A Vampire’s Guide to Surviving Holidays by Matthew S. Cox

Front cover of A Vampire's Guide to Surviving Holidays by Matthew S. CoxContinuing his exploration of how a vampire might balance their new life and their old, Cox demonstrates that sometimes a vampire hunter backed by technology and magic can be less of a challenge to handle than that one relative who always spoils family gatherings.

This novel is the eighth in Cox’s Vampire Innocent series. Probable spoilers for previous books ahead.

Like many American families, Thanksgiving is a time for the Wrights to host relatives they don’t get on with at an event that’s more stressful than usual to prepare under the pretence of being grateful. But what is merely a social obligation for most becomes another moral quandary for Sarah now vampirism has given her the power to force politeness on people. At least with the nights growing longer, her attempts to combine night classes and vampirism have become easier. Unfortunately, her sanctuary of (semi)normality is disrupted when a vampire hunter starts stalking one of her professors.

Where the supernatural threat of previous books came from the unintended consequences of Sarah’s attempts to help or from others choosing to make her a target, this novel explores the consequence of inaction: the hunter is unaware Sarah is a vampire, so she could let things play out. However, both the hunter and her professor seem like decent people, so that would involve letting someone die when she could have acted; but acting requires picking a side, so also brings responsibility. And, with the hunter more than willing to add any other vampires he identifies to the kill list, not resolving the situation quickly risks guilt for the deaths of other vampires too.

Notwithstanding the moral issue, not warning all vampires about the presence of a hunter to avoid one of them simply killing him leaves her vulnerable to political attack from those vampires who already consider her remaining with her family a betrayal of vampirehood.

Cox further complicates these dilemmas by denying Sarah certainty over her own judgements: Professor Harris seems decent, but she knows nothing of his unlife before he came to the college, so the accusation he was a brutal killer could be true; and the hunter has some mysterious protection against mental powers, so could be merely pretending to be a near innocent seeking to kill only monsters.

In parallel with the deep, but rare, moral questions of when it is acceptable to kill to save others and whether anyone actively deserves to die, Cox weaves the less horrific but arguably equally impactful question of when the happiness of many outweighs the total autonomy of others: with both telepathy and mind-control, Sarah can uncover the misunderstandings and prevent the insults that turn family gatherings into social torture; but that requires poking around in people’s heads and taking away their freedom “just” to make dinner more pleasant.

Although the core of this book remains the entirely serious struggle to reconcile vampirism with humanity that has underpinned the series, Cox also continues the dusting of farce, irony, and nostalgia that both leavens and enhances the action and horror.

Sarah remains a powerfully sympathetic protagonist. While she has the intelligence and compassion to find the situations morally challenging, she embraces action over introspection so does not mire the reader in angst-by-association or chill them with displays of philosophically supported perfect rectitude.

The returning supporting cast continue to develop nuance as their choices in previous books both guide their reactions to new events and come into conflict where they intersect.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking an exploration of vampire morality that is neither angst-ridden nor prissy.

I received a free copy from the author with no request for a review.

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