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This week, Esquire is celebrating Halloween season with an ode to our favorite nocturnal creature: the humble vampire. Whether you want to relish in the beauty of What We Do in the Shadows's Nandor, relive the indelible camp of Twilight, or simply catch up on the best vampire novels and films, we’re here to provide a smattering of vampire-themed stories, made just for you. So grab your garlic and a stake, dear reader—we’re taking a trip to the underworld.
Long before vampires took over our screens, they took over our bookshelves. These creatures of the night have haunted our imaginations for millennia, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that vampires as we know them today entered our literary consciousness. Though works like John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla popularized these undead bloodsuckers, no work of literature did more to define or influence vampire fiction as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In that novel, the archetypal rules were set: vampires hate garlic, transform into bats, and can be killed by a wooden stake run through the heart.
Ever since Dracula was published to massive acclaim in 1897, vampire mania has waxed and waned, but it’s never died out entirely (much like vampires themselves). After exploding across the literary canon, vampires went on to colonize film and television; now, they’re a backbone of popular culture, raking in millions of dollars across properties like True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and Twilight. But just why do we keep coming back to these violent creatures and their violent delights? The late Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice may have said it best—in an interview, she described the vampire as being “outside of life,” and thus “the greatest metaphor for the outsider in all of us.” Once depicted as the embodiment of ancient evil, now more commonly characterized as charismatic tragic heroes, vampires have indeed come to represent all sorts of outsiders, from the racial other to the queer other. In this genre, we see our own loneliness and our own monstrosity—and our own humanity, too.
Not sure where to start? We’ve rounded up the best and brightest works of vampire fiction to start your journey through the dark and spooky night. Our favorites run the gamut from seminal texts to forgotten classics to modern reinventions. Sink your fangs into all twenty of them—and don’t come crying to us if you make a bloody mess.
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
The granddaddy of all vampire novels has been embraced as genre gospel—so much so that some of Count Dracula’s characteristics, like his hatred of garlic, sunlight, and crucifixes, have become vampire shorthand. But even if the novelty has faded, the story’s familiar pleasures remain: structured in an epistolary format, Stoker’s timeless novel tells of the Transylvanian Count Dracula’s hair-raising quest to infect England with his undead curse. All that stands between his bloodlust and his next meal are a small team of determined men and women, led by prototypical vampire hunter Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Even if you’ve read it before, this ur-text of the genre rewards repeat readings—all these years later, we’re still finding new shades in Dracula, from its anxiety about modernity to its subtext about the racialized other.
Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice
Interview With the Vampire, considered by some scholars as the most significant work of vampire literature since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is a downright fantasia for lovers of literary horror. As told in his own words, this is the ravishing story of Louis de Pointe du Lac, an 18th-century plantation owner who becomes a vampire at the fangs of radiant but mercurial Lestat. When eternal life grows lonely, Louis and Lestat turn an orphaned girl into their undead companion, but the ramifications of condemning an adult woman to eternal life in a child’s body spin out across continents and decades. In this first of fourteen books in her Vampire Chronicles series, Rice crafts a sensual fictive dream of immortality, sex, and power, all of it evoked in luscious prose.
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
Told through a tapestry of nested narratives, this modern masterpiece investigates the life and legend of Vlad Tepes, the fifteenth-century Romanian prince later mythologized as Dracula. Across time and space, letters and stories, three historians search for Vlad’s tomb: a brainy schoolgirl, her father, and her father’s Oxford advisor, who each have reason to believe that Vlad remains at large in the modern world, undead and dangerous. At once a scholarly detective story and a nail-biting thriller with a growing body count, The Historian is a once-in-a-lifetime reading experience. Surrender to its transporting powers and in no time flat, you’ll be wandering a drafty castle, full of creaking stairs and ancient crypts.
Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
In a neo-noir near future, vampires have become a geopolitical problem: deported from Europe, some have migrated to Central America, where they clash with the many Indigenous vampire species. In Mexico City, human gangs have locked arms to keep vampires out entirely—or so they think. When seventeen-year-old Domingo crosses paths with Atl, a descendent of Aztec vampires who pays for the pleasure of drinking his blood, he’s soon swept up in the city’s supernatural underbelly, where drug-dealing vampires clash in bloody gang war. Certain Dark Things is a pulpy thrill ride, but its real triumph lies in its exploration of the global vampire mythos. Moreno-Garcia considers how vampire folklore differs around the world, imbuing each of her regionalized bloodsuckers with rich cultural specificity.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell
This bright and imaginative collection of short stories contains only one about vampires, but it’s well worth the price of admission. In “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” Russell introduces Clyde and Magreb, two long-married vampires who’ve spent centuries searching for an alternative to human blood. At long last, they’ve found solace in the sun-drenched Italian village of Sorrento, where they slake their ancient thirst at local lemonade stands. But no idyll can last forever—while worldly Magreb longs to move on, Clyde is unwilling and perhaps unable to change. Spiked with gleeful flights of Russell’s legendary imagination, like vampires clad in sunglasses, "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" reaches beyond its quirky premise to plumb the disappointments of a long marriage, seen by Clyde as "a commitment to starve together." If you’re seduced by this story, consider it your gateway drug to Russell—she may just become your new favorite writer.
Fledgling, by Octavia Butler
In this brain-bending novel from the always-extraordinary Butler, we meet Shori, an injured young amnesiac who soon awakens to the reality of her identity: she is, in fact, a genetically modified vampire. Unlike her bloodsucking brethren, Shori has dark skin, which enables her to walk in the sunlight. As Shori investigates who she is and who tried to kill her, Butler transcends the vampire genre to ask challenging questions about its mythology. Why must so many vampires be white? Why do we romanticize the violations of consent vampires commit against their victims? You’ll never read a vampire novel the same way again after Fledgling.
Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu
Published 25 years before Dracula, Carmilla is the forerunner and antithesis of Stoker’s seminal novel. Where Dracula deals in clear-cut heterosexual dichotomies, Carmilla is an ethereal sapphic romance; where Dracula paints its vampire as the sinister Other, Carmilla’s vampire is a beautiful stranger. Set amid the Gothic gloom of the Austrian forest, this is the story of Laura, a nobleman’s lonesome daughter whose life changes forever when her father takes in an entrancing and unexpected guest. In Carmilla, Laura finds “a strange and beautiful companion”; meanwhile, young women in the nearby village are succumbing to a mysterious illness. Carmilla’s attack on Laura is one long, feverish seduction, with the erotic tension ratcheting up as the chapters progress. At once a seminal text of queer literature and an enduring influence on modern vampire lore, including Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Carmilla is a must-read for any fan of the genre.
It’s difficult to believe that Stephen King wrote ‘Salem’s Lot at just 24 years old. Only his second novel, it showcases all the gifts that would later make King a literary legend, from its Lovecraftian horror to its creeping sense of dread. Set in Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, a small hamlet overtaken by vampires, the novel sees the townspeople come together to defeat an ancient evil housed in an isolated mansion. Peopled with memorable characters and a hair-raising villain, ‘Salem’s Lot is eternally scary—and scary good, too.
Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Before it became a film or a television series, Let the Right One In began its life as a chilling novel. In Swedish suburbia, bullied twelve-year-old Oskar’s life changes forever when he meets Eli, the beautiful young girl who moves in next door—and only comes out at night. Through his growing bond with Eli, a centuries-old vampire trapped in the body of a preteen girl, Oskar gains the courage to strike back against his bullies. When Eli’s need to feed leads to tragedy at the hands of her menacing manservant, this bloodsoaked novel reaches fever pitch. Spare and strange, Let the Right One In paints a memorable portrait of vampires as sad, lonely outsiders just going through the motions to survive.
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires, by Grady Hendrix
Funny, gruesome, and wild, this rollicking novel from horror luminary Grady Hendrix is Desperate Housewives meets Dracula. In suburban Charleston circa 1998, middle-aged Patricia Campbell lives for her book club, where she bonds with like-minded women over true crime. When handsome and mysterious James Harris moves onto Patricia’s block, violent deaths and disappearances follow, leading the book clubbers to believe that James is responsible. They vow to stop James in his tracks—but who will believe a bunch of housewives over a charismatic man? When the ultimate showdown approaches, James and the community learn the consequences of underestimating these women; as Patricia tells us, “He thinks we’re what we look like on the outside: nice Southern ladies. Let me tell you something: there’s nothing nice about Southern ladies.” Rich in satire and horror alike, this novel has sharp fangs.
The Pale Lady, by Alexandre Dumas
“The human voice is seldom heard in these regions,” Dumas writes of the Carpathian Mountains, where the characters of The Pale Lady roam among misty monasteries and drafty castles, all of it “shrouded in eternal snow.” Atmospheric and eerie, the novella’s drama concerns Hedwig, a Polish maiden adored by two brothers—one of whom happens to be a possessive vampire “whose only law was his passions.” The Pale Lady is one of the first vampire stories set in eastern Europe, a landscape that would later become all but synonymous with the genre. Steeped in superstition, folklore, and Gothic gloom, it’s a thrilling fable about women taking the violence of men into their own hands.
Woman, Eating, by Claire Kohda
My Year of Rest and Relaxation meets Milk Fed in this slacker comedy about Lydia, a multiracial Gen Z vampire suffering an identity crisis. Fresh out of art school and eager to make a new life for herself in London, Lydia soon gets a harsh reality check: her gallery internship is unfulfilling, her crush is dating someone else, and her supply of pig's blood is running dangerously low. Ravenous and lonesome, she becomes addicted to watching #WhatIEatInADay videos, desperate for the embodied connection to food and life that humans experience. But for this yearning young vampire, self-acceptance won’t come until she finds something (or someone) to eat. Thoughtful and thrilling, Woman, Eating makes a meal of themes like cultural alienation, disordered eating, and the growing pains of adulthood.
The Gilda Stories, by Jewelle Gomez
When author and activist Jewelle Gomez set out to write “a lesbian-feminist interpretation of vampires,” her critics argued that a vampire novel couldn’t succeed without “a charming serial killer” as its protagonist. But Gomez proved them wrong—thirty years later, her big-hearted novel about the many lives of a Black lesbian vampire remains an enduring classic. The Gilda Stories opens in 1850s Louisiana, when a runaway slave girl is rescued and raised by two vampire brothel owners. Upon her coming-of-age, young Gilda agrees to “share the blood.” Told in vignettes that pinball across time and space, the novel follows the next two-hundred years of Gilda’s life as she bears witness to social change and seeks answers about her authentic self. Beautifully crafted and often downright prophetic, The Gilda Stories is a deeply hopeful, moral, and multicultural study of vampire life—a true (and welcome) departure from much of the genre.
My Soul to Keep, by Tananarive Due
If you liked Interview With the Vampire, you’ll fall hard for My Soul to Keep, another lush, atmospheric novel rich in supernatural lore and human drama. Investigative reporter Jessica Wolde thinks she has it all, but her devoted husband David, affectionately nicknamed “Mr. Perfect,” isn’t who he seems. David is actually Dawit, a 500-year-old member of an Ethiopian community that traded their humanity for immortality. When danger closes in from his undead brethren, David will do anything to save Jessica and their daughter, including sharing the gift of immortality—whether they want it or not. You won’t find a traditional vampire tale here (instead of blood-drinking, we have immortality passed down through blood), but you will find a dark and delicious melodrama about love, possession, and control.
Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman
This pulpy thriller reads like a Gothic Literature Multiverse. Anno Dracula finds its setting in a simple premise: what if, at the end of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jonathan Harker and Professor Van Helsing lost? After murdering Van Helsing, Dracula takes Queen Victoria as his bride; together, they rule over London circa 1888, where familiar villains like Jack the Ripper, Fu Manchu, and Lord Ruthven run amok in a city dominated by vampires. To depose the violent vampire regime, spy Charles Beauregarde and vampire Geneviève Dieudonné team up with unlikely allies including Mycroft Holmes and Professor Moriarty. In this gleeful dash through the Victorian era, Newman weaves a delicious alternate history.
Fevre Dream, by George R.R. Martin
Before Martin hit it big with Game of Thrones, he wrote this modern classic of vampire literature, described by critics and the author himself as “Bram Stoker meets Mark Twain.” In the antebellum South, an unlikely partnership forms between Abner Marsh, an ambitious river captain, and Joshua York, a wealthy interloper who offers to bankroll Marsh’s ingenious new steamboat. There’s just one condition: York demands that Marsh ask no questions about his odd behaviors and peculiar guests. When Marsh learns the truth about York’s dark nature, he’s forced to reconsider the moral score of his worldview. Transporting and visceral, Fevre Dream is a worthy entry to the vampire canon.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith
Grindhouse horror meets the Civil War in this alternate history of Honest Abe, reimagined as a legendary vampire slayer. After Lincoln’s mother dies from a supernatural assault when her son is nine years old, the future president vows, “I hereby resolve to kill every vampire in America.” Wielding his trusty ax alongside a motley crew of companions, including the president’s real-life wrestling buddy Jack Armstrong and a gloomy young writer named Edgar Poe, Lincoln’s bloody path through the American undead leads him all the way to the White House and the Civil War. Come for the gore, but stay for the history lesson—Grahame-Smith is as passionate a researcher as they come.
Vlad, by Carlos Fuentes
Bram Stoker’s Dracula continues in Mexico City with the “awful adventure” of lawyer Yves Navarro, Fuentes’ modern-day analogue for Stoker’s Jonathan Harker. When Yves meets Vlad, an emigré in need of a home, he enlists his beautiful wife Asunción as his client’s real estate agent. After she procures a Bauhaus villa in a stylish district of Mexico City, a fast friendship forms between the couple and Vlad, but as anyone who’s read Dracula knows, Yves is about to lose everything to the vampire who’s come to steal his life. At once a sly continuation of Stoker’s novel and a sharp criticism of the Mexican bourgeoisie, Vlad is a fantastic follow-up to the ur-text of vampire literature.
The Dead Woman in Love, by Théophile Gauthier
Published in 1836, The Dead Woman in Love (also known by its French title, La Morte Amoureuse) is one of the earliest works of literature to feature a vampiric femme fatale. Set in provincial France, Gauthier’s slow-burning story unspools the seduction of Romuald, a young man lured away from priesthood by the beautiful and enigmatic Clarimonde. When Romuald is summoned to a castle to perform Clarimonde’s last rites, he learns that this is not the first time Clarimonde has died—nor will it be the last. Ravishing and romantic, this story of love unbound by death casts a lingering spell.
The Moth Diaries, by Rachel Klein
Shirley Jackson meets Sylvia Plath in this haunted tale of obsession, jealousy, and madness. At a posh all-girls boarding school, a nameless sixteen-year-old is tormented by the growing bond between her ex-best friend and a new student, Ernessa. When a classmate is found dead after falling from the roof of her dormitory, our narrator suspects that Ernessa pushed her, convinced as she is that Ernessa must be a vampire. Told in a breathless narrative voice wracked with claustrophobia and paranoia, The Moth Diaries charts our narrator’s dizzying descent into madness as she searches for the truth about Ernessa—and begins to question her own reality. Consider this a worthy descendent of Carmilla.
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