Generally speaking, vampires are not particularly frightening anymore.
It’s a real shame, since they’re supposed to be everything we fear: vampires are not particularly different from zombies in the fact that they too are disease-carriers, and they too are cannibalistic. The primary difference comes down to the fact that they’re smarter, which makes them even more dangerous.
Unfortunately as of late, pop culture has defanged the vampire and turned him into a sometimes sparkling anti-hero. Vampires are just too nice nowadays, which is the primary complaint that both Yulric Bile, the protagonist of Jim McDoniel’s “An Unattractive Vampire,” and the author himself share. Yulric wakes up in a world he does not understand, where vampires are no longer creatures that strike terror into the hearts of man but are rather objects of lust.
The book is really charming and funny, and I had my eye on it for a while, so when I accumulated enough Inkshares credits (here’s a referral code where we’ll both benefit if you decide you want to check the book out) to get it for free, I went for it. I don’t regret it, and even if I had spent money on “An Unattractive Vampire,” I think I still would have been satisfied. McDoniel has a solid voice and there are asides in the form of footnotes that I find extremely appealing. Those footnotes are something I have seen done in other novels before (notably, “The Boyfriend List” by E. Lockhart), but not so much that there is a specific rule that has to be followed. I thought it was an interesting way to include humorous interjections without interrupting the flow of the narrative.
McDoniel’s writing is good. The story for the most part takes a straightforward approach. There was one character in the beginning that, because she had appeared at that point in two of the three chapters I had read, I assumed would be present throughout–and I was honestly kind of bummed that she disappeared. It almost felt like she was meant to be there originally and then served no greater purpose.
On the one hand, I can sympathize with the dislike of the modern vampire. I’m not a fan of the vampires in “Twilight” either, and even “Buffy” has its drawbacks. If you’re a vampire lore purist, you’re probably going to be upset about something in some reinvention of the monster.
At the same time, it’s impossible to really be a “purist” in terms of vampires because there are so many different takes on them depending on even what part of Eastern Europe you’re looking at, never mind the entire planet. McDoniel does bring in some of those foreign vampires, but they aren’t particularly full-fledged and the attempt does fall flat: what should be an impressive battle between the old and the new just doesn’t do it, which is unfortunate.
Some of the complaints don’t hold up though. “What do you mean, vampires can have children?” Well, dhampirs have been a thing in folklore since as long as people have figured out a way to profit from an alleged vampire infestation, when you consider the fact that they’re supposed to be the only ones who can kill the vampire. “What do you mean, vampires are sexy?” Even when “Nosferatu” was made you still had the Byronic-type vampire who would seduce young women and suck their blood. You’re picking and choosing what parts of the canon you want to keep while condemning others, and unfortunately a lot of what’s being condemned as dumb are the things that might be typically associated with female vampire fans.
The whole premise of the novel focuses on a show that seems like a blend of any recent popular vampire shows, with a protagonist named “Phantom.” The primary demographic of these shows are young women–as illustrated even in-book with Amanda, the bright blonde female protagonist who still ends up having to be rescued by the combined forces of Yulric and her younger brother. She lands a few punches in, but there isn’t anything revolutionary or new about the “Gather the troops to rescue the dame” plotline. Even if Yulric’s motivation is to bring down the new breed of vampires, it’s still prompted by the kidnapping of Amanda–which really isn’t that different from Stoker’s heroes having to kill Dracula in order to save Mina.
Even when you’re busy complaining about vampire tropes, you’re still going to run the risk of falling into them. In that way, this book was a let down.
I still enjoyed the process of reading it, and I laughed a lot, and I would recommend it to people, but that is something that has to be considered. There’s a note at the end from the author where he expresses the sentiment that some girls in front of him in line who were talking about “Twilight” inspired the novel, though they don’t know it, and that bothered me a lot. We all like some embarrassing media, and there’s some media we like that maybe we should be embarrassed about that we’re not. Making fun of some girls for talking about “Twilight” seems really snooty, even to me, an admittedly snooty vampire fan.
This is a general gripe about media: it seems like girls aren’t allowed to like anything, and then when they do like it, guys have to complain about them liking it incorrectly. It’s a shame we can’t get away from that even when it comes to vampires.
“An Unattractive Vampire” isn’t so much horror as action/urban fantasy, which isn’t a bad thing, and the writing is solid and enjoyable. If you can get over the sometimes not-so-cleverly-disguised shots at vampire things girls generally are attracted to, I’d say give it a go. If not, maybe wait until another vampire book hits the shelves.