Okay, so I subscribe to Buzzfeed’s morning newsletter, which can be scarily informative and often unintentionally hilarious and sometimes just incredibly depressing, but then that’s the news today. This morning the newsletter included a link to this article, 14 Books For Anyone Who’s Had A Tough Year. As I read down it with an increasing sense…
[from the stabenow.com vaults, 7/12/10, and in honor of the publication of the last Sookie Stackhouse novel tomorrow, Dead Ever After.]
An awful lot of books with vampires in them out there nowadays, I agree, but before you roll your eyes and groan let me steer you to some really good ones.
Sookie Stackhouse's clairvoyance made her an outcast long before she started dating Bill the vampire. Sookie tends bar in present-day Bon Temps, Louisiana, where due to the invention of synthetic blood by the Japanese the vampires have decided to come out of their underworld closet, and that's just the beginning. Over so far ten books in the series, Sookie is introduced to vampires, werewolves, werepanthers, weretigers, witches, fairies, maenads, and she takes them all in her stride. Beautiful, spunky, brave, Sookie is the calm eye of the supernatural hurricane swirling around her, and standing at her shoulder as she leans into this paranormal wind makes this world seem all the more real. Yes, this is the series that HBO's True Blood is based on, but read Charlaine Harris's books, too, because they're a lot of fun.
Harry Dresden is a wizard living in present-day Chicago, where he advertises his services under "W" in the Yellow Pages. He's got a good heart, a smart mouth, and a skull for a sidekick, and he goes up against some of the Biggest Bads ever to scare the socks off you. Among these are the vampires, organized into the Black Court, the White Court and the Red Court. The twelfth book in Jim Butcher's series, Changes, features a finale smackdown with the Red Court that will have you on the edge of your seat, and the best hook I've seen set in the denouement of a work of popular fiction in a long, long time.
A new entry into the vampire oeuvre is Blood Oath, the first book in a planned series by Christopher Farnsworth about a 163-year old vampire who under a voluntary voodoo spell (work with me here) has been working as a secret agent for the presidents of the United States since Andrew Johnson, and who sublimates his lust for blood by going to AA meetings, whenever he can fit one in between fouling dastardly assassination plots by zombie Frankenstein soldiers. His sidekick and our way into this world is the ambitious and cynical Zach Burrows, a young White House staffer caught in flagrante delicto with the president's daughter, which explains his current assignment. A promising start for a buddy series.
And let's not forget the book that started it all, Bram Stoker's Dracula. I read it a long time ago but I remember wondering even then how Stoker in 1897 got away with all that unspoken but nevertheless smoldering sexuality that underlays every line of the text. And Renfield still gives me the creeps.
I didn’t used to be that big with the fantasy, because after Oz, Middle Earth and Hogwarts, what was there?
Well, how about Chicago? Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden advertises in the present-day Chicago Yellow Pages under “W.” You know, for Wizard. He's got a skull named Bob as a sidekick, werewolves and a Knight Templar with a magical sword for backup, the White Council and The Red Court of vampires both on his ass, the Wizard Enforcer for a godfather and a real live fairy for a godmother. Butcher's almost got me believing in magic, these books are that good. Dead Beat, the seventh in the series, is still my favorite, but you should begin with the first, Storm Front.
It's been a long time since a book kept me up all night, and then I get four in a row, George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones and its three sequels. Instant addiction, that's what these books are, a mesmerizing epic fantasy of the family Winterfell, with marvelous characterizations (in particular the two girls, Arya and Daenerys, and the dwarf lord Tyrion), and a plot with more twists and turns than a sidewinder. There is love and lust, loyalty and betrayal, noble houses rise and kings fall, and let's not forget the creepiest boogeymen ever, known simply as "the Others." A wonderfully realized world, I can't wait to get back to it.
The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson is a great sword-and-sorcery novel featuring the valiant Jim Eckhert, whose love Angie is aported (not teleported, no, no) by mad scientist Grottwold into an alternate universe peopled by knights, dragons and really big rats. What's a hero to do? Why, go immediately to her rescue, only, of course, you guessed it, something goes ever so slightly wrong, and...but you should read it for yourself. The crankiest wizard of all time, one S. Carolinus, and then there is the Accounting Department.
You'll never feel safe in the woods again after you read Bitten by Karen Armstrong. Although you might not care if you thought you might meet Clay in there. Yum. The best book in the werewolf subgenre of fantasy fiction, great characters and a great you-are-there world of werewolf society, such a small and exclusive club. Armstrong poses some nice moral conundrums as well--it's hard to reconcile Clay the love interest with Clay the supremely selfish guy who wanted Elena so bad he'd actually---but no, I'll give it away.
The original fairy tales were dark and terrifying. You know how Cinderella’s stepsisters made their feet fit into the glass slipper in the original story? They cut their toes off. In The Godmother, author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough hauls them into the present day, in Seattle of all places, where it turns out fairy tales are no less dark or less terrifying. All the usual suspects appear, Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and through all their lives the guiding hand of the Godmother. Imaginative, well-crafted, and, well, enchanting.