Dead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris
Published by Ace Books
3 Out of 5 Stars
I read this book after getting hooked on HBO's True Blood. Despite having seen them in bookstores, I had avoided picking one up until then because, based upon the inexplicably cartoonish cover, I assumed they were some more young adult vampire nonsense. Clearly, that was a misguided marketing ploy.
It's hard to say what I really thought of the book because season 1 of True Blood is based on Dead Until Dark; as a result, all suspense of who did it and why was gone. However, I enjoyed the book far more than the television show. For one, the show has all of these revved up sex scenes that often seem irrelevant to the plot (I know, I know--that's kind of HBO's thing). I'm not a complaining prude here--it's just that, if they're included, they should be relevant and shouldn't seem so intent on pushing the envelope just for the sake of shock value. The book certainly isn't devoid of them, but they seem more reasonable within the context of the story line.
Sookie is a promising character. Unlike the weak and whining Bella (who is my main source of complaint with the Twilight books), Sookie's got some spunk. And she, too, is different--a telepath, she has a power of her own that levels out the playing field a bit in her human-in-contact-with-the-supernatural situation. I also like the idea of vampires trying to mainstream into modern culture and demanding equal rights--kind of an interesting spin on things. I'm anxious to read the next novel so I can get a true feel for the series without any spoilers.
Living Dead in Dallas
3 Out of 5 Stars
Sookie Stackhouse is at it again, getting herself tangled up in all sorts of supernatural mischief involving vampires, werewolves, and now a maenad.
These books are pure brain candy and a lot of fun with no literary pretensions. I enjoy the unique twists that stem from Harris's choice to set her vampire tales in the South (and not the South of antebellum aristocrats, but borderline trailer-trash South) and have vampires attempting to mainstream into society after being recognized as citizens by the U.S. government.
While I enjoy the books and will continue reading the series, there were a few things that irked me enough to bump it down to a 3 star. Strangely, Sookie was one of the things that drew me to the series because she's not a helpless female so in love with a vampire that it consumes her entire sense of self. She's strong-willed and often gets herself into trouble during the daylight hours when Vampire Bill can't come to the rescue. She's resourceful and reliable. However, Harris seemed to backpedal a little bit here with Sookie. She's pouty when she doesn't get her way and seems too self-involved to really be likable (yes, yes, she's gorgeous and she knows it, we know it, the vampires know it--I don't need to hear her rhapsodize about how perky her boobs are or how her tan is holding up or about every freakin' article of clothing she puts on or takes off throughout the book). However, there are genuine flashes of humor throughout and Eric is definitely becoming a more fascinating character.
4 Out of 5 Stars
Finally, I'm able to give a Charlaine Harris novel a 4 star. Club Dead is the best in the series and you can tell that Harris is beginning to work through some of the weaknesses that I've noted in the first two books. One thing that Harris has done right is to realize that, once the star-crossed lovers finally get together, the audience's interest begins to wane. As an audience, we want the "will they, won't they" tension. In Dead Until Dark, we have that tension between Sookie and Bill. In Living Dead in Dallas, the two get a honeymoon period of being together for an entire novel. But that would eventually get boring, right? And so, it should be no surprise that Sookie doesn't get her happily ever after with Vampire Bill. This isn't a bad thing as it sets up all kinds of interesting relationship possibilities for our favorite wrong-side-of-the-tracks Southern telepath. Will she fall for Alcide, the werewolf, or Eric, the Viking vampire? Decisions, decisions.
Some things that I like about the series include the working class Southern references. For instance, Sookie and Alcide actually go to a Wal-Mart at one point and Alcide, though a werewolf, has to make a living by day as a land surveyor. For the most part, the supernaturals in Harris books actually mainstream into the human world, socially, politically, and financially. They're not the independently wealthy, old money vampires of Anne Rice's world. Instead, they appear to be average people who just happen to--surprise!--be vampires, werewolves, shifters, telepaths, etc.
My one irritant: the means by which Harris severed the relationship between Sookie and Bill. It seemed so out of character for Bill. From the very first page of the novel I thought, "This is not the Vampire Bill of the first two novels." Nothing really explains this sudden shift in character, nor is his attraction to Lorena ever adequately explained. Harris whips up a short little background story told by Eric to explain this bizarre behavior away, but it just doesn't gel. Oh, well. Her only other option would have been to kill him off and I did not need another "New Moon-esque" experience of the heroine bemoaning the loss of her lover and wallowing in self-pity. At least Sookie maintains her dignity and the ending is very fitting for a spunky Southern girl with a mind of her own.
Dead to the World
3 Out of 5 Stars
After thoroughly enjoying Club Dead, this one fell short of my expectations. When Sookie finds Eric Northman (the Viking vampire who owns the vampire bar Fangtasia in modern day Shreveport, Louisiana) on the side of the road, he seems dazed and disoriented. And with good reason--he's lost his memory. Gone is the smug, sarcastic, and arrogant Eric that Sookie's always known and, in his place, is a scared and dependent vampire. And that's part of why I didn't like this as much--Eric's just not as much fun in this one.
I won't wax profound over this novel. These books are the equivalent of cheesecake bites--they're addictive and you feel a little guilty for indulging in one because this is not great literature. In fact, the writing really is pretty terrible, but what she lacks in writing skill Harris makes up for in a vivid imagination and a savvy for knowing how to keep us interested in the life of Sookie Stackhouse.