Book Review: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

This is Book 1 in the Southern vampire series that has been made into HBO’s True Blood series. I started watching the television show years ago without knowing it was originally a book. The show intrigued me—as visually pleasing mind candy. But in typical HBO fashion, parts of it were over-the-top with sex scenes sprinkled in freely. I later heard a story about an HBO producer randomly picking up a copy of Harris’s book in an airport, being intrigued, and pursuing the series from there. I was intrigued. I wanted to know just how good the book was. And as usual, the book is much better than the television show.

It’s told through the first-person viewpoint of Sookie Stackhouse, a girl with the ability to read people’s thoughts. From the start, her voice is sympathetic and intriguing. She’s an underdog, and her “disability” (reading minds) has forced her to distance herself from most close relationships. Her grandmother is loveable, too. Seventy-eight years old and still fairly open-minded. For example, when Sookie meets a vampire who lived during the Civil War, her grandmother asks her to invite the young man to address her Civil War club at their next meeting (agreeing that they’ll make special arrangements to meet after dark).

As an author, Harris was clever in giving Sookie her troubling “disability.” While Sookie tries to block out other people’s thoughts, she can—conveniently—turn the ability on and off, allowing her to peek into other characters’ heads when the narrative demands it. The story accept vampires matter-of-factly, with a vampire bar called Fangtasia, for example, or Sookie’s grandmother telling vampire Bill not to drink too much—just before his date with Sookie (a double-entendre on drinking alcohol versus blood).

If the colorful vampire plot isn’t enough to hold your interest, there is plenty of romantic intrigue. Sookie is drawn to vampire Bill, whose life she saved and who saved her life during a violent brawl. Part of the attraction is that Sookie is unable to read Bill’s mind, leaving her a refreshing sense of quiet. In the meantime, Sookie’s boss, Sam, seems to know about her mind-reading ability and is even able to block her from reading his mind (though she’s read enough to know that he desires her).  And yes, there is some sex. It is more tastefully done than the HBO series.

I won’t divulge any of the plot twists (if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to ruin it; if you’ve seen the HBO series, you already know most of them). I did feel, however, that I have a better understanding of Sookie, Jason, their motivations, and even the motivations of the other characters after having read the book (compared to the show). I’ll also promise that it’s a fast read. It isn’t particularly difficult, and the numerous plot twists force the page to turn. My only complaint is that the chapter breaks were long, making it harder to find a stopping point to do things like let the dogs out or make dinner. Still, once you get bitten by her tale, you won’t want to stop.

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