Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dead Until Dark

Sookie Stackhouse lives in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. She lives a fairly normal, boring life, and nothing much seems to happen from day to day, so she is fascinated by oddities, "collecting" them in her mind to mull over in quiet moments. So when a vampire walks into the bar where she works as a waitress, she is thrilled - particularly when he takes a seat in her section. In Sookie's world vampires are known to exist - and vampirism is said to be caused by a virus - but they are not usually seen in small towns like Bon Temps.

Sookie has what she calls a disability: she is able to read minds. At first glance it is difficult to understand why she would feel so negative about her "condition," but she explains in detail the many disadvantages. For one thing, everyone in town thinks she's crazy because she spends so much time trying to concentrate and keep her mental shields up when she's around other people that it becomes difficult to maintain coherent conversations. It makes dating a disaster, too - particularly when it comes to physical intimacy, and she can hear every thought, flattering and otherwise, that her date has about her.

When she talks with the vampire, though, she is astonished to find that his mind is one amazing, blessedly restful blank. Later, when she mentally "overhears" some other bar customers plotting his demise, an act that is immoral and illegal, as vampires have rights the same as regular humans, Sookie takes it on herself to help him out - and that decision will have life-altering consequences. As Sookie struggles to adjust to the new turn the course of her life has taken, the peace in Bon Temps is shattered by a series of gruesome murders.

I read this book when it first came out and found it an engaging supernatural mystery. I read several of the sequels, and enjoyed them as well, but somehow I have fallen behind in the series, and I decided to start reading it from the beginning. I listened to the audio version of this one, and I enjoyed Johanna Parker's narration very much. For some reason I remembered the book as being much funnier than it seemed to me this time around - Sookie is a resilient heroine, and she does find the humor in many situations, but she suffers such resounding loss, time and time again, that the book turned out to be quite a bit darker than I remembered.

Harris does an excellent job of setting up her alternate world, and the vampires are clearly creatures that are not human. Sookie is a likable heroine, young and inexperienced, true, but compassionate and intelligent, and one who quickly learns from her mistakes. The secondary characters pose intriguing possibilities. Bill, despite his distinctly unvampiric name, is rather inscrutable and appears to have his own agenda. Sam, Sookie's boss, has his own secrets and motivations. Sookie's grandmother is a delightful and refreshing depiction of an elderly southern women, and Jason, Sookie's handsome, irresponsible brother, is more complicated than he appears. It was Sookie's expressive voice, as the narrator, that really pulled me into this story and - even though I'd read it before - kept me anxious to return to it every time I put it down. I'm looking forward to another gripping listening experience with the second installment in this series.

Books in the Southern Vampire series:
1. Dead Until Dark
2. Living Dead in Dallas

3. Club Dead
4. Dead to the World
5. Dead as a Doornail
6. Definitely Dead
7. Altogether Dead
8. From Dead to Worse
9. Dead and Gone

10. A Touch of Dead (Sookie Stackhouse: The Complete Stories) - to be published October 2009

Dead Until Dark (#1 in the Southern Vampire series) by Charlaine Harris; read by Johanna Parker (Recorded Books, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
The Novel World: "The characters are cleverly written and Sookie is a hilarious heroine throughout the novel."
Romance Rookie: " I enjoyed the mystery and the slow unveiling of how things work with the vampires."
Sam's Book Blog: "This is a paranormal romance wrapped up into a mystery. It was a fun story for me."

20 comments:

  1. Awesome review! I fell behind on the series around book 5 so I would like to re-read them sometime too. Reading a series all at once is better for me because I am so impatient :)

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  2. Great review! I like the Sookie books as well...they are fun, easy and quick.

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  3. You know I tried this one and gave up after about 50 pages :( It just didn't work for me...I think the audio might be better for me though. In fact, I heard a sample of it on audible.com and that's what made me want to read it in the first place! I really liked the narrators accent...though we sound nothing like that in Louisiana ;)

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  4. Okay, even though I've been avoiding this series (although why, I don't really know), I think the universe is conspiring to get me to read it... great reviews all over the place, plus my roommate Netflixed the first disc of True Blood this weekend, which was really good...

    Okay, one more, added to the list. *sigh* You're such a bad influence. :)

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  5. Joanne - Rereading them all at once is better for me because I tend to forget things if I go too long between books. But I hate when I'm at the end of the series, waiting impatiently for the next one to come out, so I tend to space them out a little bit to make them last longer. Silly, aren't I?!

    Ibeeeg - Thanks! I am going to enjoy this rereading adventure. :-)

    Chris - I would be curious to hear what you think of the audio version. I was wondering about that accent. I think Louisiana accents are very hard to imitate, especially New Orleans!

    Fyrefly - I have been wondering about True Blood - I'm glad to hear it was good. It was one of the reasons that made me want to reread and continue with the series. I hope you like the book!

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  6. Well, the first two episodes were good, at least - that's all I've seen. :) Hopefully the rest of the season will keep it up.

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  7. Fyrefly - I'm thinking I'll read the entire series first, just in case there are any major spoilers in the series. Plus that will give my husband a little more time to recover from all the Buffy I made him watch - every single season, teehee. I think he secretly liked it more than he admits. :-p

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  8. I am not crazy about this series. I really must try again...

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  9. Kailana - there are some series that everyone adores that I just can't seem to get into, too. Maybe this one just isn't for you? Although I have also experienced that thing when I can't get into a book, and then I try it later on and can't figure out what my problem was because I love it so much. Who knows?

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  10. I just adore this series! I've read the whole thing twice and I'm honestly thinking about reading the fourth one again for the third time.

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  11. Heh, good on you for making your husband watch Buffy! I'm actually re-watching Buffy at the moment, plus watching Angel for the first time... so plus True Blood equals three vampire-TV-on-DVD shows that I've got going simultaneously. :)

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  12. Ladytink - it's good to hear you like it so much! I am looking forward to continuing on past the ones that I've already read to see what happens. A Sookie short story I read in an anthology a few months ago really made me feel I was missing out.

    Fyrefly - wow, you are really doing a vampire marathon, aren't you?! I never did watch more than a few episodes of Angel. Are you enjoying it? I've been meaning to get to it one of these days.

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  13. I'm not crazy about what they've done with the Angel storyline in Season 4, but otherwise, it's pretty darn good. Not quite up to Buffy standards, of course, but it's got its own charm.

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  14. Fyrefly - Well, I wouldn't expect it to be up to Buffy standards, of course - what could be? :-) Good to know that you like it, though - I will definitely give it a try one of these days.

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  15. Psst, Darla! I am just finishing Angel Season 5 - after watching 1-4 in the last month in a half. Back when I watched Buffy I didn't want to give Angel a chance, then I got sucked in by Season 2 & 3 when it was on - bought ALL the seasons on DVD. Heh. Now I rewatch it every few years. Actually can stomach watching all 5 seasons in a row - which I can NOT do with Buffy anymore. I get to the end of Season 2 and I want to poke out my eyes. :(

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  16. Cat - Wow, that is some serious Angel watching! Now I'm even more curious to see it. I caught a few episodes here and there, but I need to see it in order so I can figure out what's happening.

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  17. Interesting that you call it a mystery, would you say it was more mystery or supernatural romance out of interest? I still haven;t startd this series yet which sucks (literally and metaphorically!). I will sort it out I promise.

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  18. Rhinoa - it is most definitely a mystery. It has some romance going on, and interesting supernatural details about the culture and politics of the vampire demimonde, but mainly there's a serial killer that they are trying to catch - Sookie is a target, and suspicion is falling on her brother, so she tries to use her mind-abilities to help catch the killer. Harris writes straight mysteries, too (you probably knew that) - she wrote those first before starting this series, and she put her experience to good use in this one.

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  19. As usual, I'm the last to this party. A friend lent me this novel last year when I was hospitalized, but I didn't crack it till last month, for various reasons. I do like Sookie. But Bill and the vampire crowd annoy the hell out of me. I can find nothing attractive about them. Even with all their sexual mojo. Sam & Gran are about the only characters I like. When I finish this one, I don't think I'll move onto the next books. I wanted to like it, since so many of my friends are fans of the novels and of True Blood. But overall: meh. I really do like Sookie. I want people in her life who are worth hanging out with and boinking - since boinking seems to be what vampires do best. ... aside from bloodsucking.

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  20. Molly - I don't know, but I think there is supposed to be some ambivalence about Bill and the vampire crowd. Some of those characters are downright awful, and others are mixed at best. One thing that I like about the series is that it's all very complicated, and Sookie changes and grows and so do relationships - it's pretty interesting to see what happens!

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