Title: Dead Until Dark
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Stand Alone/Series: Book 1 of Southern Vampire Mysteries
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Sookie Stackhouse is a cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana, but she keeps to herself and doesn’t date much because of her “disability” to read minds. When she meets Bill, Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. He’s the type of guy she’s waited for all of her life, but he has a disability, too–he’s a vampire with a bad reputation. When one of Sookie’s coworkers is killed, she fears she’s next.
Thea: I have to echo what Ana says–I had started this book a whiles back, and couldn’t get into Sookie or her vampire bf Bill at all. I felt the characters seemed a bit off, and the plot kind of mundane. There wasn’t really anything that distinguished this book from the multitude of other ‘my boyfriend is a sexy vampire’ books out there, so I put it down as a DNF.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, Ana told me she had just bought a copy of this book and suggested we do a joint review of it. Since everyone and their mom seems to be really into this series, plus with Ana’s moral support, I decided to pick the book back up and give Sookie another shot. And I am very glad I did! As I read more of the book, I found myself getting sucked into the story–and most importantly, by Sookie herself.
On the Plot:
Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress working at Merlotte’s the local bar, in small town Bon Temps, rural Louisiana. She is an uneducated (but book smart), pretty young woman who lives with her grandmother and who doesn’t get out much.
Because you see, Sookie has a “disability”: she can read minds. Ever since she was small she has been able to read people’s thoughts, and it has been a constant source of grief for her. It makes relationships hard to have, sex nearly impossible, and because of the constant need to keep her guard up (so as not to be bombarded by everyone’s thoughts, all the time), Sookie is seen a bit touched in the head.
Sookie has never had a break from her psychic wall (although she has a hard time reading the mind of her boss, Sam). And then, one day HE strolls in.
Bill is a vampire. In the tradition of sexy vampires, Bill is pale, chiseled, and gorgeous. What’s more is, for the first time in her life, Sookie cannot ‘hear’ a thing from him. Complete silence. Naturally, Sookie is drawn to Bill. So much so, that later that evening in the parking lot, when he is attacked by the ‘Rat’ couple (a pair of trailer trash hillbillies), Sookie stands up and fights to protect Bill. Later, when the Rat couple looks for payback for what Sookie did, Bill intervenes and saves her life–and thus their two fates are intertwined.
Meanwhile, as Sookie’s love life seems to be on the up and up, more violence shakes Bon Temps. Young, single women are being brutally murdered by what appears to be a vampire. And when Sookie and her family are being threatened by the killer (her grandmother, her brother, and Sookie herself), she decides to take matters into her own hands, and sets off to find the killer.
Ana: Even though the main plot, with the mystery killings was not the most fascinating of plots, it still worked well for me as it gave the necessary excuse for all the other developments around Sookie. The sub-plots though were fantastic: Sookie’s relationship with Bill providing her the most needed connection with the world that ended opening up her mind a bit more. Being a bit more out there also makes other people realise that Sookie may not be crazy at all. With that and her unrequited alliance with Eric the Vampire ( some sort of Godfather figure, but hot) the ground is prepared for future instalments.
Thea: I found the plotting for this book ok. The story gets off to a slow, kind of lumbering start, but begins to pick up after the first murder. As with most first books in a series, especially in this sort of paranormal/urban fantasy setting, things take a while to kick off (read: lengthy exposition), but eventually the pace picks up to a frantic climax. Sookie here is no exception. To be honest, I found the murder mystery a bit ho-hum, nothing out of the ordinary. Ms. Harris’ strengths do not lie in her plotting, but rather in her strong characters.
On the Characters:
Ana: Sookie is definitely the star of the show. She is not only unique and adorable but also resourceful. She had been sheltered her whole life, without really interacting with people as to not upset her own mind but that has changed with this book. What started as a disability has now the potential to be a gift – or a curse , still to be decided. But the thing is, she is out there now. I love her to bits.
The other main protagonist – Bill, her vampire boyfriend is a slimy ball in my opinion. I think he has ulterior motives to be with Sookie and I do not trust him, he done her wrong in several ways (see Thea’s comment on Bill – they are spot on).
If I had to choose a suitor for Sookie, it would have to be Sam, her boss and friend who obviously has some feelings for her. Although, on a second though, he comes out to tell her that he only realised that he liked her when she started dating Bill, so, maybe Sam is not good enough for Sookie either. Yes, I am feeling very protective towards her.
As for the other characters – and there are quite a few of them. I liked her granny, she is rather sweet and quirky. Her brother was another slimy ball though and also did not treat Sookie very well, so he can die.
I think I need to mention Eric, the ultra vampire who is much older than Bill, therefore more powerful and who is also carrying a torch for Sookie: he likes her smell, her prettiness and her mind can prove to be most helpful to the vampire community. Something tells me he gets to play more in future books.
And you just wait until you meet Bubba , Sookie’s vampire bodyguard, that was a complete riot.
Thea: I absolutely, 100%, positively adore Sookie. What started off as a strange character that I couldn’t really relate to ended up as one of the most distinct heroines I’ve read in a long time. In a genre that is full to the point of supersaturation with aggressive, take-charge heroines, Sookie is completely unique. Because of her disability, Sookie has not had the same interactions and relationships that “normal” people have had by the time they are 25 years old. Sookie is no idiot, in fact she is quite sharp–she just has a different way of looking at life, and this is related through her first person narration. While initially this is somewhat off-putting, the end result is incredibly endearing. Sookie is a character who grows on you, and who you want to grow up but shelter at the same time because of her sweet naivete. Not to say that the character is some innocent princess with no concept of the outside world–there is strength in Sookie and the reader gets flashes of it every once in a while–her decision to help Bill (despite the danger to herself), her toughness when dealing with her good for nothing brother, and the ultimate showdown at the climax of the book. Sookie FEELS real, and is Ms. Harris’ crowning achievement in this book. Even if I wasn’t crazy about the murder sideplot, or the romantic element of this story, I wanted to keep reading because I wanted more Sookie. And for this, I must tip my hat to the author! *tips imaginary hat*
By the by, I love the name. Sookie Stackhouse. It’s Southern Louisiana charm all the way, and it suits the character so well.
The other main character, however, I really could not get into at all. I don’t like Bill. As Ana and I both agree, he seems to have a selfish, ulterior motive with dear Sookie, and because she loves him she lets it happen. Bill strikes me as the selfish type–drinking Sookie’s blood (to the point where she is exhausted and weak), overly possessive, not letting her eat certain foods because it makes her taste different, letting her be turned over to Boss Vamp Eric, and finally (most glaringly!) when the big showdown goes down, he’s not even in town! Hmph. Not to mention the teensy tiny dilemma with Bill being (un)dead and all. Were Sookie one of my girlfriends, there would be a heart to heart talk going on.
Plus, when you have a nice living, breathing guy like Sam around…
Final Observations, recommendation and rating
Ana: I though this was such an appealing book, not only because Sookie was a very refreshing protagonist but because the reality of the world she created is creative and different. For example I really liked the fact that Sookie’s ability was seen as a disability or that people created explanations for things beyond their grasp and comfort zone: vampirism caused by a virus in that sense, was both a logical and easy and easy explanation.
The time chosen as well, that interesting threshold where humans have to start to interact with the different which makes Sookie’s “disability “ come to centre stage and people finally start to pay attention to her and realize that she is not disabled at all. She is not normal, granted, but she is not what they all thought she either, crazy or slow. Even Sookie starts to look at herself differently and to feel more confident and at ease in her own mind. Interesting to note is that the ones that first realize that she is unique and special are the vampires.
Also appealing to me, was that most humans in that story, have such a hard time accepting “monsters” like vampires or abnormal like Sookie but through her mind -reading we realize how petty they are, how truly villainous and monstrous proper, real human beings can be – some of the minds we visit are sick, sad, deviant in many ways.
In the end, Sookie goes through so much I just wanted to hold her in my arms and protect her against everyone who dared hurt her emotionally or physically. I don’t care much for relationship with Bill because I believe he is not good enough for her. I don’t think I ever felt so protective towards a female character and because of that I plan to reading the next installments pronto.
Oh and what’s up with everyone being so freaking gorgeous up in Bon Temps? Thea and I are seriously considering moving the Book Smugglers headquarters over there.
Thea: What Ana said! Seriously, despite my misgivings from trying to read this book earlier, I ended up really enjoying Dead Until Dark. So far as plotting and world creation goes, I didn’t think this was anything to write home about. Vampirism becoming legalized, Vampires “mainstreaming”, it’s been done. Even taking into consideration this book was written in 2001, the general world setting (complete with political impact of Vampires) felt similar to Anita Blake circa 1995. The murder mystery whodunit also felt pretty mundane–even though it was written well, it felt kind of like a Scooby–Doo episode (and that’s not an insult, I happen to love Scooby and the gang!). The true draw to this novel and series, at least in my opinion, is the heroine. Sookie Stackhouse is a wonderful, unique character and I cannot wait to read more of her (I have bought the next book and it is sitting patiently on my TBR shelf). I look forward to seeing more of her, in the very near future!
Ana: There is one point where everything seems so surreal to Sookie that she has a breakdown. I thought it was a funny yet endearing moment:
Though I knew it wouldn’t help a thing, I began crying. I was sure Jerry was dead by now, and I felt I shout have done something about that, but I couldn’t have kept silent when he was about to infect Bill. So many things about this short episode had upset me so deeply that I didn’t know where to begin being upset. In maybe fifteen minutes I’d been in fear of my life, in fear for Bill’s life (well- existence) , made to witness sex acts that should be strictly private, seen my potential sweetie in the throes of blood lust (emphasis on lust), and nearly chocked to death by a diseased hustler. On second thought, I gave myself full permission to cry. I sat up and wept and mopped my face with a handkerchief Bill handed me. My curiosity about why a vampire would need a handkerchief was just a little flicker of normality, drenched by the flood of my nervous tears.
Thea: I loved Sookie’s inner narrations and asides. There’s one part in particular, where Sookie learns Sam’s secret (don’t want to spoil, so I won’t elaborate) and her distracted thoughts are wonderfully funny!
Ana: 7, very good and I am definitely going to read more.
Thea: 7 Very Good – IT’S ANOTHER CONSENSUS! Whoopie!
Reading next: Gabriel’s Ghost by Linnea Sinclair