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Book Review: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

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Over the last few months, I’ve become a True Blood addict. I plowed through Seasons One and Two of the HBO television show on DVD and was hooked by the time I finished. Season Three is now in full swing, but, since I don’t have an HBO subscription, I’m unable to satisfy my continuing obsession. But, there is hope, since True Blood is based off the bestselling Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, which are as enjoyable as the television show.

The Plot: The first book in Harris’ series, Dead Until Dark, introduces heroine Sookie Stackhouse, an average bar waitress in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, with a not so average talent. Sookie can read minds. And, while many people would view her talent as a gift, she despises it as a condition and a curse. Sookie spends most of her time blocking out the many lewd thoughts and musings of those who frequent Merlotte’s Bar, where she works. And she doesn’t even think about dating or having sex, lest she have to hear every thought of the men she spends time with.

It is for this express reason that Sookie finds vampire Bill Compton so attractive. She can’t hear Bill’s thoughts, and he is therefore a perfect mate for her, especially considering that she isn’t an average human herself. Meanwhile, a strangler is loose in Bon Temps, killing women who associate with vampires. Sookie is drawn into the midst of this mystery and the vampire world simultaneously — and must rely on her dry humor and wit to get herself out alive.

The Good Stuff: The best thing about Dead Until Dark is Sookie Stackhouse. She approaches every situation with wit and class, even when circumstances get the best of her emotions. She’s also not the typical damsel falling in love with a blood-sucker. She doesn’t lose her personal volition and strength just because she’s being courted by a handsome, chivalrous, age-old vampire. She knows how to say yes and no, and she thinks for herself.

The next best thing is Bill Compton. He’s strong, romantic, good in bed, and has a head filled with over a hundred years of wisdom. He’s perfect for Sookie; his pursuit of her provides Sookie with the confidence she needs and protection from the dangers of the vampire world that start to encroach on her life. The relationship between Bill and Sookie is also believable; they do not participate in the bizarre obsessions, possessiveness, or dependency that induces eye-rolling in readers. Sookie and Bill are as normal a couple as they can be, considering their otherworldly dispositions.

And then there is Bon Temps, Louisiana. We’ve seen vampires in New England and vampires in Washington State, but Harris makes sure that the South is represented by placing her vampires in the hot, sultry setting of Louisiana. The idea of southern vampires, who fought in the Civil War, and speak with southern drawls, makes common story arcs exciting and new.

The Bad Stuff: Character development in this book is lacking. Aside from Sookie, Bill, Sam, and maybe Sookie’s brother Jason, the other characters feel non-existent and one-dimensional. During the novel, I found myself asking why certain characters were important, and at the end of it, I was left wanting more information about secondary characters that should have been expressed during the story. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had this qualm if I hadn’t watched the series first, which develops beautifully all the characters set forth by Harris’, but since I saw the series first, character development flaws in Dead Until Dark were glaring.

Also, the book seemed to climax a bit late, as the action came to a head with only about twenty pages to go. This made the rest of the story before the climax seem like a slow meander that could have been sped up and better organized. However, these flaws are small when put up against everything Harris does right.

The Verdict: Charlaine Harris starts the Sookie Stackhouse series off well with Dead Until Dark. It has an interesting, strong heroine and compelling setting. While some of the characters aren’t as developed as they could have been, they show some potential for growing more complex as the book series continues. If you haven’t read the books or seen the show yet. I suggest reading the books first to avoid any disappointment from the strong differences in the television show.

If you're interested in more, check out the other books in the Sookie Stackhouse series as well as True Blood Season Three, which airs Sunday nights on HBO.

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About Jelani Sims