Dead Until Dark is the first novel in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries. You might be familiar with the HBO series based on these books, True Blood. I’m not (yet) a True Blood watcher, and I’m new to the Sookie Stackhouse universe, but ho boy, am I hooked.
I started off listening to Dead Until Dark as an audio book while on a road trip, and finished the story with the paperback when we got home. Of the audio book, let me say that I loved the narrator, Joanna Parker. She had the perfect Southern drawl and the pacing and phrasing I’m accustomed to hearing down here. Not everyone can pull this off, so kudos to Ms. Parker; she voices Sookie quite well. I wasn’t as fond of her portrayals of the male characters, but, since this is Sookie’s story and is told from her point of view, it works.
I know that these are, in addition to being paranormal stories, mysteries, but between you, me, and the Internet, I’m not a big reader of mysteries–my teenage Agathe Christie binge aside, they don’t usually grab me. Dead Until Dark is definitely a mystery, but for me, that aspect took a back seat to the supernatural parts. Good for me, though I’m not sure how an avid mystery reader might react.
I really, really enjoy Sookie’s voice in this series. She’s old enough to know who she is and have a set idea of what is right or wrong, but not so old that she’s set in her ways and unable to adapt the events she finds herself in. I love the fact that she considers her telepathy a disability, and that she’s quite firm in her belief that it is a defect. It is a skill that so many people would, hypothetically, love to have, but we learn from the get go that she doesn’t want it, doesn’t want the potential to have power over others, doesn’t want to know everybody’s secrets. This makes her hugely appealing. I’m a sucker for a protagonist who doesn’t want the power they have. I don’t generally relate to the power-hungry.
I very much appreciate, too, that Sookie’s first instinct is to do the right thing, be it helping a friend out, accommodating family, or helping someone desperately in need of help. She does these things because they are the right thing to do, not because she expects recompense or attention–and she manages not to be sanctimonious about it. She hates to complain, doesn’t whine, and moves forward. It’s just what she does, and it becomes clear that this nose to the grindstone, no nonsense outlook is a defining trait of hers. it is a familiar ethic, one I associate with my blue-collar and working-class family members.
On the whole, Dead Until Dark is a fun read. Having the story filter through Sookie’s perception means that we get just enough detail, but nothing over the top. So any violence is described, but not to the point of being horrifying, any sexual encounters, again, are described, but not in the explicit detail you might find elsewhere. There’s a nice balance there that I appreciate. I get the impression that the television show takes both the violent and sexual aspects and revels in them, so I was glad when I found that not to be the case here.
There are a few, small nitpicky things here and there that drew me out of the story (for example, Sookie reminds the audience several times that she can keep her face impassive in light of upsetting and disturbing news because she’s had years of practice, as a telepath, not reacting to the shocking things she’s seen in people’s minds), but I very much enjoyed this novel, and immediately started reading book two, Living Dead in Dallas – which I’ll review in the near future. You’ll probably be getting the whole series reviewed here, since I just started reading book nine.
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