Vampires were already part of mythology, folklore, and literature before the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. But it was the impact of this classic that immortalized the sharp-toothed, blood-drinking creatures in popular culture. Since then, they have appeared in all kinds of stories from blood-curdling horror to romantic eroticism. If you prefer your vampire books “rare,” then bury your teeth in these 13 titles with the same spirit of Stoker’s masterpiece.
1. Vampires: Encounters With the Undead, by David J. Skal
Readers interested in finding out how vampires were portrayed before Dracula must read this amazing 2006 edition. David J. Skal is an expert on the subject who has already written a biography on Bram Stoker (Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker). In nearly 600 pages, he assembles an impressive collection of vampire tales written before and after Dracula. There is, for example, John Polidori’s The Vampyre, an 1819 novel considered one of the first modern stories about vampirism. There are also classics like Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu and Tolstoy’s The Family of the Vourdalak. Many of these stories have been edited separately, which makes this book even better by bringing them all together.
2. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
In the 1950s, vampires looked like old-fashioned creatures in the face of atomic fear. That’s why prolific author Richard Matheson decided to revitalize them for a new generation. Part post-apocalyptic adventure, part horror story, I Am Legend follows the dramatic daily routine of Robert Neville, the last survivor of a deadly pandemic. The virus has eradicated most of humanity and turned the rest into a kind of vampire that attacks at night and feeds on human blood. During the day, Neville wanders the deserted streets of the city looking for the sleeping creatures to exterminate. At night, he locks himself in his home to survive the monsters. I Am Legend had such a huge impact on horror in general that it’s considered the main inspiration for zombie apocalypse stories.
3. Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King
King’s second published novel is also one of his most popular works. The 1975 book tells the story of Ben Mears, a writer who returns to his hometown (called Jerusalem’s Lot) to work on his next book. But Mears’ return coincides with the arrival of the mysterious Kurt Barlow. Never seen in daylight, Barlow moves into an old mansion and townspeople suddenly start to die. Well, I think the true nature of the new resident is already clear enough, right? King confessed that Bram Stoker was one of his main inspirations. But Salem’s Lot also deals with several recurring themes in King’s oeuvre, such as childhood traumas, a rural town haunted by an ancestral evil, and writers as protagonists.
4. The Keep, by F. Paul Wilson
Published in 1981, The Keep is the first volume in a series of six novels, but you don’t have to read the entire saga to enjoy this one. Set in 1941, during World War II, the story starts with Nazi soldiers occupying an old castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. But each night more and more soldiers are killed by a vampire-like invisible entity. To investigate the mystery and stop the massacre, an SS commander ironically needs to ally with a Jewish historian. The Keep is an atmospheric horror story that mixes vampire mythology with the greatest villains of the 20th century, thus making the supernatural creature seem far less threatening compared to the worst real-life monsters.
5. Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The best vampire stories are those that manage to marry drama and horror in equal doses. Let The Right One In by Swedish author Lindqvist deals with the unlikely friendship between two 12-year-old children. One is Oskar, who’s suffering bullying at school. The other is Eli, a girl who has just moved into the neighborhood and is actually a 200-year-old vampire trapped in a child’s body. Both misfits and misunderstood in their own way, Oskar and Eli start a beautiful relationship of trust and complicity, in which they try to help the other move forward. Let the Right One In also adds some contemporary themes (like pedophilia and bullying) to the traditional elements of this kind of story.
6. Interview With the Vampire, by Anne Rice
Before more romantic approaches to the subject (such as Twilight or The Vampire Diaries), American author Anne Rice reigned supreme. She has sold tens of millions of copies of her series The Vampire Chronicles (13 books published between 1976 and 2018). The first, and most popular, is exactly this one, in which Rice introduces her famous vampire Lestat de Lioncourt. The title concerns the main plot: Louis, a 200-year-old vampire, tells a reporter the story of his life–how he was transformed into a creature of the night by Lestat. At first he was his companion, then his deadly enemy. Interview With the Vampire features characters and themes that the author would continue to develop over the next four decades, helping popularize a more romantic and sensual take on vampires.
7. Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman
What if Dracula wasn’t just a horror classic, but a true story? English writer Newman plays with the idea in this bizarre adventure made especially for pop culture lovers. Anno Dracula takes place in the universe of Bram Stoker’s book, but the end of the story is quite different: Dracula kills Van Helsing and conquers England! The villain then marries Queen Victoria and forms an invincible army of vampires. In this parallel reality, the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper is portrayed as an anti-hero whose victims are vampires. Packed with literary references and lots of real and fictional characters (such as Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, and Dr. Moreau), this is a book that geeks may especially appreciate.
8. The Hunger, by Whitley Strieber
Eternal life is a complex concept rarely explored by most vampire stories. But a creature that lives forever will have to deal with loneliness, boredom, and the death of all human friends and lovers. That’s exactly what this interesting 1981 book is about. More existential drama than a horror story, The Hunger follows the tragic existence of Miriam. She is a vampire who has walked the earth since Ancient Egypt and now lives in 20th century America. Over the centuries, Miriam has had countless lovers of both sexes, whose life she extended with doses of her own blood. But they eventually age and are kept trapped in coffins by the protagonist. More realistic and contemporary than “gothic,” The Hunger is one of the best contemporary vampire stories.
9. Fevre Dream, by George R.R. Martin
In 1982, more than a decade before A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin published this vampire story set in the Old West. A bankrupt captain and a mysterious millionaire become partners to build Mississippi’s largest passenger steamboat, the Fevre Dream. But the sailor begins to suspect the habits of his business partner, who rarely leaves his room during daylight. Using real events like Civil War as a backdrop, Martin’s story addresses enemy clans of vampires fighting each other–something that would become a cliché from the 1990s onwards. The author himself described Fevre Dream as a cross between Bram Stoker and Mark Twain.
10. Dracula Unbound, by Brian W. Aldiss
This is a horror adventure with pulp fiction style and rhythm by an English master of fantasy literature. The book is about time-traveler vampires who take over the world and imprison humanity like cattle. A scientist from the post-apocalyptic Earth decides to go back in time to fight the villain behind the evil plan (none other than Count Dracula!) and save the future. After returning to Victorian England, the protagonist teams up with… Bram Stoker, here promoted from real-life author to literary hero. And of course, the whole adventure inspires Stoker to write his classic book. Weird and fun at the same time, Dracula Unbound is quite original (and a little crazy) in its mix of vampires and science fiction.
11. Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
After more than two centuries of vampire literature, it’s refreshing to still find new ideas on the subject. This 2016 book by Mexican novelist Moreno-Garcia imagines a universe in which the existence of vampires was made public and changed our world. There are different species with their own characteristics. Latin American vampires are different from European vampires, for example. Mexico is now dominated by groups of vampires and also by human gangs who hate the monsters, all in constant war. But Mexico City is a kind of neutral territory. It’s where young Domingo befriends a vampire called Atl and tries to protect her from her pursuers. Certain Dark Things uses vampires as an excuse to address issues such as migration, xenophobia, and urban violence. It’s recommended for those who think they’ve read everything in the genre.
12. Vampire City, by Paul Féval
Paul Féval was a 19th-century French author specializing in feuilletons (serial melodramas published in newspapers) and crime stories. Written in 1867 with the original French title La Ville Vampire, Vampire City is a book way ahead of its time. It’s a postmodern parody like Anno Dracula or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but written long before postmodernism even existed. Féval imagines real-life writer Ann Radcliffe as a vampire hunter. The real Radcliffe was a famous 18th-century English novelist, known for Gothic horror classics like The Mysteries of Udolpho. But here she leads a team of monster killers against a menacing vampire lord. It is worth noting that Féval wrote this book three decades before Bram Stoker published Dracula.
13. Enter, Night, by Michael Rowe
This 2011 novel is a perfect match for those readers who crave old-fashioned vampire and/or horror stories. The plot takes place in 1972, in an old mining town called Parr’s Landing. The arrival of a recent widow and her family coincides with the return of a man searching for answers to his father’s death. Obviously, everything is linked to an ancestral evil that lurks underground. Certain themes, and even the development of characters and situations, resemble contemporary classics like Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. And like these books, Enter, Night is a page-turner that readers can devour in a few hours.