The roll call for new books in the teen fiction genre in the last year read: a new trilogy in the Vampire Diaries series; new books in the Southern Vampire series; re-release of the House of Night and Vampire Academy series; and launch of the first book in a new trilogy, The Strain.
And before these came Stephenie Meyer with her Twilight series. When teenagers, especially the girls, lapped up everything Meyer threw at them and waited eagerly for more, memories of what J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series did for children’s fiction came rushing back. Today, a host of vampire titles have taken the teen literary scene by storm and most of us have been left wondering what all the fuss is about.
“You need a psychiatrist to answer this,” says Thomas Abraham, managing director, Hachette India, which publishes the Twilight saga (it has sold 300,000 copies in India alone) and House of Night. “But off the cuff,” he adds, “we’ve always had a fascination for the dark side from the age of folklore in any language down through Bram Stoker, J.K. Rowling and now Meyer, who has hit the right spot with love-longing-desire-and-the-unattainable.”
Samit Basu, who wrote the GameWorld Trilogy, a series in the fantasy genre, feels that right now, vampire fiction is huge enough to be a sub-genre on its own in the fantasy category. “This vampire thing is a new phenomenon. The whole point of these series is forbidden passion,” says Basu.
Publishers are cashing on this craze and releasing new books in old series to get young readers hooked. “Meyer’s work has made young adult fiction a segment no bookseller can dare ignore. And the great thing is that we’re regaining the lost teen market (thanks to the vampire genre),” points out Abraham. While Twilight alone is not responsible for teens wanting to read more today, what it is definitely responsible for is resurrecting other vampire stories. Such stories have existed for a while now but the success of the Twilight series has brought them into the limelight again.
L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries (HarperCollins), was first launched as a trilogy in 1991. Last year, three new books in the series were published. The series is a love triangle between two vampire brothers, Damon and Stefan, and Elena, a human.
Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series (also known as the Sookie Stackhouse novels, which has been made into an HBO series, True Blood) were first out in 2001 but was revived last year with a host of new books published by Penguin. This series tracks the adventures of Sookie and her vampire boyfriend, Bill Compton, who is a legal citizen in the world humans inhabit.
The House of Night series (released in 2007) written by the mother-daughter duo of P.C. and Kristin Cast, is about the adventures of Zoey Redbird, a “new” vampire who has joined a vampire school. The Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead (Razor Bill/Penguin, 2007) is about Rose Hathaway, a 17-year-old vampire bodyguard whose sworn duty is to protect her best friend, a royal vampire. Rose falls in love with an instructor-vampire at the academy, Dimitri Belikov.
The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan was released internationally in June by HarperCollins. Two more titles in this series, The Fall and The Night Eternal, will follow. It is different from the usual vampire teen fiction fare. The mystery starts with dead bodies in an airplane that has just landed at New York’s JFK Airport and there are no “lovable” vampires such as Edward Cullen, of the Twilight series, and Bill Compton.
Ask P.M. Sukumar, CEO, HarperCollins India, what makes vampire fiction tick for teens and he says: “The reader is looking for supernatural thrillers. Earlier, we had the fantasy genre holding fort. It is one of those ‘in’ things. Vampire fiction is involving because it not just magic and fantasy. It has a little bit of the dark side, which is an instant hit. Of course, the romance helps too.”
While paranormal romance has struck a chord in tweens and teens today, the real reason why Twilight and perhaps the Sookie Stackhouse novels have taken the lead has a lot to do with portrayal of its lead vampire characters. Edward Cullen, the “gentleman” vampire, has an edge over other vampires such as Dimitri Belikov, who temporarily dumps Rose for another girl. Meyer’s characters are more correct, more “human”. And what also sets the Twilight series apart from the rest of the vampire brood is the Mills and Boon tone reminiscent of the early 1970s—love and longing, but no sex.
“Though Edward (Cullen) is my favourite, I like other vampire stories too. Vampire stories are scary in parts, but I like that the vampires are involved with humans and care for them,” says Malavika Chugh, 16. She says that like unicorns, you don’t expect to see vampires in the real world. “The fact that vampires interact with human beings quite normally is very attractive.”
Vidhita Raina, 16, surprisingly, is one of the rare teenagers who hasn’t read the Twilight series and doesn’t plan to either. Her vote goes to the Southern Vampire series because the vampires there are allowed to roam freely in the human world. “The politics involved, wherein the humans want to kill the vampires, is fascinating,” she says. Her favourite character in the Sookie Stackhouse novels is the vampire Bill. According to Raina, Compton is “a person with whom one feels comfortable. He makes Sookie’s life relaxed and she doesn’t need to put her guard up when he is there with her.”
Of course, vampire fiction as a genre is not just meant for girls. Teenage boys enjoy Justin Somper’s Vampirates (Simon & Schuster) and Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak (HarperCollins). Thirteen-year-old Ishaan Bose Verma, who chanced upon the Cirque du Freak series, is a great fan of the non-stop paranormal action in the books. The series sold close to 15,000 copies last year in India.
Simar Brar, 16, has read all four of Meyer’s Twilight books (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn) so many times that she remembers every dialogue, and she is now waiting impatiently for the fifth Twilight book—Midnight Sun, which will be narrated from Edward Cullen’s point of view. Meyer abandoned writing the book in mid-2008, when it was discovered that chapters had been leaked to the media. But Brar is sure that the book is on its way. “I don’t plan to read any more books because my board exams are right around the corner,” she says.
But what if Midnight Sun is released during that time? “Then I will certainly go for it,” she says, laughing.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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