JK Rowling’s successful Harry Potter series was my re-introduction into young adult fiction after leaving the world of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and ilk for mature reading materials some decades ago. Picking up the first book of the series was instigated by my sister’s look of incredulity after learning of my utter ignorance of the wizard kid, and I greatly needed to rid my mind of her annoyed look. I ran through the first three novels in one sitting, captivated by wizards wielding wands while chanting spells. The narrative flow was smooth and each page revealed creative twists and turns as well as striking characters that tickled the imagination to no end.
My frequent library trips in Singapore revealed that the popularity of Harry Potter spurred numerous new teen novels dwelling on the supernatural, some reworking the popular supernatural characters particularly vampires and others creating their own characters mired in the world of magic. The settings are similar to Rowling’s where the worlds of magic/wizardry/supernatural collide with the world of humans. Adding fire to the storyline are the good-looking leading male and females characters caught in a quagmire of young love and lust, dithering between taking the quantum leap from being friends to a couple.
The Twilight series by American writer Stephenie Meyer inverts the traditional vampire myth on its head by presenting a family of vampires that maintain permanent residence within a human community such as the Cullens. The head of the family, Dr. Carlyle Cullen, is a physician at the local hospital and the children – Edward, Emmet, Alice, Jasper and Rosaline – attend the neighborhood school. Mum Esmé is the perfect stay-at-home-mum. Meyer also reworks the conventional myths by asserting some of her own vampire myths: there are “vegetarian” vampires; they don’t turn to dust when exposed to sun but sparkle like diamonds; and they’re perpetually awake.
The Cullens stand out not only because of their ghostly pale complexions and their philosophy of not drinking human blood, but their wealth and unrivalled pulchritude particularly Edward Cullen who has captured the eye of the female population at school. The twist in the story lies in the relationship between gorgeous-dead Edward and fragile- human Bella Swan, the Romeo and Juliet of the modern times, which forms the narrative centre of the four novels in the series.
Meanwhile, another teen novelist, American Richelle Mead, modifies the vampire myth in her Vampire Academy series – Vampire Academy, Frostbite and Shadow Kiss. The fourth novel, Blood Promise, is scheduled to be released this coming August and the fifth, Spirit Unbound, in 2010. Unlike Twilight where the world of the vampire is not entirely known, the reader enters the lair of the vampires through St. Vladimir’s Academy and is privy to the stringent hierarchical order drawn up by Mead. In this multifaceted society, vampires come in three types – Moroi, the living, royalty vampires like Princess Lissa Dragomir who feed on blood; Dhampir, like Rose Hathaway, the half-human, half-vampire who serves as the guardians/protectors of the Moroi from the Strigoi; and Strigoi, the dangerous undead vampires who have dedicated themselves to eradicating the Moroi vampires. Interestingly, Dhampirs do not feed on blood and function as regular humans except their abilities are heightened (e.g. super human strength) making them perfect candidates as protectors of their Moroi kin. These James Bond-trained guardians are lethal and licensed to kill. Strigois are your regular evil vampires who take malicious delight in turning everyone into the walking undead. They’re the vampires – think James – after Bella Swan In Twilight.
Whereas the vampires in Twilight are non-magical, Mead’s vampires, possibly inspired by Romanian folklores, have a touch of magical abilities in them particularly the Moroi. Every Moroi can “specialize” in element magic and work one of the five elements: earth, air, water, fire or spirit. Lissa specializes in spirit, making her unique as she has the ability to heal people.
Love and sex are inseparable from these two vampire novels. Sexual abstinence is advocated in the Twilight series. Edward stands his ground on physical intimacy and insists that it only takes places within the parameters of marriage, which Bella unenthusiastically acquiesces to resulting in what seems to be the first vampire-human wedding in literature. In the Vampire Academy series, St. Vladimir’s Academy – an exclusive boarding school for pure vampires and half-human teenagers ensconced within Montana – has its share of teenagers who have a more cavalier attitude towards sex. Horny vampires abound and they either engage in sex as an expression of feelings or as a form of reward to those who have done their bidding of vengeance on a sworn enemy. Both series’ take on sex tugs at the corners of one’s lips: sex is very much part of the lifestyle for both groups of vampires except sexual activities in Twilight result in prolonged stays in the bedroom and, eventually, collapsed houses.
Vampires disappear in the novels of Rosemary Clement-Moore but the American teen novelist’s main character has that Buffy-vampire-slayer streak in her, killing demons wreaking havoc on earth. Clement-Moore’s trilogy, Prom Dates from Hell, Hell Week and Highway to Hell, chart the adventures of student-clairvoyant Maggie Quinn whose run-ins with demons make her last year in high school and first year in college far more than interesting. Maggie suddenly finds herself saving her classmates from a demonic spirit gone amuck with the help of her genius best friend in the first book and, in the second installment, battles another demon when she joins a sorority upon entering a college. She’s no sorority girl but she had to if she wanted a spot in the newspaper. She discovers the success of the chapter house is due to a patron demands souls as payment for wishes granted. This time she has the help of a Giles-clone in the form of her father’s teaching assistant who is quite knowledgeable about demons and ancient spells and counter-spells. In the third book, Maggie comes face-to-face with an El Chupacabra-like demon hell-bent on decimating an entire pueblo during her spring break. Teenage love and lust are not missing from the tale either, which, apparently, are crucial in today’s teen novels. Maggie finally gets together with her father’s teaching assistant, but manage to remain chaste.
Irish author Derek Landy enters the foray of the supernatural with his witty, intrepid detective Skulduggery Pleasant in his trilogy Skulduggery Pleasant – Skulduggery Pleasant, Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire and Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones. The fireball-throwing, gun-toting skeletal detective forms an unlikely alliance with a late friend’s niece, Stephanie Edgly (a.k.a. Valkyrie Cain), in saving the world from megalomaniac sorcerers and demonic entities. His other associates are a tableau of magical characters, which doesn’t exclude 14-year-old teenager Stephanie/Valkyrie. She is a descendant of one of the last benevolent sorcerers, the Ancient Ones, and her dormant magical abilities slowly develop as she and the sartorial detective fight to keep the balance between good and evil. Another, Tanith Low is an 80-year-old sword-wielding fighter who runs on walls and ceilings, and looks much younger than her age. Also, an ogre is putty in her hands as well as Jack, the menace of London.
China Sorrows is a collector of priceless books and has the uncanny ability of making every man fall for her. Her body is tattooed with symbols that come alive when she works her magic to fend off her opponents. Mr. Bliss, China’s sibling, is someone to reckon with in battle given his size and intimidating demeanor. Professor Grouse Kenspeckle is a healer dabbling in science magic while Ghastly Bespoke is the unparalleled haberdasher whose fastidiously tailored clothes protect Skulduggery and Valkyrie from lethal injuries.
Landy doesn’t forego the vampires altogether and, in fact, creates his version of vampires. The vampires in the world of Skulduggery Pleasant have two completely separate layers of skin. The upper layer regenerates when the sun comes up making them into super humans gifted with enhanced speed and strength. And, at night, they turn into the blood-sucking monsters whose victims, called Infected, have two nights of mindless slavery to endure and, if they’re not treated, turn into full-pledged vampires.
Some vampires are employed as night guards, shedding their humanity when they report for night duty thus making them the deadliest guards on patrol. Some are assassins like Dusk who controls his vampire nature with regular injection of combined hemlock and wolfsbane. Without the serum, he’s a sight outside his human form: bald, alabaster white complexion, black eyes and jagged fangs.
Valkyrie defeated a horde of Infected (quite inexperienced compared to inveterate vampire Dusk) by leading them to the pier. Remembering Professor Kenspeckle’s words about vampires and salt water, she leaped into the waters with the pack following her, oblivious of their impending death. Ingested salt water was lethal to their health.
Modern vampire tales are not coming to an end soon. My recent trip to Harry’s at Tebrau City in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, uncovered another vampire series entitled A House of Night written by Americans P.C. Cast and daughter Kristin Cast. The six-book series – Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed, Hunted and Tempted (coming out in October) – chronicle the transformation of 16-year-old Zoey Redbird from a “fledgling” vampyre (this is how the characters in the book spell vampire) to full-pledged vampyre in a vampyre finishing school set in an alternate version of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where humans and vampyres live. All the books are on loan from the libraries, which only means that the teenagers are once again burying their noses in yet another tale of vampires.