Every Reader's (Urban?) Fantasy: The Vampire Stalker by Allison Van Diepen

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Sometimes I read books that I think are under the radar of other librarians or YA readers and it's so sad.  It's not that I mind reading yet another review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but I occasionally get the impression that there are only twenty top young adult novels and everyone is talking about them.  I appreciate having a short list of must-reads, but the aspect of young adult literature I enjoy the most is that it is a consistently good subset of the publishing industry.  So what about the quietly good books that are popping up less on the blogosphere?

The Vampire Stalker by Allison Van Diepen is definitely one of these little gems.  I know, I know.  You are thinking, "NO, Sassy Librarian, I cannot handle ONE MORE BOOK about vampires!"  Fear not, because despite the title vampires barely factor into this novel.  No elaborate world building, creation backstory, or sparkling, I promise.

The protagonist is incredibly easy for any reader to identify with.  Amy lives in Chicago in a small apartment with her mother and her bitchy younger sister who is acting out since their dad left them for a younger woman.  With her two best friends, Amy is a huge fan of the Otherworld series, which takes place in a dark, alternate Chicago populated by vampires preying on humans.  One of the heroes of the series, Alexander Banks, is a brooding but honorable vampire hunter who is bent on destroying the vampire Vigo, who slaughtered his family when Alex was a child.

While her friends are jonesing for Alexander's good friend James, the non-violent peacemaker bent on healing rifts between humans and vampires, Amy's heart belongs to Alexander.  She understands that he's a character in a book series but can't believe how well-drawn he is.  When she is attacked on her way home, a handsome young man rescues her and after some initial disbelief, she realizes he is her Alexander.  Unfortunately, the incredibly strong, fast blond guy who attacked her is Vigo and both of them came through a portal between their worlds under a Chicago bridge.

As he realizes that this Chicago is different from his own, Alexander grows closer to Amy who does a good job hiding how dazzled she is and just focuses on helping him find Vigo.  Ms. P, Amy's school librarian, plays a prominent role in both believing and helping Alexander, and I loved seeing the way Alexander begins to express his attraction for Amy using the code of his more proper and restrictive world.

Author Allison Van Diepen
I've been buying Allison Van Diepen's books for the library for years - Street Pharm, Snitch, and Raven, among others - but hadn't read any of them (I've since checked out Raven).  I can understand why The Vampire Stalker ended up on so many urban fantasy lists.  First, a definition of urban fantasy.  Urban fantasy is often confused with paranormal romance and while a romance might be part of the subplot (or even a rather largeish part of the main plot), the main point of an urban fantasy is that a healthy part of the story happens in an urban (city) environment and that paranormal elements are present in the story.  Protagonists find themselves possessing special skills which prove useful as they find themselves involved in some type of battle/war between paranormal elements.  Urban fantasy doesn't necessarily mean the present day - it can also include books set in the past (Victorian London, for example).  I have noticed that it's almost a requirement that urban fantasy be written in the first person.  Usually this is a conceit which makes me CRAZY, but in this genre it really works.

Familiar young adult examples include Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments series or P. C. and Kristen Cast's House of Night books (which people consider YA but has enough sexual content that libraries need to know their audience before putting them in a teen section).  Adult urban fantasy standouts would be Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series (which people say are YA, but I think they are so dark and delicious that they are totally adult section-worthy) and the ever wonderful Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost (yay, Cat and Bones!).

It makes sense that with Van Diepen being known for the gritty realism of troubled teens lives in Street Pharm and Snitch, that she would be able to rock the urban fantasy vibe.  The Vampire Stalker is an excellent gentle introduction into this genre since our protagonist doesn't have special powers but instead aids her literary hero in their battle against the escaped vampire. I like Van Diepen's writing style - her voice for Amy is sympathetic and her writing efficient since she paints strong supplemental characters with just a few strokes.  Amy was bookish, but not a geek and she had friends with varying interests.  It's obvious Van Diepen is a real teacher since she doesn't fall into the trope of having every kid be part of a defined clique.

If there is any criticism I can have of the author, it's that she seems very busy - unlike other YA authors who have published as much as she has, Allison Van Diepen appears to have spend less time on promoting The Vampire Stalker, with the blog tours and accompanying information on her website a little on the skimpy side.  I was intrigued to see her inspiration for this book in a brief interview.  She was watching the A-ha video "Take on Me" which (amidst its delicious 80s cheese) features the band members having a book character come to life, and wondered what that would look like in a novel.  Watch more videos, Allison!!

I think Allison Van Diepen is an author to promote and to watch.  She clearly offers consist writing, good romance subplots, and sympathetic characters that any reader would enjoy.  For more information, take a look at her Goodreads page, her Facebook page or follow her Twitter feed.
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Ms. Yingling
February 29, 2012 6:46 AM delete

This was one that I really do want to read because it sounded like a nice twist on the whole vampire thing, but I can't find a copy anywhere. I'll keep looking!

March 02, 2012 11:03 AM delete

The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare is awesome and you should definitely read it too! I'm going to try and find The Vampire Stalker in Popular.