I don’t know when vampires moved from genre reading (Anne Rice’s series of books and the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise film Interview with a Vampire marked a starting point of sorts) into the mainstream. Perhaps Joss Whedon’s TV show Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which appealed to a wide audience as a result of its clever mix of action and smart dialogue was the catalyst. More recently the Twilight series (aimed at teenage girls) has been hugely successful and seems to have spawned pale imitations galore. Just type “vampires” into the Amazon search box if you doubt me. Nor should we forget Harry Potter and the successful marketing of children’s books to adults. There are no vampires at Hogwarts that I can recall (although there was a werewolf), but the books legitimised the weird and wonderful and gave both vampires and werewolves a helpful leg-up.
Which brings me with some relief to a proper book for grown ups. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is at its heart a love story, but the fantasy elements are never far away. She has created a recognisable world set at first in academic Oxford inhabited by the four types of being – humans, witches, vampires and daemons – and the book largely concentrates on the last three.
Diana Bishop is from a long line of witches but is in denial about her powers and the responsibilities that go with them. She has never been trained as a witch and her powers are (unknown to her) circumscribed by her late parents’ spells.
Matthew Clairmont is a long lived vampire with a past, a temper and looks to die for, as Diana discovers when they meet in the Bodleian library where she discovers a mysterious book. Soon the witches and the vampires are at each other’s throats as they watch and wait for Diana to unlock the secrets of the ancient text. Only Matthew seems to want to protect Diana from these dangers, which is just as well since she seems oblivious to the threat. In fact, in the early part of the book she is not a very sympathetic character, any more indeed than is Matthew. His over-protectiveness, old-fashioned notions of the relationship between modern man and woman and the clear and present danger he seems to offer to everyone, including Diana, make him a strong rather than likeable character.