I started hating these novels when I first read Demon in My View, and realized "Holy shit, this is a total ripoff of Anne Rice, except without the interesting writing and with an obvious author avatar as the obnoxious main character" (this was before I knew what a Mary Sue was). So what to read instead of these books?
- Interview with the Vampire: The modern origin of the emo sad vampire who hates himself for what he is, and thus makes the audience want to give him a cup of blood and a cookie. Surprisingly successful.
- The Vampire Lestat: The modern origin of the hot sexy bad-boy vampire who wears velvet, lace and still manages to be infinitely more manly than Edward Cullen. He also becomes a rock star. This could only turn out two ways: epic fail or epic win. Fortunately, it's the latter.
- Queen of the Damned: One of the few epic vampire fantasies ever written - it creates and deals with FIVE THOUSAND YEARS of vampire history, gives them a semi-plausible origin story, expands the cast exponentially with a bunch of great new characters. And with all that it STILL has an awesome thrilling main plot - EVIL VAMPIRE QUEEN WANTS TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD AND KILL ALMOST ALL THE MEN.
Read those, definitely. Read the others if you're a completist or really wanna see the supporting cast (mostly in flashback) and occasionally Lestat or Louis. Don't read Servant of the Bones, Violin, Blackwood Farm or Blood Canticle, unless a supervillain is holding your family hostage and threatening to murder them unless you read some dreadful books.
And now we have Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series.
On the surface, this seems like just another Anita Blake/Buffy knockoff: tough woman with awesome weapons who is underappreciated in her job and spends a lot of time dealing with weres, vampires and so on. And sadly, we're smacked in the face with the stereotype in Atwater-Rhodes' third and fourth books... I mean, one of her heroines is called SARAH.
However, Andrews is awesome. Kate starts off a little too angry, but soon she becomes a really strong, take-charge heroine who has some rather shocking secrets in her past. AND she pals around with a pretty-faced traumatized werewolf teen, and does NOT have sex with him, nor does she seem interested in it. Try finding THAT elsewhere in urban fantasy.
Additionally,her world is REALLY brilliant and dark, with magical waves that knock out technology, and an Atlantis swarming with monstrous vampires, sorcerers and weres ruled by a werelion. So if you want a tough kickass female character, look no further than this.
These books came out during the post-Twishite craze of vampire/werewolf books where girls from small towns fall in love with supernatural creatures, and drama ensues.
Stiefvater proves that the execution is often much more important than the IDEA, and that something generic can become wonderful if you have the talent. Her werewolves have an interesting gimmick - the trigger to their condition is that instead of the moon, they transform because of COLD. When the temperature drops, they turn into wolves... actual wolves, with wolf intelligence, wolf limitations, and vulnerabilities. They don't have superpowers, they have a PROBLEM.
And while Stiefvater has some weird similes ("leaky womb"? Really?), she writes the whole thing in a very beautiful, atmospheric style, and she is actually pretty consistent with the pseudoscience (most of which is NOT explained, so thank you) and the perils to the wolves.
And in case you love faerie tales, she did something similar with
which are just as beautifully and underrated. This writer makes people like Smeyer or Atwater-Rhodes look like amateurs.
Clare B. Dunkle
Dunkle is one of those authors who does just about everything. Scifi, fantasy, horror, suspense, whatever. For instance, here we have her brilliant werewolf romance set in.... uh, not sure when it's set, but it's in Scotland. Basically it's about a young girl who's fallen in love with a boy cursed to become a werewolf, and she has to keep him from being killed by the superstitious villagers.
We also have her Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, which has at least one romance per book. It's a new spin on goblin and elf legends, with a young human girl bargaining away her freedom to save her little sister, and ending up married to the king of the goblins. Book 2 introduces a band of unfortunate elves who are facing extinction, and the third involves a royal arranged marriage between elves and goblins that may ruin a young girl's life. And Book 3 is the culmination of all this.
Want action chicks? Don't check Atwater-Rhodes - she basically has cut-rate Buffys and whiny emo dhampirs who bitch about everything because DARK AND COMPLICATED.
Which brings us to the Damar duology.
They're set in an ancient, vaguely Indian civilization and involve two young girls who become involved in epic battles for.... well, just go with it. It's definitely worth reading. And if you want heroines who kick ass AND are actually written capably, maturely and intelligently, go for it.
He's currently best known for his loooooooong Merlin series, but before that Barron turned out a trilogy of mildly environmental, very varied fantasy stories that went from Merlin under the sea to time-travel with tree people. This is less actiony than McKinley's stuff, but still very beautifully written, and with a very nice heroine.
Patricia A. McKillip
This is... sort of a sequel to a previous McKillip novel, but trust me, you don't have to have actually read it to understand this one. It's about a young woman who returns to the old family homestead and finds that the magic protecting them from faeries is wearing off. So she has to venture into faerie territory to fix... EVERYTHING.
Patricia McKillip has written a lot of really amazing books for adult readers, but somewhere along the line she also wrote some really brilliant kids/YA books. These are really beautifully written, with strong imagery and some very unconventional young heroines - one is about a magical young girl who is out for revenge, and the other a plain girl living near the sea who becomes enmeshed in the drama of a sea-prince.
And really, those who want magical stories with strong young women should check out McKillip's work in general. Here's some of her works aimed at grown-ups... which are basically just longer, and otherwise not different.
The Riddle-Master trilogy is one of those fantasy stories that comes around once in a blue moon: a very epic story set in a strange, beautiful, wild world where a young man answers an unsolvable Riddle, which means he wins a crown and the hand of the second most beautiful woman in the world. Probably the first was already married. But there is also an invasion of shape-shifters who are causing problems for everybody.
A high fantasy duology about the Ro family, a sorceress living in a swamp, a prince magicked into a firebird, and strange legendary creatures haunting an ancient castle.
This takes place in a seaside village, possibly in our world or in another, that is haunted by the sound of a phantom bell. There is also a servant girl who can open doors into another world, which is ruled by a princess who really wants to stop doing all the pointless stuff in her own castle.