I recommend this even if you're unfamiliar with Byron & the Shelley clique - the author's writing is superb, & always a huge pleasure to read, whomever he's writing about.
I read this because I enjoyed his biography of Joseph Grimaldi, and before reading Vampyre I knew little of the Family members beyond the Frankenstein competition anecdote. I therefore can't confirm to ardent fans or students of Byron/the Shelleys that they will learn new facts about their subject by reading this, although the text certainly busts one Byron myth that the BBC's QI team broadcast unchallenged.
It isn't intended as a Byron biography anyway, and commences around the time of the poet's self-imposed exile in 1816. With Byron & the Shelleys' histories already thoroughly publicised, Vampyre emphasises instead the misadventures of "poor" Polidori (Byron's volatile doctor), and Mary Shelley's step-sister Claire (mother to one of Byron's children); the "other two" participants in the Villa Diodati competition that yielded Frankenstein.
Both played rather sad thwarted foils to the three successful Romantic celebrities they lived with, and Stott presents them compassionately & thoroughly, although never to the dry depths of laundry list statistics, nor by breaking the narrative with endless footnotes, as some biographers are prone to do (his research, however, is detailed at the end of the book - great for further reading).
The result is not altogether cheerful - these people did not treat each other well, and in some cases seemed unable to be happy. When I cried near the end it wasn't through a sense of losing some heroic set of wonderful characters, but with regret at what they endured, from their own minds, natural accidents, and each other's choices. This feeling extended to humans, universally, and I felt sad for a couple of days after finishing it.
It doesn't get sombre until the last few chapters, though, and the sadness is balanced elsewhere by the sheer linguaphilic joy of Stott's lucid writing; he selects the most accurate words from his uncommon vocabulary and assembles them with a liquid efficiency that is immediately understood, and delightful to read.
For most students of the Romantic era and its leading figures, the Vampyre Family will be a humane companion and a good starting point for further research. The rest of us, who just enjoy good biographies, history, and great writing, will relish Stott's wonderful ability to conjure a sense of historic place that is surprisingly familiar to the modern mind; a deeply human context for the evidence of early 19th century character that he presents.