Before we get into The Last Vampire, Christopher Pike’s contribution to the vampire canon, I want to take a moment and plug the latest blog-I-can’t-stop-reading: Mark Reads Harry Potter. Mark is a guy who’s never read Harry Potter before, and he’s almost completely un-spoiled for the plot (DON’T SPOIL HIM FOR THE PLOT), so watching him read it one chapter at a time is like reliving your own reactions to the books as they first came out. I thought it was going to be all snark and insults, but it turns out he’s unabashedly enthusiastic about the books, and I love that.
Apparently he also Read Twilight, and, understandably, enjoyed those books much less. I plan on reading that one when I’m caught up with the HP blog.
So. I am still waiting on Zoey Fools Around (ETA: Arrived! Recap pending), but The Last Vampire arrived in my mailbox recently, so you get that instead.
Title: The Last Vampire
Author: Christopher Pike
Originally published: 1994
Reissued: As part of Thirst No. 1, 2009, which collects the first 3 Last Vampire books
My most vivid memory from reading this book as an adolescent: I think it’s the part where Alisa is being held captive in the limo, and she convinces her captors to pull over at a rest stop by telling them she has to pee AND she’s on her period. “Do you like piss and blood?” Then, of course, when they pull over, she kills them all.
I find this particularly interesting after re-reading the book. One thing I always liked about Pike was his strong female characters, and Alisa is the perfect example. But I didn’t realize until just now that in this scene, she’s using menstruation to get what she wants—something she can only do because she’s a woman. How feminist of you, Christopher Pike! Now if you could only stop writing stories where people who have abortions are punished in horrible ways!
Let’s talk covers:
This is the cover I grew up with. I hadn’t picked it up in years until this week, so I never noticed how much Alisa looks like Lady Gaga on the cover. Of course, then I was reading the book and imagining her as Lady Gaga, and it totally worked. I mean, can’t you just see Lady Gaga telling everyone she’s really a five-thousand-year-old vampire? Plus, they’re both strangely mesmerizing, vaguely bisexual, and accomplished pianists. I AM JUST SAYING.
The cover on the left is the 2003 cover, and I hate it. It looks like the girl on the cover is running from the vampire, rather than BEING the kick-ass vampire, and the tagline “Don’t be afraid. Be terrified.” just adds to that impression. The second cover is the 2009 Thirst reissue. It’s okay, I suppose, and it probably sells well, but the girl doesn’t look like Alisa to me—more like Avril Lavigne. Also, she has green eyes when the book CLEARLY states that they are blue.
The last cover is a British cover, I think, and I included it just for lulz. The sparkly letters that just say “PIKE”! The eeeevil snake! Dripping fangs! And it’s writhing around IN BLOOD!
On to the actual story:
So Alisa (fake name) is Our Heroine, or more accurately Our Anti-Heroine, because she sure does like to kill people. The opening chapter, in fact, is her meeting with private detective Michael Riley, who has been prying into her life. She doesn’t like that, so she spends the entire meeting thinking about how to kill him. Then she kills him.
Meanwhile, we learn a few facts about vampires in Christopher Pike’s universe:
- They can’t be killed by the sun.
- They don’t shy from religious symbols.
- Drinking a vampire’s blood won’t make you a vampire.
- They have super-senses, super-healing, and super-speed.
- They can survive extreme conditions.
- They can’t read minds, but they can “sense emotions.”
- Alisa isn’t sure if a stake through the heart would kill her, because she’s never experienced it. Fair enough.
- Alisa can also KILL YOU WITH HER EYES.
Sadly, she doesn’t kill Detective Riley with her eyes, but with her foot—she kicks him in the breastbone so hard his heart is crushed. She kills him because he refuses to tell her who set him on her trail. If someone’s looking for her, she has to know who. While he’s laying there dying, he sobs that he has a son, so she says she’ll take care of the son if he tells her who hired him. Some dude called Slim hired him, he says. Then he dies before she can get any more information out of him. She’s like “Damn it, I should have tortured him.”
(There’s also a typo on page 13 that I remember being annoyed by when I was a kid. That’s what I remember from this book?)
Alisa decides that she needs to see Riley’s files on her. Unfortunately, those are stored on his computer, which is password-protected. Looking at a picture of Riley and his son posed next to a computer (because that’s the latest background at GlamourShots?), she decides to find the son, because he must know the password. What? Why would he know the password to his father’s business computer? Well, I suppose Veronica Mars would know the password to her dad’s computer, but that’s because she’s smarter than you.
The chapter ends with Alisa already becoming kind of attached to the son, even though she’s never met him. He looks familiar to her, and he has a nice smile and his eyes are pretty. Or, in her words, “so wide and innocent, yet as alert as those of a baby owl seen in the light of the full moon.” Hee. I like Alisa’s overdone metaphors. I may be the only one. Shut up.
In chapter two, we learn a few more Vampire Facts:
- They don’t need much sleep.
- The sun does slow them down a bit, even if it doesn’t kill them.
- Alisa can go for up to six months without drinking human blood, but she starts to crave it after a week.
- She can drink animal blood, but she doesn’t like it. She likes the life force and essence of human blood.
- How to make a vampire: Exchange blood with someone. This makes sense, because as she says, blood that is drunk is digested, so just drinking a vampire’s blood wouldn’t work. You need to get a whole lot of vampire blood directly in your veins in order to become a vampire. (I love deviations from standard vampire myth that make sense. Also recommended: Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps.)
She tells us she doesn’t make vampires anymore. Then she picks up a truck driver in a bar and drinks his blood. She doesn’t kill him, and she bites her tongue and bleeds on him a bit so he won’t even have a wound when he wakes up. Vampire Fact: A vampire’s blood, in small quantities, can heal. This will be on the quiz.
Alisa enrolls in high school (as “Lara Adams”) so she can get closer to Detective Riley’s son, Ray. I like that there’s the obligatory high school scene, even though it doesn’t seem strictly necessary to the plot. This is, after all, a young adult book. Also, it gets us to Seymour, who is my favorite.
“Lara” sits next to Ray in Mr. Castro’s history class. Mr. Castro is a lech. He stares at Alisa’s body all the time. Ray, on the other hand, is “cut in the mode of many handsome modern youths,” whatever that means. He’s also “already more man than boy,” but unfortunately he has a girlfriend, Pat. Alisa is like “I wonder if this will be an obstacle in my plan to seduce him. It’d be too bad, because I’d prefer not to kill her.” She pretty much literally thinks that.
Alisa shakes hands with Ray and immediately knows that he’s healthy. Vampire Fact: Vampires can sense if someone’s sick by smelling their blood through their skin. Is that how dogs do it? Or Oscar the Death Cat? (Oscar is awesome. I wish I were a cat and I could go chill with him and he’d be like “dude, the guy in room 5A is totally dying tomorrow,” and I’d be like “how do you do that?” and he would just smile mysteriously.)
History class begins and Alisa tells us that there’s no such thing as a glorious war, and she’d know, having been around for a lot of them. She also talks back to Mr. Castro a bit (“It sounds as if you have a problem with authority.” “Not always. It depends.” “On what?” “On whether the authority is foolish or not.” Oh snap!), and he asks to See Her After Class. She gets close to him, smells his blood and immediately knows he’s an alcoholic. So, Mr. Castro: a drunk who likes to hit on high-school girls. Check.
The next class is gym, where they are learning archery. Archery! Awesome! I wish my gym classes had been less about running and more about shooting arrows. This class is important because it’s when “Lara” meets Seymour.
Seymour is a nerd. You can tell because he wears huge glasses and his name’s Seymour. He’s like “Hi, I’m Seymour, I’ll be your Christopher Pike stand-in for this book.” Alisa shakes his hand and realizes he is Very Sick and will be dead within the year. “WTF?” she thinks. She likes Seymour, and also has a weird sense that she’s met him before. Hmm.
Alisa shows off a bit doing archery and Seymour can tell that she’s a lot better at it than she should be. She looks at Mr. Castro, who’s across the field hitting on some poor girl, and thinks about how easy it would be to kill him with her bow and arrow, and nobody would ever know it was her. (Feminism alert?) But then a weird thing happens: Seymour sees her looking at Mr. Castro and says “Don’t.” Alisa is shocked that Seymour can apparently read her mind. She thinks about how it “suggests a sense that is nonphysical, which [she is] not yet ready to accept.” Really? You can accept that you’re a five-thousand-year-old vampire with superspeed and superstrength, but not a little mind-reading? You need to read some of Christopher Pike’s—I mean, Seymour’s horror stories.
Alisa goes to biology and sits next to Ray. She doesn’t waste any time with her seduction plan. She says she’s moving in somewhere and she needs help moving the furniture or else she won’t get to sleep in a bed tonight. So would Ray pretty please come over and help her move, and no, the girlfriend can’t come. Ray is like, maybe, but because Alisa is irresistible you know he’ll show up. Also, she gives him her address, but not her phone number, so he can’t call and cancel. Nice.
While having this conversation Alisa thinks about Ray’s eyes. They remind her of Rama’s. Rama was her husband before she became a vampire. She loved him more than she’s ever loved anybody. She thinks she could love Ray, though. Then she gets all sad because she killed his father and she should probably kill Ray after she gets the password from him. It’s a good thing Ray can’t read minds.
We have our first ~DReaM SeQueNce~. I know many people hate Pike’s dream sequences, but in this book they’re really just excuses for flashbacks to Alisa’s old life, so I don’t mind. Alisa’s old life fascinates me, I have to admit.
I feel now is the time I should mention that it’s hard to overstate the impact Christopher Pike’s books had on me as an adolescent. He was really into Asian religious concepts, and I had never heard of most of that stuff before, so it BLEW MY MIND. I wasn’t raised religious (I’m “culturally Christian” but raised by atheists), so for a while I had a cobbled-together spiritual philosophy that was mostly bits stolen from Christopher Pike books. I was twelve, don’t judge me.
So. Alisa is originally from Rajastan, India. Wondering why she’s blonde and blue-eyed? She says her people were “the original Aryans” and invaded India and eventually assimilated into their culture. This is apparently a thing. How convenient, though, that Our Anti-Heroine is a white girl. I mean, really?
Alisa’s original name was Sita. Amba was her friend, and older. They were happy, until a plague came that killed a lot of the people in their village, including Amba. Amba was eight months pregnant. Sita was very sad. BUT THEN an eeeevil Aghoran priest, or at least a severely misguided one, wanted to use Amba’s body for a ritual. He said the plague was caused by a demon and could only be defeated by an even bigger demon, a “yakshini,” which he would call forth into Amba’s body and ask it to eat the plague demon. This is obviously BAD IDEAS, but he does it anyway because people are desperate for the plague to end. Sita, only seven years old, hides nearby and watches the whole thing.
And it’s pretty creepy. After some eeeevil rituals, the demon enters Amba’s body, which now has a really long tongue, which it uses to lick the skin off the priest’s face. Then it kills him. It looks around, and Sita feels like it can see her, and then it departs. OR DOES IT?
Something is moving inside Amba’s body, and Sita’s father (who was there the whole time, along with some other dudes) wants to cut the baby out of her womb, because it might be alive. Sita runs out from hiding and is like DUDE, SHE WAS DEAD FOR A FEW DAYS, HER BABY IS NOT ALIVE. But her father is like “OK, you stab it to death, then,” and hands her the knife. She can’t do it, of course, so her father says they should err on the side of life and let the baby live. Sita names the baby Yaksha, because it was born of a yakshini.
Yaksha grows up really fast, a trope often seen in soap operas and Christopher Pike books. He starts hitting on Sita, but she’s still afraid he’s evil. (SPOILER ALERT: He totally is.) Then the men who were at the eeevil ceremony start to disappear or die horribly, last of all her father, so she’s pretty sure shenanigans are going on, and she tries to tell people what happened when Yaksha was born. They pretty much put it down to her grieving making her crazy.
Then she meets Rama, and it’s love at first sight. They get married and have a child, Lalita, and blah blah blah perfect happiness cakes, for like a year.
One day, of course, Yaksha comes to her and basically says, join me and become a vampire, or I’ll torture and kill your precious husband and daughter. So much for happiness. I find it interesting that Sita blames herself for becoming a vampire, because she obviously didn’t have much of a choice in this situation. She becomes a vampire out of love for her family, basically, but she blames herself for it because… she likes it. Becoming a vampire is apparently agony, but… the sexy kind, so she says she “cursed [her] own soul by [her] own choice.” I don’t think she had much of a choice, really.
Back in the present, Alisa wakes up to find Ray knocking at the door. He asks if it’s too late to come over, and she’s like “I’m a vampire. I stay up all night.” Oh, you.
They get kind of hot and heavy in the hot tub, but Alisa suddenly gets an attack of conscience, feeling like she’s an evil being and she shouldn’t corrupt Ray and his baby owl eyes, because she likes him so much. I’m really not sure why. He hasn’t shown much personality so far, she just thinks he’s Rama reincarnated (literally, I’m pretty sure). It’s like the opposite of Twilight, where Bella has no personality but Edward loves her for some inexplicable reason.
Alisa brings up Ray’s father, and he gets all worried that he hasn’t heard from him in a while, so they stop by his office to see what he was working on, which is of course what Alisa wanted all along. Ray of course knows the password, which is RAYGUN. Haven’t these people heard of password strength? Not in 1994, apparently. I have to wonder if this is changed in Thirst.
They find the file on Alisa, and she makes up some excuse to get him out of the room so she can erase most of the information after copying it to “three-and-a-half-inch high-density diskettes.” Which takes several minutes. Oh, 1994. Ray, however, is a smart cookie and suspects that she tampered with the info, but he doesn’t say anything.
Ray goes home and Alisa goes to her mansion (she has a lot of them) and reads the file. She finds Slim’s fax number, which is in Switzerland, but she suspects he’s nearby and using a decoy number. Fax number! This better have been changed for Thirst, otherwise somebody did something very wrong. Alisa FAXES LOLOL Slim and tells him to meet her at a certain pier.
She tells him to come alone. He does not come alone. He brings lots of people with lots of guns, and tells her to get in the limo he brought. Alisa is like “Well, I could probably survive being shot a bunch of times, but it would be such an inconvenience,” so she gets in the car. They handcuff her, blindfold her, and keep guns trained on her while they drive her out to the middle of nowhere. She’s like, “Shit.”
This is the part where she convinces everyone that she has to pee and bleed on things. She has a hard time convincing Slim and his female sidekick that she’s harmless enough to be allowed into a bathroom. They have been given Strict Orders to not stop for anything. But because Alisa has already worked her mojo on Slim’s mind, she convinces him she’s not much of a threat, and they stop.
This is where, as Mark who Reads Harry Potter would say, shit gets real.
Feminism alert: Slim’s mistake, and Detective Riley’s earlier, is underestimating Alisa. Assuming that because she looks like a cute 18-year-old girl, she can’t possibly kill them with her pinkie, even though they’ve been warned that she’s dangerous. This is three years before Buffy came on the air, btw.
Literally the second Alisa gets in that bathroom, she kills the female sidekick by gouging her eyes out and then cracking her skull on the wall. Brains are everywhere, and Christopher Pike makes sure to mention them every paragraph so we get properly grossed out. She takes Slim, busts through the back wall of the bathroom, shoots a bunch of Slim’s henchmen with an Uzi, and runs into the forest. There she tortures Slim for a while until he tells her who sent him after her. Unfortunately, the description of the guy sounds a lot like… Yaksha. Who’s supposed to be dead. Dun dun DUN!
Oh yeah, and then she drains Slim’s blood, killing him and getting a free meal in the process.
Aaand that’s the end of Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2, in which there is more violence, more ancient India, and, most importantly, we see more of Seymour. YEAH, I WENT THERE. DEAL WITH IT.