A few of you might know that I am a huge fan of HBO's True Blood series. It's a trashy, hilarious, bizarre show that can be alternatively brilliant and mind-numbingly stupid. For all its flaws, it's quite addictive-- the presence of the gorgeous Alexander Skarsgard doesn't hurt, either, nor does the fact that he's often almost completely naked in it. A lot. And he's tall and...so...um...
OK! Back to True Blood. It's one of the million shows that's cropped up lately that features vampires, with the one stand-out feature being that these are vampires done right. It's based on Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series, of which Dead Until Dark is the first book.
Sookie Stackhouse lives in the small, unsophisticated town of Bon Temps in Louisiana. She happens to have the ability to read people's minds, a "condition" that's turned her into a bit of a loner, though she's smart and very self-reliant. The story is set in a world where vampires have come out from hiding and are starting to mingle in human society, thanks the invention of synthetic blood, a nutritious (though not entirely satisfying) substitute for human blood. So, right off the bat we've got a pretty interesting premise. The vampires are the monsters we've all come to know and love: human-like but not really human at all, they're dangerous and feel almost no emotions aside from hunger and lust.
One night a vampire named Bill Compton comes in to the restaurant where Sookie works, and she is immediately drawn to him. It helps that he's the only person whose thoughts she can't read, which makes him a welcome relief. They strike up a strained sort of friendship that quickly develops into physical attraction and lust. The slow build-up of their romance is just flat-out fun to read, because Harris makes the whole thing really bizarre and unusual, so it's not at all your typical romantic story. Meanwhile, there's a serial killer going around Bon Temps killing girls who sleep with vampires, which doesn't bode well for Sookie and her new friend (if you've watched the show, the story is the same as that of the first season). There's also a great cast of colorful supporting characters, which includes some really creepy vampires as well as violent rednecks, wise grandmas, bumbling policemen and even a shape-shifter. Add to that the tensions between humans and vampires, Vampire Elvis and vampire groupies and Sookie's got quite a full plate on her hands.
Told from Sookie's point of view, the book is short and lively, and the problems that usually come with first-person narration are nicely glossed over by Sookie's telepathy. She doesn't have to keep wondering what other people are thinking because she already knows. It was also a relief to see that the Sookie of the books is exponentially less annoying than the Sookie of the series. She's still impulsive and reckless, but she's a lot more likable and sympathetic. Vampire Bill is also much more palatable, being less whiny and delicate and more of a believable anti-hero. I missed the presence of Tara, so I'm guessing she was created specifically for the show.
Dead Until Dark was a fun little introduction to the series. It's saved from being just another silly book about vampires by Harris' great sense of humor and her quick, fun writing. The book is pretty gory and violent at times, and I liked that it didn't seem to take itself too seriously-- it won't win any prizes for sophistication, but it doesn't care. I honestly can't wait to read the rest of the series. At least it'll be a fun way to pass the time until the show comes back and we get more of Eric Northman.