MAYBE HAVING A VAMPIRE FOR A BOYFRIEND ISN’T SUCH A BRIGHT IDEA…
Thus begins the much beloved Southern Vampire Mysteries series, the brainchild of Charlaine Harris.
Dead Until Dark
(The Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 1)
Genre: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
Date: 20th October 2011 (First Published 2001)
Last summer saw the release of Charlaine Harris’ Dead Ever After, the final instalment of The Southern Vampire Mysteries, which lead to much acrimony and gnashing of teeth among a legion of shipper fangirls. Now that the controversy has settled down, what better time to look back at the novel that first introduced readers to Sookie Stackhouse and her world of vampires, and their Fang Banger groupies.
Part urban fantasy, part paranormal romance, and part murder mystery with a generous helping of comedy, Dead Until Dark, is the very definition of guilty pleasure. Which is just as well, because the only way to enjoy this book is to approach it in that light. You will not be mesmerised by sophisticated prose, or intriguing characters, or an intricately woven plot.
At its core, Dead Until Dark is an age old tale of naïve nice-girl meets dangerous bad-boy, who fall “in love” for no discernible reason, and have lots of amazing sex. In this instance our heroine is telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse; living a mundane, unexceptional life in small-town Louisiana until one fateful evening Bill the vampire (yes, a vampire called Bill Compton) enters Merlotte’s bar, where she works.
Sookie is intrigued by the fact that she is unable to hear Bill’s thoughts, so he immediately becomes irresistible to her. So much so, that she risks her life shortly after their initial encounter to rescue him from “drainers” out for his vampire blood – which is a highly sought after narcotic. Not to be outdone, Bill subsequently returns the favour and saves Sookie’s life from the very same attackers later on.
It’s not long before Sookie and Bill are engaging in kinky, bloody sex, declaring their love for each other, and engaging in even more kinky, bloody sex. One cringe-worthy scene in particular will have you either laughing hysterically or retching.
Taking a back-seat to all these lustful shenanigans, is the novel’s main storyline – a series of murders which has the locals all stirred up – which is just as well, as it’s hard to imagine that many readers will care at all about the murder investigation. The nondescript victims are mostly promiscuous women with a predilection for being fucked by vampires. So while this in theory makes Bill a potential suspect, no one with half a brain will be fooled by this obvious red herring, which kills any tension that could have developed, with readers wondering if Sookie is sleeping with a serial killer.
In many ways the murder mystery feels like an afterthought, shoehorned in to pad out the book and give readers a break from Sookie and Bill’s relationship drama. So when the killer is finally revealed many people will scratch their heads and wonder silently to themselves, huh!!!??? Any clues pointing to the murderer are so subtle as to be non-existent, and the motive for the killings can best be described as flimsy.
In addition to the murder mystery there are two minor sub-plots, one of which doesn’t particularly go anywhere. Firstly, a trio of vampire trouble makers from Bill’s past who – for reasons that are never elaborated – seem intent on sabotaging his attempts at “mainstreaming”, i.e. living a normal life among humans. Secondly, Sookie comes to the attention of elder vampire Eric Northman who insists on using her telepathic ability to identify the employee who has been embezzling from his nightclub. This sub-plot serves the purpose of introducing readers to Eric the vampire who plays a more significant role in subsequent books.
Dead Until Dark’s clunky prose and basic narrative are by no means its only weakness. It is also lacking in compelling, fleshed out, well written characters that you want to root for; Jason Stackhouse, Sookie’s older brother being the perfect example. Never portrayed as anything more than a one dimensional hick incapable of keeping his junk in his pants, some readers will lament that the serial killer’s attempts to frame Jason as the murderer prove to be unsuccessful.
Of course it’s easy enough to overlook the shortcomings of secondary characters such as Jason, but much more difficult with main characters, which brings us to the book’s protagonist. Not for nothing is Sookie Stackhouse one of the most polarising heroines of Urban Fantasy. She’s like Marmite, you either love her or hate her.
The book is written in the first person from Sookie’s point of view, and she comes across as equal parts naïve simpleton, and vapid airhead with a penchant for describing in great detail what she and others are wearing. Because of this, it is hard to fathom what it is about Sookie that centuries old vampires like Bill and Eric find so intriguing about her, aside from her telepathy. Though her willingness to accept being thrown down in a muddy field and savagely pounded by a horny vampire may have something to do with it.
On the surface there is seemingly nothing one could point to in order to recommend this novel to other readers; aside from its Southern setting there is nothing particularly unique on offer. However, credit where credit’s due, despite its many flaws and shortcomings, Charlaine Harris succeeds in making Dead Until Dark always entertaining, often funny, sometimes cringe-worthy, but never boring.
All in all, Dead Until Dark is strongly recommended to those readers who can appreciate a light, comedic, supernatural guilty pleasure with a sprinkling of sex and romance, that can be read over a weekend or while on holiday. While some Urban Fantasy fans may fall into this camp, those who prefer their Urban Fantasy with a little more depth, both in terms of narrative and characterisation, might be better served elsewhere.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.