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Tired of Twilight? Here’s a list of worthy vampiric contenders

Fans of the Twilight books will wave their last goodbye to the cinematic take on their favourite sparkly vampire romance next week, with the release of Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. But if you prefer your vampires to veer to a more conservative shade to scarlet red, we’ve compiled a list of vampire books that don’t skimp on the sex and gore.

10 November 2012, 12:00am
Get real: Twilight’s Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart) may have captured the popular imagination, but they wouldn’t stand a chance against their historical vampire counterparts.
Get real: Twilight’s Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart) may have captured the popular imagination, but they wouldn’t stand a chance against their historical vampire counterparts.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Though Bram Stoker's tale of an evil vampire count from Transylvania who plans to infect the world with a vampiric scourge through the seemingly harmless pursuit of London real estate may not have been the very first vampire story to see the light of day (ha!), with vampire-like creatures appearing in folk and short stories long before Stoker's creation - it certainly remains the most influential.

However, contemporary readers may be disappointed to discover that Stoker - who would have been 165 last Thursday - was more concerned with the decidedly dull Victorian vampire hunting team, led by Jonathan Harker and his resourceful wife, Mina, and the fragmented narrative - cobbled together through a maddening collage of journal entries and newspaper articles - leaves little room to indulge in the gothic pleasures we've grown to associate Dracula with thanks to the myriad film adaptations/re-appropriations of Stoker's classic.

But what it lacks in gothic paraphernalia, Stoker's novel more than makes up for in atmosphere.

The frenzied assault of diary entries and news reports paint a picture of hysteria and invasion that future incarnations of the Dracula story - both in print and celluloid - didn't quite pick up on.

READ MORE: Dracula on film

The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice (1967-2003)

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Though Anne Rice's page-turners can hardly be described as examples of high literary art - being baroque, page-turning pastiches - with Interview with the Vampire (and its hugely successful, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt-starring 1994 film adaptation), Rice created a sub-mythology of the vampire: re-casting the fanged bloodsuckers as brooding anti-heroes tormented by their urge to kill, and the shackles of immortality.

Having cut her teeth (double-ha!) on Sleeping Beauty-themed erotica that would make 50 Shades's EL James blush (I kid you not), Rice, perhaps inadvertently, fanned a gothic subculture that was all too eager to embrace her brooding, sexy breed of vampire.

The series would eventually swell to include a total of ten books, but its original trilogy - being made up of Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned, and which charts the story of the venal Lestat and his conscientious vampire progeny Louis from late 18th century Louisiana to the present day - has held the firmest grip over the collective imagination.

Fevre Dream by George RR Martin (1982)

Fevre Dream by George RR Martin

Yes, you read that right: this is the same George RR Martin who gave us the fantasy epic begun by Game of Thrones. Before he plunged into the world of pseudo-medieval power games, however, Martin was a distinguished science fiction and horror writer, and this evocative tale of a no-nonsense steamboat captain (Abner Marsh) who unwittingly contracts himself to an enigmatic vampire gent (Joshua Yorke) reads like it could have been written by Mark Twain... with a healthy dose of blood and gore that would have been alien to the distinguished American satirist.

Though the central vampiric conflict - Yorke is the ethically-aware vampire who clashes with his more conservatively brutal counterparts - is hardly original, Martin plunges the material into the sweaty, humid Mississippi bayous, lending a uniquely suffused atmosphere to the narrative, which builds its mysteries slowly before unleashing a bloodbath.

But despite it being a different beast entirely, Game of Thrones fans will notice Martin's predilection towards crafting truly rotten villains: the corrupt vampire elder Damon Julian makes Joffrey Barathreon look like a meek lamb.

Anno Dracula series by Kim Newman (1992-present)

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

Film critic and all-round horror geek Kim Newman is clearly enjoying the intertextual sandbox he's created for himself with the release of Anno Dracula in '92 - which rewrites the ending to Stoker's original story and has Dracula winning.

After he vanquishes Harker et al, the Count marries Queen Victoria and casts a long and bloody shadow across the globe, reducing mortal humans - or 'the warm' - to an endangered species.

With the first novel in the series throwing the Jack the Ripper murders in to the mix, the series continued with The Bloody Red Baron, set in World War I and more recently with Dracula Cha Cha Cha (think James Bond meets La Vita e Bella). The series is set to conclude (or is it?) with Johnny Alucard, set in the 1980s.

With a liberal smattering of familiar characters (both fictional and historical), Newman has brought a sense of geeky fun to the genre that recalls its rich history, and has it collide violently on the page.

One wonders whether a copyright-friendly variation of the Twilight characters will one day make their way into the series... though their fate is bound to be a grisly one, when confronted with the vampire tradition's consistently brutal heritage...

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