Book Review | Vampire Weekend (ARC)

I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.

In Vampire Weekend, Louise Chao is just trying to get by. She’s a vampire, but that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; pretty much every myth about vampires in pop culture is wrong, except for the fact that they have to drink blood. To do this, Louise works at a hospital, occasionally pilfering blood bags. In her spare time, she’s been trying out for punk bands with minimal luck. But one evening, a long lost relative named EJ shows up on her doorstep looking for her late aunt. Accompanying EJ is a young teen named Ian, and for the first time in years, Louise feels a genuine connection to someone. She takes Ian under her wing to teach him about music and to give him an escape from dealing with his mother, who is dying of cancer. But there’s only so much a vampire can do to hide their nature, especially from a clever human, so Louise finds herself in a balancing act she might not be able to sustain for long.

This was a decent book, but I still would prefer to watch What We Do In the Shadows.

Louise is an interesting protagonist. She’s snarky and emotionally closed off from people, but we see a lot of her internal struggles. Her passion for music really shines, as does her affection for her late aunt Laura and for Ian. As for Ian, he’s a well written character too, with wit and teenage angst and a still slightly naive view of the world that’s interesting tempered by having to grow up quickly. The other characters such as EJ, Marshall, and Eric are fine, but not as good as the main two.

As for the plot, I have thoughts. A lot of it is focused on Louise and Ian getting to know each other through her giving him music lessons and a place to go that isn’t the hospital where his mother is staying. This is interspersed with Louise’s own increasing struggles to get enough blood to feed herself, which is affected by the local community of vampires’ attempts to get organized. This is fine, and the two plot lines intertwine well enough, as we see how Louise is having difficulty balancing these things, and with keeping secrets from Ian. However, the last third of the book—maybe the last quarter—takes a slightly sharp turn.

Without much warning—vague, brief foreshadowing earlier notwithstanding—there’s an entire other conflict suddenly introduced that needs to be addressed urgently. It didn’t feel like there was nearly enough buildup to this; instead, I felt like Chen pulled a slight bait-and-switch. At this point in the book, it felt way too late to introduce all this new vampire lore and revelations about vampire capabilities. It felt very disjointed. After all, with this book being primarily about the bond between Louise and Ian, to abruptly insert this subplot about the Ancients and surveillance technology (I’d provide context, but that would have spoilers) didn’t work for me.

Also, this book has so many references to music that I don’t really know. I’ve heard of plenty of these bands and artists, and I understand that punk rock is Louise’s (and apparently the author’s) favorite genre, but the constant references got old quickly. Maybe a punk fan would feel differently if they read this, but I just didn’t get much out of them.

In the end, Vampire Weekend was okay. I really enjoyed the developing familial bond between the central characters, whose banter and emotional arcs are quite well written and nice. But the rest of the book didn’t really work for me, especially with the strange plot structure and unnecessarily late introduction of lore. I didn’t dislike the book, but I didn’t love it either. Still, if you’re a fan of punk rock or humorous vampire stories, you still might like this.

Vampire Weekend will be published on January 31st, 2023!

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