written by David Steffen
Dead Until Dark is a romance/mystery/horror novel published in 2001, the first in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris, which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood (I reviewed the 7th and final season here, though keep in mind that will be spoilery if you’re just getting started)
Sookie Stackhouse is a twenty-five-year-old waitress living in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. She is also a telepath–she can hear people’s thoughts, whether she likes it or not. This has not been as useful as you might think, and has mostly served to make her a bit of an outcast. Among other things, she has found any semblance of a romantic life is impossible with this ability, since she can hear her date’s hidden thoughts, not great for a first-date kind of situation.
Not too long ago, science perfected the production of synthetic blood. Designed as a medical product, its announcement had wider effects than anticipated, when vampires all over the world revealed themselves to be real. The synthetic blood allows them to survive without feeding on humans, and so many vampires have chosen this time to reveal themselves and integrate into human society.
People as a whole are still getting used to the idea. There are plenty of humans who think vampires are monsters no matter their claims to peace. There plenty of vampires who would have rather remained hidden. When a vampire comes to live in Bon Temps, Sookie finds herself immediately drawn to him. His name is Bill Compton, and has taken up residence in the Compton house across the graveyard from where Sookie lives with her grandmother. When she meets him she is shocked to discover that she can’t hear his thoughts. With him, she can finally just be a normal person and not have to deal with every little thing he’s thinking at every moment. Shortly after, she discovers him behind the bar where she works about to be drained of blood (which fetches a pretty price as a drug), but Sookie manages to scare them off, and befriends Bill.
Meanwhile, women who have sex with vampires start turning up dead, and Sookie’s brother Jason is the prime suspect. He’s always been a bit of a womanizer, but Sookie knows he didn’t do it, so she agrees to help him clear his name.
This first book in the series matches the main events of season 1 of True Blood pretty closely. There are some major characters from the TV show missing, and some other ones are drastically different, but overall the main throughline is pretty close. The main thing that has taken a lot of getting used to in switching from the TV show to the books is that Sookie is the only POV character. This means that many of the other characters are barely onscreen at all and don’t have nearly as rich of backstories as they do in the books. Even Jason, who is the prime suspect and the brother of the protagonist, does not play a huge role in the books.
The tone between the books and TV show do feel drastically different to me. The TV show feels like a drama/horror show while the book feels mostly like a romance in the style of narration it uses. I find that I like the Sookie of the TV show better than the one in the book–she seems generally more engaged and competent on that side of things while the version in the book.
I don’t mean for this to be only a comparison between the TV show and the book. After all, the TV show wouldn’t exist if the book hadn’t already been successful. But having seen them both, and when a book and a season have a closely aligned plot, it’s hard not to draw comparisons.
There are sex scenes and… Well, I know that sex scenes are super hard to write. Make them too purple and they can get a little bit absurd, but push too far the other way and they can be too clinical. The sex scenes in this book can tend a bit toward the absurd side.
Overall, I enjoyed it, though the romance book narrator voice has taken some getting used to. I wouldn’t say it’s overly profound, but it’s an easy and relaxing read and this is the book that started the whole franchise. If you have seen the TV series, you should consider reading this to see where it all started. If you haven’t seen the TV series but have read the book, then you should consider watching the TV series to see a different interpretation of the characters and events, with a lot more backstory on the secondary characters.