From the pulpy paperbacks of bygone eras to the neon-saturated teen slashers of today, the vampire has been an integral figure in sapphic storytelling. I personally think the metaphor is a lovely way to explore how marginalization affects peoples’ perceptions of themselves and their relationships, and how “monstrousness” is largely subjective and socially constructed. Stories that subvert or skewer the trope can also remind us to not get lost in the roles others ascribe to us and to our desires, while providing space to engage with the otherwise taboo.
And sometimes, they are plain, unadulterated fun. Which is nothing to sneeze at.
Take Vampire Blood Drive by Mira Ong Chua: When college freshman Bunny (whose first monologue humorously skewers the cliched “I’m-so-plain-and-normal” heroines of many YA/NA paranormal romances), signs up for a campus blood drive, she doesn’t realize who exactly the blood is meant for. Or how said recipients will, um, extract it.
Cue sensual biting scene.
The very FLUFFY sensual biting scene, that is. While it’s got some NSFW panels, the book focuses on the bumpy-but-sweet love story between the two characters on the cover. It has so much sweet fluff, I want to stuff it inside a s’more.
Bonus points for originality, because this vampire love interest breaks with the long tradition of melodramatic angsty femme bloodsuckers to give us a slightly clueless, but still very melodramatic butch! I love Velvet so much. She’s got an arsenal of flirting tactics taken straight from the hearts of fanfiction writers, but delivered with all the earnest sincerity of a woman who is nursing a massively adorkablecrush.
There is plenty of situational comedy lining our heroines’ paths to undying love, but they both are so kind (albeit occasionally misguided) that it is harmless, heartfelt, lighthearted humor. It’s is a comic I can always come back to at the end of a long day, a quick pick-me up that makes my toes curl and my heart warm.
If you like manga art and queer vampire women and copious amounts of cuteness with subtle character development and a world where people are blessedly straightforward—again, with enough fluff to drown a marshmallow—this is it. If you were the sort of teenybopper sapphic who nursed crushes on Sailor Moon characters and bought way too much Hot Topic merch, this book is for you.
Good Enough to Eat by Alison Grey and Jae: I love Jae’s books. They are such nice, cozy reads with complex but caring characters. So when I learned she had a vampire romance, I was all over it. This one’s an easy but meaty read—perfect for when you want to take a couple hours to unwind with something that isn’t pure fluff, but also not too narratively cumbersome.
The story starts off with a very nervous vampire trying to work up the courage to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Robin is in the acute stages of blood withdrawal and looking for support with her cravings. Trying to leave behind memories of almost-murder and a clan whose customs include truly callous violence is made all the more harder when she has to go up against price-gouging blood suppliers and her own body’s constant hunger in the struggle to hold onto her values. Shaken, struggling and feeling adrift, Robin arrives at the basement of Saint Mary’s church looking for some kind of lifeline.
Enter Alana, a smart, sexy divorce lawyer with secrets of her own. Still smarting from an old breakup and hesitant to dip her toes back into the dating pool, she hesitantly agrees to be Robin’s sponsor. But when sparks literally fly during their first meeting, both women begin a slow, intense game of push and pull that unspools over nearly two hundred pages before delivering another hundred and fifty pages of toe-curling, squee-worthy romance. While it would be classified as a slow-burn, the writing flows so well that I burned through it in a few hours. I truly didn’t realize how much time had passed until I finally finished.
I thought it was a really novel (lol) take on the vampire mythos, and the observations about cliches in paranormal romance writing (and what said cliches offer readers emotionally) were a nice little nod to fans of the genre. I will add that it does discuss AA practices in detail, which might be off-putting for people who haven’t had the greatest experiences with the program—particularly considering that there seems to be a pretty rigid moral binary between nonconsensual drinking from humans and using gross-tasting synthetic blood substitutes. The attempts at deeper ethical questions felt forced, superficial and a little pat. But if I set aside thoughts of these issues (forgive me, Hannah Arendt), and focus more on character development, I can appreciate the story for serving up messy, flawed lesbians! Sure, their moral cloudiness isn’t quite Killing Eve or Castelvania levels of questionable, but it’s very human.
Chapter 16 also has a family falling out with language that can be used as a parallel for homophobia, so readers might want to tread carefully there, too. The vampire clan is not taking too kindly to Robin’s attempts to leave behind their violent, vampire-supremacist attitudes and lashes out using language that is an pretty unsubtle allegory. But, as with certain season finales, pretending this last chapter does not exist will not detract from your enjoyment of the work as a whole.
The fact that the two leads spend so long in a state of some miscommunication while concealing their respective supernatural identities might also be frustrating to people, though I thought it lended realism to the dynamic and made the climactic moments more heightened.
The sex scenes are also realistic, tender and respectfully written while still being very steamy and sensual
Honestly, the Carmilla webseries and WWDITS have utterly ruined me for those staid, poised, cold-as-iced-cucumber vampires whose age has brought them unparalleled wisdom and unflappable, unfazeable flirtatiousness. Because let’s be real, most people would see immortality as just more time to scroll through social media and procrastinate on dealing with their existential dread. Give me vampires with passionate opinions and social awkwardness and all those oh-so-human foibles, but who want to connect with others deeply and sometimes desperately.
And on that note…
Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu: a tense tragedy isn’t exactly high up on most people’s list of comfort reads, but at less than a 150 pages, this story doesn’t require arduous staying power after a week of brutal classes, while also giving you the satisfaction of a story well read. It’s melancholic and gothic, and reading it feels like the literary equivalent of one of those horror movies that works up your nerves only for you to find yourself a lot calmer after the fact. Every time I get to a particularly angsty bit, I remember the web series and all the progress we have made in society. And then I usually end up watching episodes of the web series—which is a lot of fun, has a HEA, and offers much lighter-hearted stress relief. The miniseries also absolutely revelled in its deliciously dark academia aesthetic, well before the concept had a hashtag.
The plot is about as straightforward as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but with less overt xenophobia. A lot less. It definitely leans into the whole “predatory lesbian” thing, though, so fair warning. Long story short, an lonely little girl named Laura starts having weird dreams about some strangely beautiful creature sneaking into her bedroom at night. Though she is unsettled by these ambiguous dreams, Laura’s wealthy father ensures that she spends her childhood in relative ease and comfort. She spends most of this time in true gothic fashion, without any friends her own age and constantly yearning for a companion, for someone she can be close to who isn’t her doting pater.
Her idyllic isolation is rudely interrupted in her eighteenth year, when a carriage accident deposits the girl from her dreams on her family’s doorstep. As the mysterious, secretive Carmilla slowly weaves her way into Laura’s affections, the latter finds herself beset by increasingly strange coincidences and occurrences, culminating in the return of those strange dreams. Except now, they are full-blown nightmares that plague her sleep.
Gee, I wonder what’s biting her?
I’m also probably partial to this story because the Carmilla web series was my sapphic epiphany and I will forever have a soft spot for the vampire stuff. It’s a fun delight when it’s well done, and can be a pleasurable diversion in the right spirit. Sure, life sucks sometimes, but the stories we tell and share help our experiences enliven us, before living on in archival immortality. They offer no small amount of campy, heartfelt, exceedingly human enjoyment, which can be radical in its redressal of the status quo’s simplistic definitions, its caricatured demons.
I mean, there has to be a reason why certain characters feature prominently in the formative fantasies of no small number of sapphics…