The Last Vampire
by Christopher Pike
© 1994 by Christopher Pike. Cover Art by Brian Kotzky.
The Last Vampire delivers on what I have come to expect from Pike; complicated characters with dubious morals in fucked up situations. Alisa, also known as Sita, was a bit grating as the main character, although she did grow on me over the course of the book. Starting out she was a little bit too obnoxiously good at everything. My eyes rolled more than a few times. I would have liked it better if she struggled with computers. It would have given her a degree of fallibility that I felt was missing. She needed some sort of Achilles heel. An all-knowing, superpowerful 5,000-year-old vampire who can’t find a power button to save her life is something I could get behind. Beyond that, my chief complaints are that the ending felt rushed and I never completely bought into the love story. All that aside, I still enjoyed this book more than I didn’t. I particularly liked Sita’s relationship with Seymour. The Last Vampire may not be my favorite of Pike’s efforts, but it was far from his worst. It kept me guessing as to where the plot was heading, kept me entertained with a fast-moving plot, and continuously raised the stakes throughout the book. The ending was certainly abrupt, but it also went a long way toward ensuring that I will read the rest of the series. I’ll be posting my review of The Last Vampire 2: Black Blood next week!
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It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Observations & Spoilers:
The Last Vampire opens with Alisa arriving at a private investigator’s office. She’s been called there by Michael, a PI who has been hired to look into her financial holdings. Michael has unearthed quite a bit about Alisa, namely that she controls a considerable amount of wealth for someone the world has never heard of. Alisa suspects that Michael hopes to blackmail her with what he’s found, but her only real concern is figuring out who hired him to investigate her in the first place. You see, what Michael doesn’t know is that Alisa is a 5,000-year-old vampire with superhuman abilities, and she prefers to fly under the radar. She might appear to be a petite eighteen-year-old blonde girl, but in reality, she is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, much of the first chapter is Alisa telling us how good she is at everything. It totally never gets exhausting.
Alisa eventually loses her patience with Michael. She knows he is withholding information, and she gets kinda murdery when people piss her off. In the blink of an eye, she crushes Michael’s ribs into his heart. As the stunned investigator lies choking on his own blood, Alisa asks him again who hired him. All he can tell her is that it was a guy named Slim and they communicated only by fax. Gotta love a fax machine cameo. It might just be the quintessential 90’s technology. Michael also makes mention of his son, and Alisa starts to feel bad for killing him so quickly. As she combs through his office she finds a photo of Michael and his son Ray. She also figures out that Michael’s file on her is stored on a password-protected computer. She suspects that she will have to befriend his son to get access. So she quickly cleans the crime scene with vampire speed and enrolls herself in Ray’s high school the following day.
Now for a small caveat regarding Alisa’s seemingly endless vampire superpowers. It was definitely a bit heavyhanded in the beginning and did not endear me to her. I also expect morally ambiguous messy characters from Christopher Pike, so I was willing to trust him. What I couldn’t accept was how she also happened to be really good at computers. She’s older than record time and modern computers were less than a decade old at the time of the publication of this book. Let Alisa keep her supersonic speed, expert marksmanship, hypnotizing eyes, etc. But let her be bad at something and please let that something be computers. It was such a missed opportunity for comedic gold. I work in IT. I’ve seen numerous otherwise brilliant people get utterly derailed by some of the most basic technology. If they ever adapt this into a series, I pray to lord Krishna that they make this one small change. It would make Alisa instantly relatable while still letting her be an ancient vampire badass.
Alisa enrolls in high school under the name Lara Adams and develops an immediate connection with Ray. While that had been her intent, she can’t get over how much Ray reminds her of someone from her past. She also gets close to one of Ray’s classmates, Seymour Dorsten. Seymour is a classic geek who writes fantasy stories, but she can smell that there is something in his blood that is slowly killing him. He’s also somewhat of an empath. He’s the sorta person who can see a person’s true soul. Alisa takes an immediate liking to him. Ray proves to be a bit more difficult to win over; he’s got a girlfriend whom Alisa also takes a liking to. But she has a mission first and foremost; she needs to get the files on Michael’s computer, and she needs Ray to help her do that. This is around the time that we get our first flashback.
Alisa’s first name, her real name, is Sita. She was born in what is now known as India. A plague descended upon her village when she was just a child and claimed many lives. Among the dead was her best friend, Amba, who was almost nine months pregnant. Sita’s father and several other men took the advice of a traveling priest and performed a ritual in the woods to get rid of the disease that was killing them. They did so by inviting a demon into Amba’s corpse. The yakshini demon took hold of Amba’s body and killed the priest, then seemingly disappeared. Sita watched from the bushes and saw that the demon never left, but instead entered the corpse in Amba’s womb. The elders allowed the undead child to be born against Sita’s protest. In turn, she names the infant Yaksha after the demon that possessed him.
Yaksha grew to be a beloved member of the village. He seemed to have a special affinity for Sita, though she never forgot what the truth was. Then men started disappearing. Sita’s father tried to talk to Yaksha about it but was killed. Yaksha fled the village with his followers. Sita married Rama, her true love. They gave birth to her first and only child, Lalita. Then, one night Yaksha called upon her while her family slept. She was given an ultimatum. Either she takes Yaksha’s blood and becomes like him, or dies then and there with the rest of her family. Seeking to spare Rama and Lalita, Sita chooses to go with Yaksha. She mourned the loss of her family and became a vampire. So it goes.
Back in the present day, Alisa coerces Ray to look for his father. She feels bad knowing that Michael is dead, but needs Ray to unlock the computer. They break into his office and Alisa gets what she needs. She manages to copy over the file on herself without Ray noticing, then deletes all but a few pages of it. In the file, she finds the fax number for Slim and sends him a message. He agrees to meet her at the piers nearby. Both agree to come alone, but Slim comes with a small army. Alisa sees she is surrounded, but also needs to know who Slim is working for. It’s clearly someone who knew to be prepared for a vampire. She reluctantly goes with them but stages an escape where she brutally murders the bulk of them before squeezing the last bit of intel she can out of Slim. Her vampire speed allows her to evade the authorities.
Alisa calls Seymour to come and help her. He does. He tells her about how he’s dying from AIDS; he contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. Alisa sees no harm in showing him who she really is. He had a dream about her while she was on her badass killing spree. Alisa gets cleaned up and sets about figuring out what to do now that she knows Yaksha is still alive and that he is finally coming for her. How does she know this, you ask? Aside from being a vampire who’s good at everything, Alisa has a long history. This means she is prone to flashbacks and we are about to go on another prehistoric journey.
Sita traveled with Yaksha’s band of vampires for many years. They terrorized the many villages in their small part of the world. The villagers in turn begged the avatar Krisha, the deity’s sixth incarnation, to do something about it. Krishna lures Yaksha and his followers into a trap where they slaughter his many vampires. There is then a flute duel that ends in snake bites. Not gonna elaborate cause I want you to stick with whatever image that conjures. Krisha emerges victorious. He doesn’t kill Yaksha but makes him take a vow. He does the same for Sita; he tells her that she can remain a vampire and live as an immortal so long as she never makes another one. She flees before she can find out Yaksha’s fate. Until the present day, she had believed he died in the Middle Ages after being chased down by a mob. Now she knows he is alive and he is coming for her.
Alisa realizes that Yaksha is coming for her, and if his aim is to kill her there is little she can do to stop him. As powerful and as good at everything as Alisa is, Yaksha is more powerful and even more good at everything. Ray and Sita have started to fall in love for no clear reason other than he reminds her of her long-dead husband, Rama. Their names have alliteration so that seems like a solid conclusion. I guess they also have the same eyes or something. Anyway, Ray leaves his perfectly good girlfriend Pat for the immortal Sita. Sita tries in vain to get him to stay away, even telling him that she murdered his father. Ray’s vamp boner cannot be thwarted, however. They make love, and the following morning Yaksha appears. Yaksha tells Sita that he wants to die, and his last vow to Krishna was to kill off every last vampire he created. Sita is the last and the one he most regrets.
Yaksha forces her hand by killing Ray in front of her. Alisa, desperate for the love she has just rediscovered, breaks her vow to Krishna and turns Ray into a vampire in order to save him. She then formulates a plan to kill Krishna whilst saving the two of them. It involves building a rocket launch pad based on an abandoned NASA design and blowing all of them up while throwing Ray and herself free of the wreckage. If that sounds utterly ridiculous, that’s because it is. She also makes some time that night to go visit Seymour, where she uses her blood to cure his AIDS. She tells him everything she really is. She knows it also might kill him, but he’s willing to take the risk. If he survives, she wants him to write her story.
She steals the appropriate metals and builds the launch pad in record time. Yaksha returns at sundown and takes Alisa up on her offer to have them all die together. Sita finally tells Yaksha how he made her break her vow to Krishna. Yaksha had not been aware of her vow or her genuine love for Ray (which I still find questionable but OK). He decides to let her live. Yaksha lets Ray and Alisa walk out of Sita’s mansion rocket pad trap before it explodes. Sita runs back to ask him why and he tells her that he has made peace with his past and now only wishes to return to Krishna. Alisa runs back out before the explosion, but even her vampire speed isn’t fast enough to keep her from being pierced through the heart by shrapnel. She reflects on the irony of possibly dying by a stake through the heart and wondering if even she could survive this when the book ends.
I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of vampires. This predates Twilight and True Blood., although they did the genre no favors. They just didn’t do it for me. More recently, The Last Vampire and Midnight Mass have both challenged my opinion in enjoyable ways. I’ve gotta say, I really hope that The Last Vampire gets adapted as a series. I will lobby hard for the most significant change to be Sita’s lacking technological abilities. I might even lead my tens of fans to do a full-fledged pressure campaign to whichever studio takes on the endeavor. It could also stand to be gayer. I mean, we are talking about vampires. The whole concept is pretty gay. We need to make vampires gay again. Norm MacDonald was right in his 1994 review of Interview with a Vampire, and it’s still for most vampire fiction today.
The Last Vampire is just the first of six books. This October I will be reviewing the first three as a trilogy, and next year I’ll complete the original saga. They have since been collected and repackaged as the Thirst series, which has seen considerable success. The first six Last Vampire books make up the first two books in the Thirst series, which ends with five books total Depending on how I feel at the end of The Last Vampire 6, I may or may not continue reading. I make no promises here. Let’s see when I run out of steam!
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each.
I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are:
Concept: the strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes
I’m not much of a vampire fan, so I appreciate that this one bucks most of the tropes. The concept itself is pretty simple, but Pike did an excellent job of giving it layers and depth.
The first chapter gave it an excellent strong start, and I liked that the pre-history storyline was spaced out. The ending explosion seemed a bit too rushed and complicated, It left me wanting more time with Sita and Yaksha.
A bit of a mixed bag. Alisa/Sita was a little too good at everything, to the extent that it was inspiring eye rolls. Seymour was my favorite. I also liked that Yaksha turned out to be more nuanced than his early years suggested.
I don’t find vampires particularly scary, and I can’t say that this book is much different. That being said, I think this book would qualify as something closer to fantasy than horror.
There are similarities to other Pike books, but it diverges from other Vampire books in important ways. I was also never quite sure what was going to happen next, and that’s gotta count for something.
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire 2: Black Blood
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
RL Stine’s The Babysitter III