When my recent cold left me home with little to do besides drink hot tea and watch too much Doctor Who (which is silly; there’s no such thing as “too much” Doctor Who) I decided to read one of the books that came on my Kindle. The one I chose was Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, the first of the Southern Vampire Mysteries – the books that serve as source material for the show True Blood. I’ve never seen the show so I was unfamiliar with the characters and the work in general.

For those unfamiliar with the book, here is a brief synopsis –

At some unspecified point before the beginning of the book, vampires “came out” and have started living openly in human society. This is made possible by the widespread availability of synthetic blood and the existence of vampire groupies (called “fang-bangers”) willing to serve as live donors.  The main protagonist is Sookie Stackhouse, a young waitress in a small Louisiana town who has what she considers a “disability” – telepathy. Her ability is widely known in the small town, but on par with a bad habit – people ignore it to be polite and rarely ever speak of Crazy Sookie’s eccentricity. One of the vampires, Bill Compton, has returned to town to claim his family’s home now that he is legally able to do so and he shows up at the bar where Sookie works. She surprised to discover that she cannot read his thoughts and finds him fascinating, partly because of his vampirism and partly because of the silence she hears around him. Shortly after his first appearance in the bar she saves him from a pair of “drainers,” humans who drain vampires of their blood and sell it as a street drug. The two begin a romance that oscillates off and on for much of the book. Sookie’s boss, Sam, also begins displaying feelings for her, something Sookie calls him on when he starts acting jealous by pointing out that he had plenty of time to ask her out before Bill arrived in town. Laced within this rivalry/love story is the mystery of who is killing local girls, the fact that they were all fang-bangers leads many to suspect that the killings are the work of a vampire.

The author attempts to blend together a love story with a mystery and in trying to balance one against the other they both suffer. Sookie falls very quickly in love with Bill, even though he acts remote and distant at times, in a way that reminds me unpleasantly of Bella from the Twilight series. However, Sookie is a much more dynamic character than that wet piece of cardboard and is quite likable. Bill is very stoic, revealing very little of himself, but there are hints of a deeper character underneath. When Sookie reveals details of what her “funny uncle” did to her, he remains outwardly calm but the next morning the uncle is found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs with a broken neck. Since this is the first of several books, I hope there is more character development in the future.

There were enough hints as to who the murderer of the fang-bangers is well before the identity is revealedthat it is more of a “Of course it was [***].” moment instead of a “I can’t believe it was [***]!” moment. I like a little more suspense in my mysteries.

I am impressed with the author’s depiction of Sookie’s telepathy, which is perhaps the most realistic interpretation I have read. Instead of being able to pluck thoughts from people’s heads and read them like books, she gets shattered fragments; words, phrases, a image, a vague feeling, a swirl of colors, or a memory playing out like a snippet of film. This is closer to how people really think, in cobbled-together bits and pieces, than the neat and orderly fashion often depicted in fiction. Sookie isn’t always able to interpret what she sees and feels from others, since it often lacks context, and her frustration over this at pivotal times lends to the believability of her character. Instead of being an omnipotent mind reader able to probe your innermost recesses, she is stuck adjusting the rabbit-ears on an old analog TV in an attempt to pick up anything that makes sense.

My final grade for the book is a C; the plot was muddled and forced at times, but the characters have potential and there are some very unique aspects to the world the author has built. I am curious to see what the second book will be like.

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