Feb. 9th, 2014

alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
For awhile, I was burned out on vampires. I'm still not 100% back in the fold; as I told editor Rose Fox back when I was reviewing for PW, I'm running out of things to appreciate about vampire novels in paranormal romance and urban fantasy. (Which is not to say that the appearance of a vampire is enough to irk me; I don't mind vampires, but I've stopped picking up vampire novels, if that makes sense.)

Vampires are problematic. Even at their most civilized, they're either predators or parasites on humanity, and a good vampire novel should give me some cool insight into that, or insight into what it means to be a predator or parasite (if told from the vampire's point of view). That's what I'm looking for, anyway. I know the whole smexy vamp scene works for some, but there's nothing inherently cool about fangs or blood that draws me.

Unless the story is going back to vampires older than Stoker's popular Dracula icon. What prompted this post today is that I was reading a kids' folklore book about vampires for SLJ and I remembered a YA vampire novel I'd really loved--because it was based on older-than-Vlad-III Eastern European folklore. But I couldn't, for the life of me, remember the title, and since I read it before I started my book log spreadsheet, I didn't have a record to check. After some searching, I found this excellent review by Christina Chavez over at CSUF YA Book Reviews of Marcus Sedgwick's My Swordhand Is Singing. This, my friends, is the book whose title I keep forgetting, and it is an excellent and scary modern novel based on some of the spookiest vampires I've read. These walking corpses are out to kill the family members they left behind. Tricks like crossing water to prevent being chased, or throwing millet seeds because vampires can't help but stop and pick them up, feel fresh, not because they're new ideas, but because they're not as frequently used as so many other elements in vampire lore. The story is ultimately about the relationship between teen hero Peter and his father, rather than about the relationship between Peter and vampires, and I think that's part of the strength behind this book in a genre that so often identifies with the monsters instead of fighting them.

A friend posted on facebook recently about how much horror (mostly talking about film) has changed since the pre-90s creature features fell out of style. I noted that because a lot of horror and urban fantasy novels use the point of view of the monsters, the stories tend to focus on different themes:

  • identity politics (esp. for vamps and weres--what does it mean to have a secret identity as something despised by humanity?)

  • coming to terms with the drudgery of modern life (because how many of us have had jobs where we're "office zombies"?)

  • embracing/taming the violent sides of ourselves (mostly weres)

  • humans can be more monstrous to each other than any horror monsters

I love exploring those themes (and I'm sure there are others), but sometimes it's nice to sit back and watch humans be the heroes, and legitimately scary monsters be the villains. Sedgwick's My Swordhand Is Singing is satisfying for that reason, for its really excellent use of folkloric elements, and for creating a sense of historical period that feels concrete. I highly recommend it--and I hope I won't forget the title again!


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Alana Joli Abbott

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