If urban fantasy has taught us nothing, it’s that vampires are either terrifying or sexy, or both. And, of course, they’re generally violent and dangerous.
But in Catherine Jinks’ excellent and funny novel The Reformed Vampire Support Group, the vampires are far from powerful. In fact, they’re sickly, socially isolated and living on a diet of guinea pigs, barely able to defend themselves.
Fifteen-year-old Nina has been a vampire since 1973. She’s part of a fairly pathetic group of vamps who meet once a week for therapy sessions to help them refrain from ‘fanging’ humans).
But the vamps’ tedious world is threatened when one of their members is murdered by an unknown – and unexpected – vampire slayer.
Terrified they’ll each be hunted, they decide to track their enemy (supported by Nina’s aging mother and a sympathetic Catholic priest), assuming that once the slayer sees how pathetic and harmless they are they’ll be left alone.
Outside of their comfort zone and ill-equipped for danger, Nina and her fellow vamps stumble into a world of guns, thugs, werewolves and vicious humans.
The classic about-face for this book is that the tension comes from the vampire’s vulnerability, and Nina’s efforts to rise above her fear.
Jinks even manages to have fun with the whole vampire-werewolf love triangle. Nina’s best friend is the cool but downbeat Dave – also a vampire since his teens – and together they rescue a volatile werewolf, who is actually a teenager. Nina’s lack of experience with romantic feelings makes her reaction to both guys frequently entertaining.
While the vampire mythology here deviates from pretty much everything in the literary world at the moment, it is deftly constructed and Jinks keeps within the lines she’s drawn. When Nina and Dave show moments of heroics, it’s in spite of their vampirism, not because of it.
Jinks is a well established Australian author with a long list of books for children and young adults. This one sits in the YA shelf, which is interesting given the narrative character is actually 51 years old (trapped in a 15-year-old body). As such, it should also find an older readership.
The Reformed Vampire Support Group is a fun read, packed with plenty of suspense, a clever plot and a nice sprinkle of understated romance.
Definitely one of my favourite reads of recent months. (And the good news is Jinks has The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group due out this year.)
Covers are from Margaret Connolly & Associates (the first one is the Australian version, and the second, an edgier version is for the UK market).