Every night this week, I’m writing about some of the reasons I love reading and writing vampire novels. If you haven’t already read my intro, check it out here, so we’re clear what sort of vampire books I’m talking about – Introduction
Tonight, it’s reasons four and five, a contradictory pair:
4 – Perfect people that you can buy into
5 – Utter cads that you can forgive
Perfect people that you can buy into
I have a confession to make. I really like characters who are extraordinary. Who are beautiful and charming and intelligent. Who are either extravagantly lovely, or better yet, utter bitches and cads (see point below). I love characters, whether villain, hero or something in-between, that you know are always going to win, going to either outsmart or outfight everyone around them.
Some people seem to like characters who are ordinary and believable, but I think there are enough plain-looking, pleasant enough people in casual clothes in real life. Oxford Blood once got a really negative review that said, “they’re all so beautiful and amazing and rich and everyone wants to be them and wants to be with her…sickening.” Whilst I emphatically respect the right of readers to give their honest opinion in reviews, I couldn’t help thinking that the bit of the blurb which says, “The Cavaliers are the most elite society at Oxford University – rich, powerful, and beautiful,” might have given them fair warning that it wasn’t going to be full of average, flawed types with human failings!
I also think that it’s far easier to make this sort of thing work in vampire fiction than most other genres. As long as you buy into the trope which says that becoming a vampire makes you attractive, immortal, invulnerable to most injuries and have super strength, then it sort of makes sense that the text is lingering on their good points and most characters are either admiring them, fearing them or swooning at their feet. And as long as it’s backed up by plot, that’s quite fun.
This can be done well with an entirely human character, but it’s harder to suspend your disbelief quite enough to revel in the fun of it. When a character is completely undone by the charm and beauty of an unearthly beautiful vampire, I can see her point. If they’re acting in the same way about a human man, however hot and rich he’s meant to be, I always feel the urge to tell them to get a grip.
Utter cads that you can forgive
When I talk above about perfect people, I mean in terms of their looks, strength, intelligence etc. Where I do like there to be some flaws is in their personality.
In researching history, I have a strange soft spot for cads. You know, the sort of men that charm every woman who comes across them, treat them harshly then disappear.
My university thesis was meant to be a broadly feminist text about a woman called Jane Osbaldeston, who despite being female made a real impact in nineteenth century politics. I utterly loved her.
Unfortunately, I loved her charming but caddish son even more. This is a man who stays at a friend’s house and has a threesome with his daughters, who notices a lady at a ball doesn’t have a flower so rides for two hours to his greenhouse and back to get her one, who abandons a successful political career because he prefers hunting, who despite having a huge fortune runs up jawdropping debts. Several of my fellow students accused me of writing a Mills and Boon novel rather than a thesis, though the very serious tutor loved it. This George Osbaldeston probably wins my vote, but there are all sorts of historical figures like him that I love to read about.
The only problem is, I’ve met people like this in real life. When I was younger and sillier, I’ve even developed crushes on them, even acted on those crushes. And the truth is, unlike in history books, they’re not actually that fun, and unlike in fiction, you’re pretty unlikely to change them for the better.
Increasingly, when I read about caddish types in modern fiction, I want to hurt them, and I want to get the heroine safely away and find her a nice friendly beta male. I think the worst example I’ve come across recently was in a book called Consequences, about a hot billionaire (is there any other type in fiction?!) who kidnaps a woman and repeatedly abuses her, physically, sexually and emotionally. At his worst, he beats her up so badly (not in a “kinky sex gone wrong” way, just in an “angry psychopath with no self control” way) that she is in a coma for two weeks. And yet, gradually, the heroine starts to fall for him, and rather more worryingly, from looking at the reviews, so do a fair proportion of readers. I think I’m in a minority here (there are endless five star reviews), but I can’t remember the last time I hated a book so much. The horrible male lead isn’t the only reason for this, but it’s a major part of it. I couldn’t stand the fact that anyone could like a character like that.
And then, I took a deep breath and thought about some of my characters. To take probably the most dramatic example, George Stewart has, in no particular order: killed Harriet’s cousin, mesmerised her to allow him to take advantage of her for her blood, stolen her protective necklace, horribly injured her boyfriend in a duel and tricked her into forging a sacred blood bond with him. And yet she still really rather likes him. But I (and hopefully readers) can somehow overlook all of that, because he’s a vampire. He’s not subject to the usual rules. You don’t read about him and think about that jerk that slept with you and never called, because he is an intriguing other.
I don’t think this is just a bias for my own writing either. Every bad boy in every vampire novel tends to do the sort of things that would lead any sane woman to call the police if they were an everyday human, but readers and other characters alike can overlook this.
I should emphasise that unlike the other entries, which I think are entirely positive, this one makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure we should be fetishising badness, even under cover of vampirism, but lusting after bad boys and admiring bad girls is a guilty pleasure of mine, and so much pleasanter when it has that detachment from real life that the supernatural allows.
If you enjoyed this, check back tomorrow for the final reasons – erotic power, and a metaphor for everything.