Victorian Vampires, Werewolves & Soulless Spinsters…

I recently discovered a fun series of novels by Gail Carriger, which I would highly recommend as light reading for anyone with an interest in the Victorian period and vampire/werewolf fiction. As a lover of the two, I was curious about this series which focuses on the antics of Alexia Tarabotti, a twenty six year old spinster, with a forthright manner and no soul. The novels are set in a Victorian England where vampires, werewolves and ghosts are integrated members of society (so kind of like a 19th Century True Blood!) and this odd mix of comedy, period setting and the supernatural works to great effect. Alexia is a great heroine, and the relationship between her and Lord Maccon (“loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf”) is fabulously funny.

The first novel, Soulless, begins with Alexia being attacked by a vampire who has a shocking lack of etiquette, poor choice in clothing and no knowledge of ‘preternaturals’ (i.e. soulless individuals who have the power to neutralise supernatural powers). Alexia accidentally kills the vampire and from here the adventure starts…! With some fabulous characters (the uber-camp Lord Akeldama, a vampire with a passion for puce waistcoats, being a prime example), the novel jogs along at a great pace and is definately worth a read for anyone who likes their supernatual fiction with a heavy dose of comedy!!

I have the others in the series on my to-read pile, so hopefully they continue in the same vein! There are currently three other books in the series, (Changeless, Blameless & Heartless) with a fifth to come soon.. (Timeless) and I can’t wait to read more about Alexia’s adventures!! A great beach-read I think (I tend to pick things that are a bit too heavy normally!) so I may save them for summer holidays later in the year!

Zombies, Vampires and… Classic Literature?

Now I am all for anything that brings classic literature to the masses and make it engage with contemporary readers but… is packing it full of gore and guts really the way to go? Is this a fun, quirky update of a classic or a sacrilegious massacre of literature?

The latest offerings in this genre include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mr Darcy Vampyre, I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas, Sense and Sensibility & Sea Monsters, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, Jane Slayre(!) and Android Karenina.. and I’m sure there are more juicy titles to come.  Having received a selection of these novels as a gift, I thought I would put aside my innate prejudice against the idea of modernising these (beautiful!) texts and give them a go.

 P & P and Zombies was my first sally into the genre and I must admit I did see the funny side- Lady Catherine DeBough as a ninja master (!) was a particular highlight. Austen’s original text is inter-weaved with Seth Grahame-Smith’s darkly comic zombie narrative in a way which I (begrudgingly) admit to be clever. However, one can’t help but feeling that it’s a bit of a cheat to nick another author’s writings and tack bits of your own onto it (or maybe that’s just me?!)

Amanda Grange’s Mr Darcy, Vampyre is slightly different in that she has taken Austen’s characters and modelled her own story around that. Darker than Grahame-Smith’s offering, the novel focuses on the honeymoon period between Lizzy and Darcy as she starts to discover his terrible vampiric secret. Lovers of the Twilight series will definitely enjoy this novel and even Austen fans can’t take too much offense with what she has done with the characters. However, I have to confess I started to like the novel decidedly more when I tried to forget the characters were based on those in Pride & Prejudice..

 I have still got Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters on my to-read pile.. and to be honest I won’t be rushing to get it read. Nor will I be rushing to the shops to get my copy of Android Karenina! The trouble is, I’m just not entirely convinced that it is not a form of blasphemy to take these works of literature and mess around with them. I know that it’s all in the name of fun(!) and these kind of novels are not intended to be taken seriously, but I just don’t think they are particularly well done. (Or maybe I am just highly biased.) Even without the science fiction element I’m still not all that impressed with most pastiches or sequels to classic literature…

So.. my conclusion is ambivalent.. Whilst a (large!) part of me screams out in repulsion whenever I see these ‘modern takes’ on classic fiction, another (perhaps smaller and masochistic!) part of me is interested in them and wants to give them a chance. Of course they are never going to set the world of literature on fire or be classics in their own right (hah!), but as a comic exercise, a reminder not to take ourselves too seriously, maybe they have a place on our book store shelves.

I wonder what Austen and Tolstoy would have to say on this matter…?!