maandag 26 augustus 2013

Review: Charlaine Harris, Dead Until Dark + True Blood S1

Looking at my track record when it comes to reading, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a little miracle when I read a book within the year of its release. In fact, I am so terribly behind on numerous series and other books, that I’m probably allowed to get my own charity. One of those series that have been lingering around since back when, is Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series – along with it the True Blood tv-series, because one does not see the movie or series before reading the book (*). With the sixth – already – season airing this past summer and since I had a road trip planned with lots of small free moments for reading, Dead Until Dark was the ideal choice.

Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life - and one of her coworkers checks out.... Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn't such a bright idea.

Plotwise, there isn’t much more to the novel than what it says on the tin. It’s a murder mystery slash romance novel, and a pretty straightforward one at that. Everything you can expect from a novel like this is present, including the police who are clueless and randomly picking on the wrong suspect, some danger and in the end the heroine to save the day. In fact, it’s fair to say that the romance takes first chair and the murder mystery is just along for the ride. Throughout the story, there are none whatsoever clues to who might have killed those women and when the murderer is revealed, it felt like he was the unlucky one who picked the shortest straw in a kids game. It felt quite random without the intentions and backstory behind the murders being revealed after he was caught.
More central to the whole story, was the relationship between Sookie and Bill. I’m not one for instalove – and this nearly is – but Sookie and her naïve attraction and devotion towards Bill are just so endearing, that I don’t mind. Her almost childlike contemplation concerning a vampire’s ability to get an erection and produce semen, as well as other sexual ponderings, are silly and borderline hilarious, that I can’t find it in me to frown upon it. It’s only when they go on-off-on again for the what seems umpteenth time, that things get just a little tedious. Seeing as the spine markets these books as Fantasy/Mystery, the true nature of Dead Until Dark might rub some readers the wrong way. I had a gut feeling of where these books were headed – reading it years after publication might have helped me there – so I actually enjoyed the simple and frivolous plot, even though a twist or two (**) might have been welcome.
Dead Until Dark hosts a bunch of characters, but only a handful are really explored. We see everything from Sookie’s point of view, which makes her the most developed of characters and I really liked her. There is something sweet and endearing about her and she’s just so happy and positive most of the time, that it tends to affect the reader in a positive way as well. Apart from Sookie herself, Sam, Bill and in a lesser degree Gran and Eric felt like a character with their own voice. As for the rest, they all felt alike – cardboard, that is – and only their names separated one from the other, if they speak at all. I do know that books like this one don’t tend to give a lot of space for developing secondary and tertiary characters, but even Sam and Bill fell a bit flat at times, so it feels like a wasted opportunity to me.
The writing is more or less what one can expect from the genre. It’s not particularly good writing – perhaps a bit forced at times – but it’s not bad either, it’s enjoyable enough to keep reading. More important here, is that it fits the book. Charlaine Harris wrote a fun, light story and in terms of her writing she isn’t pretending otherwise and serves what you bargained for: a fun and quick read. One thing that I do regret here, though, is the setting or rather lack thereof. The series is officially titled ‘Southern Vampire’ and is set in Louisiana, but it could as well have been rural L.A. or NY for that matter. I missed some real Southern accents here that I did encounter in other novels, just to make the setting feel more real and differentiate it from the pack.

In sum, I actually enjoyed Dead Until Dark, perhaps even more so that I imagined beforehand. I do am glad to own the cheapest edition possible and neither do I regret not reading this way earlier, but I will return to Bon Temps and I will do so with a smile on my face.

Fall for Sookie and Bill by getting your own copy here!

* There are some things I'd like to say re: this ongoing debate, so expect a post about this in the near future.
** Apart from the ones in Sookie's knickers, that is.
Soon after finishing Dead Until Dark, I started watching the first season of True Blood, which is based on the first book in the series. I have already seen numerous book adaptations and even though I keep the book and the adaptation as much as possible separated, I can't help but rule in favour of one side of the other. Most of the times, I rule in favour of the book, but True Blood is a notable exception. As mentioned above, I did like the book, but the series gave the story some extra punch, mostly because of the characters.
The plot didn't really change a lot. Because the series isn't stuck in Sookie's head as is the novel, it makes for some leeway and enables the exploring of the secondary characters. The main plot, however, remains untouched in such that it isn't until the penultimate episode that the audience can figure out whodunnit. The laying out of new plotlines for the second season was a nice extra touch as well. It takes away some focus from the main plotline - which the viewer has figured out in the one but last episode - and thus keeping the end of the season exciting and non-void.
The characters, however, did get a serious boost. If you like book-Sookie, you will love serie-Sookie. I know I do. The same goes for Bill and Sam. Also, contrary to the book, the secondary characters are discernable and - perhaps more important - memorable. Lafayette, the cook who gets to utter one miserable line in the novel, becomes perhaps one of the more memorable characters on the show and the addition of his cousin Tara might have been the second best change to the characters - with Lafayette being the best.
Perhaps what I missed most in the book, was that Southern touch, which True Blood nailed with the set, intro and most of all, the characters' accents. It all contributes to a great atmosphere that oozes the South and gives it character.
It might be raunchy at times, and you might not want to watch it with your parents around, but the first season of True Blood was bloody delicious and made for a great adaptation of a fun little book.

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