Archetype: Diverse Protagonists
Are you tired of reading about the same old straight, White vampires? Well, then good news! Because Vampires Never Get Old delivers 11 short stories that bring fresh takes on vampires. If you’ve been looking for queer vampires, or Black or Brown rep in your fanged fiction, this is definitely the book for you (and also maybe for the kiddo in your life, if you have any that are YA readers).
Tara: This is a really solid collection. Just like with every other short story collection, I liked some stories better than others. Unlike most other collections, however, my enjoyment range for each story ranged between “yeah, I liked it” and “holy shit, I need to slack Maya because that story was SO good.”
Maya, what were your favourite stories? Three stood out most for me. The first, which is also my favourite, is “Mirrors, Windows & Selfies” by Mark Oshiro. It’s written as the fictional blog of a teenage vampire who was born to vampires, and not made. At the beginning, I was saying “yeah, this is kind of a cute structure for a story.” But as I kept reading, I was becoming just as sucked in as the fan comments on the posts, and found myself agreeing with commenter NoOneKissesLikeGaston when she said “Okay, now I’m hooked. When does the next chapter come out?”
Maya: Ohhhhhhh, I definitely loved “Mirrors, Windows & Selfies”! I know lots of people recoil at first person narratives, but I think telling the story through a fictional blog meant using first person made a lot of sense. Of course it would be in first person if it is the blog of some teen talking about his life! And I also loved how it gave us a story of teen discovering that he isn’t unique and special, but quite the opposite—which is exactly what he wanted.
Tara: Yes! I was so happy for him at the end! I thought it was especially brilliant in the way it encourages readers to contemplate who they really are versus who they’re often told they are.
My next fave is “A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire” by Samira Ahmed, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s written as a guidebook for Indian people in India who are turned, helping them understand how they should approach their new life as a vampire. One of my favourite lines in the whole collection is the two word entry in the section “WHAT SHOULD YOU EAT:”
Maya: Ahhhhhhh, another one I adored. I definitely cackled evilly multiple times at the one. I loved the swipe at Zuckerberg, the brief mention of the relationship between Brexit and illegal sirings by British tourist vamps in India, and I adored the unbreakable rule:
No babies. No underage individuals. No poverty stricken. No one kicked to the curb and marginalized. Don’t do what was done to you.
“A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire” is essentially how to be an ethical vampire of color in a world beset with colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and oppression, and I really, weirdly (?), identified with the rules set out for these Indian baby vamps sired against their will. “Colonialism is the true bloodsucker” indeed.
Tara: Yes! That balance of humour and ethics really got me too. On an entirely different, but equally delightful note, my final fave is “First Kill” by V.E. Schwab. It’s about a teenage vampire who’s ready to make her first kill at the same time that she develops a crush on the new girl in class. There’s a nice twist that kept me on my toes and the whole thing made me want to skip my existing ridiculous TBR list so I can dive into this author’s backlist.
Maya: I really enjoyed that one too, or more specifically, I was super mad that it ended. I wanted more story!! I would watch a CW series about those teens in a (lol) heartbeat.
One of my other favorites was “In Kind” by Kayla Whaley. I’m still thinking about that story more than a month after I read it. “In Kind” is about Grace, a disabled teen girl whose father attempts to kill her because he thinks she is too handicapped to live. She is turned into a vampire by someone who finds her body where her father dumped it, and Grace gets her revenge on him by not letting him tell the story of whether she deserved to live or die. I’m assuming this story is in direct response to mainstream stories like this one from the NY Times (and whatever other mess I miss because I’m not actually on Twitter) which just drips with condescending ableism and horrifyingly calls murder an act of love. I think, as lovers of romance and a good HEA, we can agree that a murder committed by a caregiver is not what a love story looks like.
As a person that read through many of the critiques by disability activists and disabled people following the publishing of that NY Times article, I can see their viewpoints clearly represented in this story. “In Kind” centers Grace, the person who was almost killed, rather than her father the killer. Vampirism does not “fix” Grace by getting her out of her wheelchair because that is not a thing she wanted or needed to be changed about her, and she gets to speak for herself, rather than having her father and others assert that they knew what was best for her. I found Grace’s simmering rage to be delightful (but then, when do I not?) and it made me realize how few stories I read that center a disabled person, let alone a disabled vampire. More romances with disabled people (and PNR with disabled vampires!), please and thank you!
Tara: Oh yes, her rage is chilling, and I mean that in the best possible way. I spent most of the story thinking about this case from the 90s, when a father killed his daughter with cerebral palsy.
Something else I appreciate about this collection is the different takes on origin stories. For example, in “Seven Nights for Dying,” a young artist is given the choice to take part in a ritual over seven days to become a vampire. Enthusiastic consent is central to this story, putting it in direct contrast to vampire stories where characters are turned whether they’re interested or not.
We even get one story entirely told from the perspective of a vampire slayer, “Senior Year Sucks” by Julie Murphy. Not only is it fun to see her side of the vampire/slayer equation, but I was so happy to see positive fat rep with her, which gave me good “take THAT, Joss Whedon” feels.
I stand in a lunge as Karily, a petite white girl, steps onto my thick, dimpled thighs, one cheerleader after the other hoisting her higher and higher. I’m what some people call meaty or fat. My body isn’t trim and slender like most people would expect of a slayer. I’m a stout white girl with round hips and thighs and little to no chest to speak of. I get my ass from Daddy and he gets his ass from his mama. I’m the kind of limber that makes a great pyramid base, and my roundhouse kick packs some serious heat. Turns out vampire slayers don’t need to be fat or skinny or any particular thing at all as long as they kick ass.
Maya: As you mentioned up top, I agree that this would be a great collection for anyone that loves vampires, including preteens/teens, and are looking for more complexity than what they might find in the standard available narratives. These stories are at times bloody and violent because hi, vampires, but I wouldn’t call any of the stories gory or scary. And the questions that follow every story might be a fun starting place for families that read books together!
Tara: This feels a bit tricky to choose a grade for, because the stories range between A and C+ for me. Like I mentioned above, I at least liked all of them, and I fell in love with a handful. Given that, I’d give this one a B+, because there are enough excellent stories in it that I definitely recommend picking up the collection.
Maya: Agree on the B+! This is definitely an anthology that I would recommend for others to read (which is why there are two reviewers!). You’ll definitely find one that tells a story you never knew you needed.
Sarah: Hi, it’s your editor. Can I add something?
Maya: Hell yes! Get in there!
Tara: Um, yes, obvs!
Sarah: After you recommended it to me, I have been savoring this anthology — pun intended. I completely agree with everything you’ve said. Our favorites matched, we loved the same moments, and I love how powerful each story was, and how each examined vampire lore in a completely unique way. And with each story, I thought of a person or six to recommend the anthology to immediately.
I wanted to add that my brain has been very tired and not up to the mental work of reading a book since virtual school started. This anthology has been perfect. Each story is an entire universe of thoughtful, incisive storytelling. I can read one at a time and think about them afterwards. I read one over lunch and think about it for the afternoon. I read one before bed and think about it while I’m falling asleep. There is so much packed into each story, and yet they are concise and exactly the amount of narrative my brain can handle at the moment. This anthology could not have arrived at a more perfect time. Thank you for the recommendation!