fantasy that cleverly reimagines the vampire mythos.
3. The Golden by Lucius Shepard (1993)
Again, like Fevre Dream, how can an award-winning novel (The Golden won the 1994 Locus Award for Best Horror Novel) written by a genre fiction icon be under-appreciated? For whatever reason, this vampiric masterpiece seems to be a novel that many vampire fiction lovers have overlooked. I described this one as “a dark, poetic phantasmagoria of nightmarish images, brutal violence, and unholy sensuality not to be missed.”
2. The Shake by Mel Nicolai (2010)
This brilliantly understated novel—self-published by Nicolai in 2010—is a blend of vampire fiction, noir mystery, and deep existential speculation. Revolving around a centuries-old vampire living in Central California who becomes entangled in a mystery involving one of his victims, this novel will resonate with readers long after the reading experience is finished.
1. Enter, Night by Michael Rowe (2011)
I described Rowe’s debut novel as “a dark masterpiece that virtually burns the pages with a bloody incandescence.” Set in 1972, the story begins in the guise of a relatively conventional fiction narrative following three broken—and broke—characters on a trek from Toronto to Parr’s Landing, a little mining town in “the middle of nowhere” on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Ontario. This will be one of the best vampire novels you ever read.
Have you read any of the novels on this list?