Cara reviews Ex-Wives of Dracula by Georgette Kaplan

ex wives of dracula

This is one of the best lesbian vampire books I’ve ever read. While not without its flaws, it stands out for the development of its two protagonists, its prose, its humor, and its well-developed setting.

Mindy and Lucia start off by rekindling their childhood friendship on Mindy’s pizza routes, in the easy way that friendships develop when you’re that age and don’t need to make plans to spend time with people. While the characters are in high school, though, Ex-Wives of Dracula doesn’t feel at all like a young-adult book, rather more like a classic bildungsroman, colored with an adult perspective on being young. Soon, Mindy confesses that she’s been questioning if she’s gay to Lucia. Mindy’s doubts feel real. To me it’s obvious she’s into girls, but it’s exactly the same way my sexuality was a riddle to my high-school self yet so obvious in hindsight. Then, Lucia breaks up with her boyfriend. Then, Lucia kisses Mindy. Then, she gets back together with her boyfriend. Then, she gets turned into a vampire.

Lucia’s hot-and-cold, off-and-on affections should be familiar to any queer woman who’s had her heart broken by a straight girl. Lucia’s not so straight, though, and the clues are there from the start.

“I really tried with him,” Lucia said. Her voice wasn’t rattling with
emotion any more, it was just quiet. Which was even worse. “I really
thought I was a good girlfriend. I was gonna—wash his clothes and fix
him pies and shit. I would’ve done anything to be a good girlfriend.”

“You were a great girlfriend,” Mindy assured her. “He’s just an
idiot. He’s an idiot who never even got to know you well enough to
know what he’s gonna be missing. He’s gonna be big and fat at the high
school reunion, and you’re going to be super-hot and married to a
senator. He won’t even know why he let you get away.”

“I did anal!” Lucia cried to the florescent lights. “What more is a
girl supposed to do, huh?”

We learn, though, that Lucia’s ambiguity has at least as much to do with her feeling inferior to Mindy—dumber and poorer—as it does with internalized homophobia. She hurts Mindy not because she’s deliberately toying with her, but because she doesn’t know how to deal with a relationship on top of her family’s dysfunction and her own uncertainties about her future.

Mindy works out much faster that she likes girls and is more together, but she’s flawed too. When Lucia confesses that the reason she doesn’t want to drink Mindy’s blood is because she’ll lose control, Mindy convinces her otherwise, then hypocritically blames Lucia when, later in the book, she does lose control. Mindy is also certain that Lucia is wrong about something that Lucia is right about, with tragic consequences for everyone involved.

The dialog is often hilarious, and moments of humor mark the rest of the book too. It veers from the absurd, like Lucia going through Mindy’s list of bad tippers to find people to feed on, to the silly, like when Mindy disinvites Lucia to pretend to be hitting her with a hadouken, to the dark: This is why communication is so important, she said to Lucia. Imagine, thinking I had something against murderous rampages… Kaplan uses the humor well to contrast the serious and sometimes horrific elements in the rest of the novel.

Kaplan writes a lot of great descriptions, and some of the best come in the horror scenes. When Lucia confronts the vampire the first time:

He pulled. She bit. The skin gave and his blood flooded her mouth. It
wasn’t warm, it wasn’t salty. It was cold and thick, knotted like old
cough syrup. She wouldn’t release her hold on him to spit it out. She
swallowed and felt it all the way down her esophagus, cold and
heavy. It sat in the pit of her stomach like she’d eaten dry ice.

When Lucia shows up at Mindy’s house afterward:

Out in the hallway, she gasped so hard she nearly dropped the
tray. The footprints Mindy had so assiduously cleaned up, with Swiffer
mops and Resolve Spot & Stain, were still there in ghostly
form. They’d metastasized into mushrooms with long, slender stalks and
caps the size of tennis balls, with small siblings alongside them. The
patches of fungus went up the stairs. One for each step Lucia had
taken.

One of my complaints about lesbian genre literature in general is that the prose is often not good, and I love to find novels that I enjoy reading just for the writing.

Her descriptions capture suburban Texas well, and the football-obsessed high school and town surrounding reminded me of the town I lived in in high school. [Spoilers next] The idea that one of those towns would welcome a vampire, as long as he was a good football coach, is scarily plausible to me. I also liked the way that Kaplan wove real-life life horror, an adult man who obsesses over a teenaged girl and interprets her actions as romantic love, into the character of the vampire; and that when Lucia revealed vampire existence to use it against the vampire who turned her, and the rest of the novel didn’t ignore this like it never happened.

One modern vampire trope in this novel that bugs me is vampires that can cross miles in seconds, with no mention of sonic booms or problems with ground shattering beneath their feet. (I think Twilight popularized this trope, but I don’t think it originated there.) Two other flaws are spoilers.

 

 

 

Spoilers

Seb starts off as comic relief, a FunnyForeigner from Romania. This is always a fraught trope, and I have mixed feelings about how Kaplan uses it here. Later, he’s arguably StuffedInTheFridge to make Mindy surrender herself to the vampire. The reason I say “arguably” is because, at least in my interpretation of the trope, one of its key properties is the lack of agency in the character’s death. Without this, it’s too easy to call every character death an example, because a death without any impact on any character isn’t going to have an impact on the reader, either. Seb puts himself in danger to save Mindy, so he has agency in his own death. Another point is that killing off a straight male character to motivate a not-straight female character doesn’t have the same baggage as the reverse. That said, this all is enough to trouble me, so I’d call it a flaw.

I also wish the ending had shown a little more of Mindy and Lucia’s future together, to indicate that maybe a two-vampire relationship would work out and that they could find some sort of happiness together. That is, however, a quibble. There’s not much more serious commitment than what Mindy does for Lucia, after all.

 

 

Danika reviews Better Off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon

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I don’t read a lot of romance or erotica, but I figured that this month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I would give the genre another shot. I was immediately intrigued by the premise of this one: vampire sorority sisters? I’m in. And for the most part, this is exactly the kind of smutty, light read I was looking for. I would say this leans more to the erotica side of things, because there is usually sex every couple of pages.

Part of the reason that I enjoyed this more than I was expecting was the voice. I liked the little bits of humor thrown in to Ginger’s inner monologue, like her musing that “Maybe it was the right moment to tell Amy I was seventy-seven percent sure I was a lesbian.” I also felt like the characters were strong and compelling, including many of the side characters. I’m really looking forward to the sequel that focuses on Cleo (and Benny), because she was my favourite supporting character. There is also quite a bit of racial diversity in the supporting characters, which I appreciated, and it was interesting to see how all these different personalities dealt with the same unusual situation.

I also was somewhat unfairly influenced because I have been watching Mark Reads Fifty Shades of Grey, and that book sets a spectacularly low bar. But especially in contrast to that experience, I really liked the dynamic between Ginger and Camila. (Yes, the lesbian vampire love interest is named Camila. I appreciated the nod to the classic lesbian vampire story.) Camila is a vampire and has significantly more power and influence than Ginger, but they still manage to have what I considered a healthy relationship. There is a push and pull between them, but Ginger feels capable of setting limits and they both communicate honestly. I can definitely see what Ginger gets out of the relationship. (And despite the plethora of sex scenes, they didn’t get too repetitive.)

My only real problem with the book was the plot. For one thing, if I discovered that hell, demons, and God were all real, I would have some follow-up questions no matter how distracting by hot new vampire girlfriend was, but Ginger doesn’t seem curious at all about the details of this. The plot moves fairly slowly through most of the book, but I was enjoying being immersed in the world and in Ginger and Camila’s relationship. The end of the book, however, packs a lot into a short space, and it felt rushed to me. I would have liked to see it more evenly plotted throughout the book, but overall I really enjoyed this and will definitely be picking up the sequel.

Danika reviews Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

carmilla

Carmilla is a lesbian vampire novella that predates Dracula by over 25 years. I had been meaning to pick this book up for years, just based off that description, but I wanted to save it for an October read. This year I finally got around to it, and I think it makes the perfect quick sapphic Halloween read.

If you’re anything like me, you probably expect Carmilla to be pretty subtextual. This is the Victorian era, surely this isn’t a blatantly lesbian book? As I began to read it, though, I found more and more passages that were fairly straightforward. As the two girls meet, Laura and Carmilla, they hold hands, smile, and blush. Carmilla fawns over Laura, calling her darling, and making Laura confused and uncomfortable.

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever.” Then she has thrown herself back in her chair, with her small hands over her eyes, leaving me trembling.

Living in such an overwhelmingly heteronormative time, Laura can’t fathom why Carmilla would act like this. She asks whether they’re related, and muses that maybe Carmilla is a man in disguise trying to seduce her, like sometimes happens in storybooks. (This was a time so heteronormative that Boston marriages and romantic friendships were seen as totally acceptable for straight women.)

So how did a book so blatantly queer get published in 1872? Because Carmilla is a monster. Laura is simultaneously repulsed and attracted to this queer monster. But because she is a vampire, Carmilla’s actions and attractions are unambiguously cast as bad, therefore letting the story get told. (Lesbian pulp followed this formula: the ending had to punish the gay characters, to make the whole book seem like a warning, despite anything that happened beforehand.)

As Carmilla proves, vampires have been associated with lesbianism for more than a century. And this book shows how those fears can be tangled together in a straight society. The idea that the charming young woman your daughter is associating with could be the enemy, that she could invade your home under the guise of something as sweet and pure as female friendship: what a terrifying thought! The lesbian vampire is a monster in disguise, a monster that can appear as angelic as a young, fragile woman. Like lesbian pulp, this image is something I find hilarious now, but in the context of the time period does show the overwhelming homophobia of the environment. (Though even this iteration of vampire lore does offer some sympathy to Carmilla.)

This is a great read for a look at the beginnings of vampire lore as we know it now, as well as having the allure of being able to read a Victorian lesbian story. Unfortunately, the compromise is that the plot of Carmilla relies almost entirely on the reader not already knowing that Carmilla is a vampire, which is pretty impossible to miss as a modern reader. Luckily, this is a short book, and still well worth the read even with that caveat.

Krait reviews Better Off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon

betteroffred

Ginger’s goal as a college freshman is to maintain her 4.0 GPA without being driven batty by her roommate Amy’s obsession with Greek life. But when she agrees to look at them to get Amy off her back, she can’t take her mind off the gorgeous girls of Alpha Beta Omega. Somehow, she finds herself invited to their secret initiation ritual, and that’s when things get weird. Everyone expects odd mystic rituals from a fraternity or sorority, but ABO is hiding blood-bonds and vampire queens. What’s Ginger to do when her secret crush turns out to be the top vamp?

I really wanted to love this book going in: with sororities, secret vampires, lesbian erotica, how could it go wrong? But while it had some great moments, I think the book suffers from a major lack of conflict past about the first third. Ginger drives herself mad over Camila, insisting to herself that there’s no way vamp-queen Camila could have feelings for her. Normally, I wouldn’t blink at that – mysterious motives of a love interest are a tried-and-true story element. The problem is, as the reader, it was pretty damn clear after about the second round of sex that Camila is deeply, unreservedly into Ginger, so Ginger’s cluelessness didn’t reflect terribly well on her. However, minus the emotional whirlwind, Ginger is relatable and funny, and gets in some good mental quips.

Between the current sorority sisters, the vampire-queens, and the new pledges, the book establishes a fairly diverse cast of ladies. But because we meet them through Ginger’s first-person perspective, there’s a lot of objectifying language used to describe their introduction. I was a little uncomfortable with the focus on their exotic beauty, and I don’t feel like we ever get great character development for the other sister-queens (as the book calls them). But thankfully, after the first introductions, the other sorority sisters are fleshed out enough that their backgrounds aren’t their only signifier.

Overall, if I was giving a grade, I’d give Better Off Red a C+. It’s light on plot and I wish that the vampire mythology had been fleshed out further, but the erotica was well-written, and I don’t regret reading it. Pick this up if the concept grabs you and you don’t mind a focus on sex.

Danika reviews Dark Angels: Lesbian Vampire Erotica edited by Pam Keesey

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This was another (in addition to The Haunting of Hill House) book I intended to read in October, but didn’t come in to the library for me until November, so I’m extending my Halloween reads! When I went to pick it up, I was surprised to see that it was billed as erotica: I didn’t think I had requested any erotica. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that it’s because originally the book’s tagline was lesbian vampire stories, and was changed to “erotica” in the new edition. Knowing that made the collection make more sense. Although there is a lot of sex in Dark Angels, I wouldn’t exactly call it erotica. The introduction especially takes the subject matter pretty seriously, discussing themes of vampirism and goddesses, dark angels, Lilith, etc. Although some of the stories pretty quickly just get into sex scenes with fangs, others are without sex–including “Bloody Countess”, which is just a long description of various tortures Erzsebet (Elizabeth)Bathory performed on girls.

I have read and own Pam Keesey’s previous lesbian vampire collection, Daughters of Darkness, and I really enjoyed that one. The introduction to Dark Angels explains that while its predecessor was lesbian stories with vampire themes, this collection is vampire stories with lesbian themes. Perhaps because of this, I didn’t enjoy Dark Angels as much as the first collection. There are some stories that I really liked, especially the writing of “Presence” and “Cinnamon Roses”, and the intrigue of “Blood Wedding”, and I did enjoy the explicitly-queer-for-Victorian-times story (“The Countess Visonti”). Overall, though, the erotica stories weren’t particularly titillating to me, and the more literary stories weren’t as memorable as I’d like. (Unlike Daughters of Darkness‘s lesbian-vampire-in-space story!)

Perhaps predictably–we all know the lesbian vampires joke–there is also a lot of menstruation in this collection. Which makes sense, and was something I’d appreciate being addressed in one of the stories, or a few, but the frequent returns to the subject were a little much for me. I was also bothered by the “Tale of Christina” positing lesbian sex as fundamentally incomplete/unfulfilling. Also, “The Bloody Countess” is the longest story in the collection and is second to last. The list of (supposedly real-life) tortures that ran on for 16 pages kind of turned my stomach, and seemed a little weird in the context of “erotica” stories. I also felt like the introduction dragged on for me, especially considering that it didn’t really seem to match the tone of the stories included. As you can probably tell, I wouldn’t recommend this collection. Try Daughters of Darkness instead.

Danika reviews The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

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This October I decided that I wanted to devote some time to Halloween reads. My top pick was a lesbian vampire classic (no, not that one), The Gilda Stories. It’s not the first lesbian vampire book I’ve read, but this one stands out for being neither horror nor erotica. It follows a vampire from just before her change, when she is escaping from slavery, to two centuries afterwards (yes, to 2050). It is almost like a collection of short stories, each set a decade or two after the previous one. I found this a fascinating structure, because for one thing, it really imagines the scope of being immortal. You get an idea of how many different cities and time periods she’s lived in and adapted to, in a way that a one-off sentence about being centuries old just can’t encapsulate. It also is just as much a history of racism and slavery in the United States, with Gilda noting the patterns that emerge through time, and her attempts to be involved in progressive change.

Another thing I appreciated about The Gilda Stories was the vampire mythology. As I said, this isn’t a horror book. Vampires in this novel need to feed on human blood, but it’s ideally not a violent act. Gilda and her family have a strict moral code, involving giving something to everyone they feed on. Vampires are able to manipulate people’s thoughts, and Gilda and her ilk read what a person needs (comfort, decisiveness, hope, etc), and leave that with them. They also heal the wounds they cause, making it, in their opinion, an even exchange. In addition to being able to influence thoughts, these vampires also have super strength and, obviously, are immortal. In the “noble” vampire sense, they remind me of more current-day vampire mythology, who aside from brooding and not dying, don’t differ much from humans. On the other hand, they have to carry around earth from their birthplace, a tradition most modern vampire stories drop. (They weave it into hems of clothing and into their shoes, and sleep on a pallet of it.) This helps protect against indirect sunlight and being around bodies of water, though both can still weaken them. And yes, they sleep in the day.

I really loved this book. The writing is great, the characters are so interesting, and I loved this queer, black take on the vampire story. It’s definitely neither horror nor erotica, and Gilda’s lesbianism is basically a non-issue, but also not brushed over. If you’re looking for a different take on the vampire, definitely pick up The Gilda Stories, even if you’re not usually the “scary story” type!

Alyssa reviews Night Weaver by Madeleine Lycka

Night Weaver by Madeleine Lycka is an erotic vampire romance that centers around three vampire women. Two of them, Isabel and Ankit, have been undead for hundreds of years, and the third, Arrow, has just been turned into a vampire by Ankit. The story revolves around romance, art, sex, jealousy, and some minor politicking. Overall, I enjoyed Night Weaver. Although it suffers from some flaws and a lack of polishing, it is enjoyable, with hot sex scenes, well choreographed action scenes, solid characters, and a pleasing conclusion.

Like many independently published novels, Night Weaver is unpolished: it contains typos, a few confusing scene breaks, and at least one extraneous sex scene. Additionally, while the ending is satisfying in terms of content and loose ends, it feels abrupt and like it ought to have been fleshed out more. Despite these issues, I enjoyed reading Night Weaver. The story and characters are strong and well developed, and the characters’ internal universes—Ankit’s and Arrow’s both center around making art—are interesting to explore. The erotic scenes are also fun to read. Isabel, Ankit, and Arrow, the three vampire women, form a love triangle: Isabel and Ankit were together for a long time, but no longer, and Ankit and Arrow begin to fall in love, which enrages Isabel, who also happens to be queen of the vampires. Ankit is a painter and tattoo artist, and Arrow weaves tapestries; they are drawn together by their similar artist souls.

For vampire lore connoisseurs: these vampires have limited qualms when it comes to feeding on the blood of living humans. The protagonists in Night Weaver often kill to eat and rarely feel guilt over these actions. The origin of vampires is not explored in this setting, and some of the typical lore is ignored. These are nocturnal vampires who will burn in the sun, and can be killed only by sunlight or very violent physical trauma. We see Arrow work on one or two occasions to control her “beast,” but the vampires in Night Weaver are generally in control of themselves, and the only drawbacks to immortality seem to be night living, loss of human food, and occasionally deadly politics.

Ultimately, I would recommend checking out this book—it’s only four bucks for the electronic version on Amazon, and free to borrow if you have Prime—especially if you’re looking for vampires or vampire erotica in your lesbian fiction, or just some erotic, somewhat kinky, romance punctuated by action and high stakes.