Dec 13, 2023
“Blood Machines is a highly creative vampire novel that subverts tropes and cliches, using the creatures to explore the concept of a surveillance state.
Depending on whom you talk to, the vampire is either a potent metaphor or is derivative and “done to death”. A quick look around the pop culture landscape shows compelling evidence for both sides of the argument. On one end are classic books of the genre, such as Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” or Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, which do not glorify vampires but instead show them for the fearsome creatures they are. On the other end we have works, such as "Twilight" or "The Vampire Academy", that play up the more sexual aspects of vampire mythology and add a layer of luster to the undead. And then there is the novel “Blood Machines”, which uses the blood-lusting creatures to explore the concept of a surveillance state.
While also the subject of numerous films, vampires have made their way to television as well in shows like True Blood and What We Do in the Shadows. They even star in video games, such as the mega-popular “Castlevania” series and “Vampire: The Masquerade”, a popular role-playing game centered around vampire clans.
Those who argue that vampires are still relevant point to the creature as a potent allegory for issues of class and sexuality; Anne Rice’s seminal “Interview with the Vampire” touched on these themes, as did Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Stoker’s original novel. Commentators who believe the vampire to be cliche use the shallow and superficial nature of works like "Twilight" as evidence for their argument. They believe that these works strip the vampire of its literary power, instead focusing solely on the sexuality element at the expense of other themes.
While the two sides continue to debate with no satisfactory answer in sight, J.K. Gravier has slipped under everyone’s radar with the excellent “Blood Machines”. This novel, which deftly mixes the police procedural genre with elements of vampire lore, imparts new symbolic importance to the creatures.
“Blood Machines” is set in an alternate America, where vampires have begun entering mainstream society. The vampires of “Blood Machines” are not sexy, they do not turn into bats, and a bite from one will not convert their victim. Gravier does not dwell on the nature of the vampires too much, instead opting to focus on world building and exploring the ramifications of such creatures in the real world.
“Blood Machines” follows Allison Drew, a vampire (or “sanguinarian” as they are called throughout) working for the federal government. As part of their efforts to assimilate into the larger world, they have created the Vampire Bureau of Investigations. This agency, working closely with the FBI, polices vampires. Drew is sent to Detroit to investigate a series of murders where the victim's blood was drained. There she uncovers a massive conspiracy, stretching all the way to the highest echelons of the VBI … and the FBI.
At every turn, Gravier subverts vampire tropes and cliches. As mentioned earlier, Gravier’s vampires lack many of the creature’s traditional powers, such as the ability to turn to mist or the ability to “charm” someone. These vampires can come out during the day, although it requires sunscreen and special clothing. Gravier even downplays the very word “vampire”, as some prefer to label themselves “sanguinarians”. Gravier also dispenses with a great deal of vampire lore, stripping it down to its bare essence and injecting it with new life.
Playing around with these tropes allows Gravier to discuss issues of surveillance and the police state. Allison Drew learns that both the VBI and the FBI have plans to implement a tracking system for vampires, one that would allow various agencies to keep tabs on them. The novel does not make it clear if this surveillance program would carry over to humans, but the implication is there.
In “Blood Machines”, vampires also become a metaphor for race and class. Allison and her vampire friends existed on the margins for centuries, only making gains within the past 100 years. Their march into the mainstream has been slow, and they are still greeted with suspicion and fear. It is not a stretch to see Drew and her fellow vampires as stand-ins for any oppressed and marginalized groups.
“Blood Machines” also explores the nature of the police state, and the relationship between law enforcement and the people they are pledged to serve. It does not glorify the police work Allison does. Her colleagues are corrupt, and the novel heavily implies this corruption goes all the way up the ladder.
“Blood Machines” contains themes of the erosion of civil liberties and the rise of the surveillance state, which resonate loudly in today’s world. Numerous novels, television shows, and movies have centered themselves around these issues, some of them with nothing really new to say. With “Blood Machines”, J.K. Gravier takes vampires—which are often dismissed as “overexposed”—and uses them to talk about these very themes. The end result is a highly creative vampire novel that subverts tropes left and right.
“Blood Machines” is currently available for your reading pleasure. To learn more about J.K Gravier and “Blood Machines”, visit any of the below listed links and be sure to leave a solid review. The book is worth it, especially if you’re a vampire fan.
Shaun Corley is an East Coast pop culture enthusiast who loves to write about everything entertainment. A big, important Screen Rant writer, Shaun has many leather-bound books, which are far outnumbered by comics and the smell of rich mahogany.