MEDIA COMPARISON: Sookie Stackhouse books vs. novels

written by David Steffen

Now that I have seen the entire True Blood TV series and all of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that they were based on, I have been thinking about the differences between the two and was thinking about writing up a post.  This is certainly not intended to be an exhaustive list–there could easily be a book written listing out all the differences, especially since after the first few books/seasons, the two plots diverge wildly in almost every respect.  So, I am only going to note a limited number, and the ones which I found the most striking, because I find it interesting to compare adaptations of a fictional universe to different media formats.

Obviously, this will be spoiler rich, as I will be covering some major plot points for the entire run of both the TV and book series.

1.  POV

Except for a few rare exceptions, mostly in the last book, the Sookie Stackhouse novels stick entirely with Sookie Stackhouse’s point of view.  That means that anything the reader knows, Sookie has to either experience or hear someone else’s telling.

The TV series, on the other hand, shifts to different characters frequently.  This gives the cast of characters much stronger backgrounds, as we see flashbacks from Sam Merlotte, we find out about Tara Thornton’s childhood, we see romantic trysts that Sookie isn’t even aware of, we see occurrences at the highest level of vampire government that Sookie will never know about.  Often this is used for dramatic tension, ending a scene with one character with a cliffhanger moment and then swapping to another character to let the viewer stew a bit.

Nothing wrong with either way of telling a story, certainly.  But the books are much more clearly just the story of Sookie, while the TV show is the story of ensemble cast.

2.  Scale of Conflicts

In the books, many of the conflicts are on a small-scale personal or very local level.  In the TV show, especially as the series progresses, many of the conflicts are on a world-stakes kind of level.

This is probably partly a consequence of the multiple POVs of the TV show, as we can see what various players are doing all over the place there, while in the books we can only see what one character who is not directly involved in major world-scale planning for either humans or vampires can see.

3.  Missing/Added Characters

There are many characters who were either added just for the TV show, or which were omitted in the TV show adaptation.  Too many to be worth listing (if I thought I could even remember them!)

But there were a couple ones I thought particularly notable:

Bubba, in the books, is the vampire who had once been Elvis Presley.  He had died like he had in our world, but the vampire working at the morgue had been a huge fan and had raised Elvis even though Elvis had really been too far gone to be fully recoverable.  As a consequence, he is sort of brain-damaged, with little memory of who he used to be, and with a penchant for cat blood.  He doesn’t like to be reminded of who he was, hence the name Bubba, (though we never actually get to see him freak out in the series, the implication is that if he is reminded he becomes very violent) but occasionally will sing for people, at which point he is every bit as talented as he had been in life.  The oddest thing about his character, which I thought was never explored as fully as it could’ve been, is that apparently because of Bubba’s nature being sort of a broken vampire, at least one of the vampire rules does not apply to him.  He can enter homes without an invitation.  This happens several times in the series before it is pointed out in the narrative–I spotted it as it happened and thought it might’ve been a writing mistake, and maybe it was one that Harris corrected later?  In any case, I thought that detail begged more investigation–is the barring of entering a home somehow a psychological block common to all vampires, and somehow because Bubba is mentally handicapped he is lacking the block?

Jessica Hamby is a character invented entirely for the TV show.  When Sookie spotted Eric’s embezzling bartender Long Shadow, the accused tried to kill her and Bill staked Long Shadow to defend her.  As punishment for murdering a vampire, Bill was sentenced by the Vampire Authority to make a new vampire, and was given a high school girl who had snuck out after curfew.  He carried out the sentence and so had to raise Jessica, who soon takes to the life of freedom compared to her oppressive Catholic parents.  She continues to be a major character for the rest of the series, including romantic relationships with Hoyt Fortenberry and Jason Stackhouse.  She is a particularly interesting character in the series because she is the only “baby vamp” we get to follow very closely in either incarnation–as she struggles with her newfound vampire bloodlust she has to decide where she wants to place boundaries on herself, and if she wants to be romantically involved with humans, how she can work that out with her more primal vampire nature.

4.  Sookie’s Romantic Relationships

Both the book series and the TV series begin with Sookie’s romantic interest in Bill.  He is the first vampire she meets, and much of it is the newfound novelty of meeting someone whose mind is not an open book to her (there are other reasons too, but that’s the biggest one).  In both series, she ends up hooking up with Eric, first while his memory is missing (thanks to a witch curse) and then later without the amnesia.

In the books, she also hooks up with Quinn, a weretiger for a few books(who is not a character in the TV series, I don’t think, unless he’s a very minor bit part I didn’t notice), but ended up breaking up with him because he is too unreliable because of issues with his mother requiring his attention and repeatedly drawing him into bad situations.

In the show, she dates Alcide Herveaux for quite a while.  In the books there is some romantic interest between the two, but they never really become close like they do in the show, in large part because Alcide constantly calls on her for one-sided favors without even doing her the courtesy of explaining the situation.

In the show she realizes that her distance in other relationships is that she never really got over Bill, but Bill wasn’t right for her, but his constant presence has always made her second-guess herself.  In the last episodes of the series, Bill has advanced far enough in Hep-V that he has reached a stage where he has apparently started to become sort of human again, to the point where Sookie can read his thoughts.  He asks her to help him die, and she does so.  The final scene of the show then jumps ahead into the future, with Sookie at a dinner party, pregnant and with a boyfriend/husband whose face we never even get to see, so we know she ends up with someone in that time, but we don’t know anything about him.  Although it was disappointing to not even get to meet the guy, it was good to see her move on from being trapped in that loop of a relationship.

In the books she ends up in a relationship with Sam Merlotte, triggered in part by her using her cluviel dor artifact to save his life when he would certainly have died.  This was one of the more satisfying differences in favor of the book, because there was always some tension between the two that never really got to be resolved until that final book, and they were always such good friends, sharing secrets with each other that almost no one else knows.

5.  Jason’s Change

In both versions, Jason is held captive by the interbreeding family of werepanthers of Hot Shot, and Jason suffers some bites from them and wonders if he will become a werepanther.

In the books, he does!  Bitten were-animals are different from genetic were-animals, only able to half-transform into animal forms, and they end up weaker, but he becomes a werepanther of a sort, joins the family of Hot Shot somewhat informally, and has to deal with his new state of being for the rest of his life.

When something like this happens in the show, the readers know he will become a werepanther.  But they’re wrong.  Nope, in the show’s version of the universe, that’s not how it works–bites don’t transfer the were-ness of a were-animal.  So Jason’s still a regular human.

6.  The Maenad’s First Victim

In the second book, a super-powerful creature known as a maenad visits Bon Temps, holding huge drunken orgy parties and murdering people, poisoning Sookie.  One of the first signs of her involvement is a corpse in Andy Bellifleur’s car found behind Merlotte’s–the corpse of Lafayette Reynolds, part-time cook at Merlotte’s who had been Sookie’s friend, and who had attended some of the maenad’s parties and was apparently murdered there.

Where this gets really interesting, if you think of alternate adaptations of fictional worlds , is that the show starts out appearing to be happening the same way.  The corpse is discovered in Andy’s car behind Merlotte’s, and the viewer can see a dark-skinned foot with painted nails sticking out of the back seat.  Sookie screams, and that’s the end of season 1, leaving the viewers on that cliffhanger until next season.

Now of course, the faithful readers of the Sookie Stackhouse novels are smugly saying to themselves that they know who the victim was, recalling Lafayette’s death in the books (the dark skinned foot with nail polish meshes with that because Lafayette does wear makeup).  BUT THEY’RE WRONG.  In another switcharoo, even bigger than the last one, it is a different character entirely–a scam artist who pretends to be a witch, selling exorcisms and the like (which might sometimes work).  Lafayette is still alive, and in fact lives through the rest of the series and is one of the more interesting characters in the series, and even develops powers as a medium to talk to spirits, especially as a rare gay black man, something you don’t see represented too often in science fiction and fantasy.  Having read the books after watching the show, I was very disappointed at Lafayette’s death without him having played more than a background role.


BOOK REVIEW: Dead Ever After

written by David Steffen

Dead Ever After is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2013, the thirteenth and final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris (which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood).  The previous books are all reviewed here earlier on the Diabolical Plots feed.

At the end of the previous book, Sookie Stackhouse used the cluviel dor, her one-use magical fairy item (which grants one and only one wish) to revive her dying boss and friend Sam Merlotte.  Meanwhile, Sookie’s relationship with Eric has grown rocky.  Among other reasons, Eric’s maker had arranged for him to be married to another vampire, despite Sookie’s marriage to him, and vampire custom strongly demands that he go along for the marriage.  He had hoped that she would use the cluviel dor to help him dodge the responsibility without consequences.

Meanwhile, Sookie’s longtime-friend-become-enemy Arlene has been freed from prison by a mysterious group with a vendetta against Sookie, urging her to visit Sookie at Merlotte’s and open their relationship again.  The meeting (unsurprisingly) does not go well, and Sookie is still trying to figure out why the visit when Arlene’s corpse is found in the dumpster behind the bar.

This was easily one of my favorite books in the series, which was a relief after the last couple of books in the series became rather a slog to read through.  The mystery behind who is plotting against Sookie was certainly interesting, and for the first time in the series you get to see the story from points of view besides Sookie’s as we get some dramatic irony by seeing them plotting their moves and then we see the consequences of those actions in Sookie’s sections.  And early on in the book you get a glimpse of someone who has apparently sold their soul to a devil, which lends a new element to the series that we haven’t seen before.

The one thing that did get on my nerves a bit was that since it was the last book it seemed like they had to get every character back in the book again to wrap things up–some of them felt like more than a bit of a stretch.  But, really, that was a pretty minor thing.

I have enjoyed reading enough of the series that I was quite relieved to see that the final book of the series went out with a bang!

BOOK REVIEW: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

Deadlocked is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2012, the twelfth in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris (which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood).  The previous books are all reviewed here earlier on the Diabolical Plots feed.

In the last book, Eric, Pam, and Sookie succeeded in killing the vampire Victor, the representative of the king of this vampire district.  As the book starts, Felipe de Castro, the aforementioned king, visits the area to investigate the disappearance.  Eric hosts a party in his honor, and during the party, a dead woman is found on the lawn of Eric’s house.  Meanwhile, Sookie is struggling with the quesiton of what to do with the magical fairy artifact left to her by her grandmother which will grant her one wish.

This one was definitely a pickup from the last book (which was in my opinion probably the weakest in the series), and there was lots of tension built in from the beginning which definitely kept my interest throughout.  The mystery involving the dead woman was… a little hard to follow, seemed like it was built backwards from the resolution, if that made sense?  Like one of those locked-room mysteries that is interesting to unravel but is also kind of absurd in retrospect.

One book left in the series!

BOOK REVIEW: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

Dead Reckoning is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2011, the eleventh in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris (which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood).  The previous books are all reviewed here earlier on the Diabolical Plots feed.

Sookie witnesses the firebombing of Merlotte’s (the bar where she works).  Before Sookie gets to the bottom of that, she finds out that her vampire boyfriend Eric is plotting to kill the oppressive representative of his vampire district, and she is drawn into the plot.  She has also been chafing at the blood-bond between her and Eric that makes a telepathic feedback loop between the two of them.

I thought this was one of the weaker books in the series.  Most of the books have a lot of subplots but it still feels tied together around some central conceit or main plotline.  This one… just felt scattered.  And, Eric feels very different in this one.  Eric has always been a bit opaque and frustrating (not in a bad way, I mean) but in this book he just struck me as being purposefully obtuse on every damned thing, that I just wanted him to go away and stop being the current love interest.  If the series hadn’t already ended by the time I read this book, I probably would’ve stopped reading in the midst one and not kept going.  (But since I knew there were only 2 more books I did keep reading).


BOOK REVIEW: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

Dead in the Family is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2010, the tenth in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris (which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood).  The previous books are all reviewed here earlier on the Diabolical Plots feed.

At the end of the last book, Dead and Gone, Sookie was tortured at the hands of two fairies that were part of the opposing faction of the short-lived but brutal fairy war.  As this book starts, she is still recovering from both the physical and psychological aftermath of this horrific treatment, with the help of her friends and her boyfriend the vampire Eric Northman.  Things begin to get very complicated when Eric’s maker, the ancient Roman vampire Appius Livius Ocella, shows up with another vampire he has made–Alexei Romanov, the last son of the last Czar of Russia who witnessed his entire family slaughtered and is still suffering from emotional imbalances even these decades later.  Sookie is asked to babysit the child of her (dead) cousin Hadley, who is also telepathic, and she helps him deal with social situations.  Meanwhile, Bill is still ill from the silver poisoning he got during the fairy war.  If his maker were still alive, she might be able to heal him, but the only chance is another vampire made by his maker–and Bill doesn’t want to contact her.

The beginning of this book was a major shift in tone from any of the rest of the series as Sookie deals with both physical injuries and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  The series has always had the risk of dark consequences, but I found it very surprising that it got that dark at the end of the last book, it feels like a departure from the rest.  This recovery period is just the natural consequence of that–you can’t come out the other side of being tortured almost to death and expect to have your outlook on life unaltered, but I found it much harder to read, lacking the upbeat tone that is usually present in most of the rest of the book even when dire happenings are afoot usually Sookie is still joking and referencing her word-of-the-day calendar.  Conversely, though I found the change in tone a rough departure from the rest of the series, it also felt like she was pretty much fully recovered awfully quickly afterward.  So, I guess I’m just not easy to please or something.  But I found this book much harder to read because of that abrupt change in tone from the rest of them, while the rest of them have been smooth (if sometimes fluffy) reads.

(I kept reading, mind you, because this close to the end of the series I wanted to see how everything wrapped up.)


BOOK REVIEW: Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

Dead and Gone is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2009, the ninth in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris (which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood).  The previous books are all reviewed here earlier on the Diabolical Plots feed.

Before the series of books, the vampires of the world had publicly revealed their existence, but since then Sookie has learned of many other supernatural beings living among us as humans.  Among them are the shapeshifters, including werewolves and wereanimals of other types.  Now that they’ve had time to observe how the vampire revelation has gone, the shapeshifters have finally decided to make their big public reveal, outing themselves to the public both in a general sense and with individual members of communities revealing themselves at once.  The reveal in Bon Temps seems to go pretty well, until Sookie’s werepanther sister-in-law is found crucified outside Merlotte’s where she works.

The King of Nevada has now conquered all of Louisiana, killing all of the vampire hierarchy there except for Eric who he has kept on as sheriff, so that brings its own set of conflicts.

And Sookie learns that her fairy great-grandfather Niall is engaged in a major power struggle.

Never a dull day in the life of Sookie!

I thought it was really interesting to see this book tackle another great life-changing event with the reveals of the shifters to the world.  It makes sense, real worlds are always changing even if we’re used to them being somewhat static in book worlds.  There are enough conflicts all going on in parallel that there’s never a chance to get bored, and you have the mystery of who crucified Crystal to keep the reader engaged as well.

(Only minor quibble, as with the last book, is the tendency to call any conflict a “war”, even if there are only a handful of participants and the conflict lasts only a short period of time)

BOOK REVIEW: From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

From Dead to Worse is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2008, the eighth in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris (which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood).  The previous books are all reviewed here earlier on the Diabolical Plots feed.

After surviving the deadly bombing of the vampire summit, and surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Sookie just wants things to get back to some semblance of normality.  But her boyfriend Quinn (a weretiger) is missing, she learns that she is descended from fairies and meets her great-grandfather who is fairy royalty, she is recruited to help investigate a series of mysterious werewolf disappearances, and the vampire King of Nevada seeks to wrest control from the wounded and bankrupted Queen Sophie-Ann of Lousiana.  So, well, I guess that is normality for Sookie.

Another action-packed book with a lot of threads all tied together in it.  I especially enjoyed seeing the vampire power struggle because up until now the vampire hierarchy has been relatively stable despite knowing that vampires have a tendency for violent scheming.  All Together Dead (the previous book) is a really hard one to top in the series, and I don’t think this one did, but it was quite good, interesting throughout.

My one pet peeve is that Sookie seems to have a tendency to call just about anything a “war”.  A dozen werewolves get into a fight that is over in less than an hour?  That’s a war, apparently (I would call that a battle).  And so, when Sookie promises in the narration that there’s going to be a war, the result is anticlimactic, finished within a chapter.

BOOK REVIEW: All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

All Together Dead is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2007, the seventh in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris (which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood).  The previous books are all reviewed here earlier on the Diabolical Plots feed.

Sookie is invited to a national vampire summit as part of Queen Sophie-Anne of Louisiana’s entourage.  Sophie-Ann knows of Sookie’s mindreading abilities and wishes to user her ability to give her an advantage in expected power struggles within the vampire hierarchy.  Sophie-Anne stands accused of murdering her husband (during the events of the last book) and one of the events happening at the summit is her trial, with charges pressed by her husband’s second-in-command.  Also at the summit is Barry, the only other mindreader she knows, who is now employed in a similar position as Sookie to use as an advantage in vampire scheming.  The anti-vampire church the Fellowship of the Sun has been ramping up their hostilities against vampires lately, and so security is extra tight.

Given the premise, it’s no surprise that there’s a lot going on in this book.  Vampires are known for their scheming ways, and so filling a huge hotel with the highest ranking vampires from opposing factions all across the country is bound to be tense and complicated and potentially violent.  There are schemes on schemes and there is plenty to keep the reader occupied trying to predict who is behind what.  In this book, you get to see quite a bit more detail about the internal vampire hierarchy, and there are a lot of other singular moments that let you get a better feel for the broader worldbuilding that we have typically only been able to get small glimpses of from only knowing a few vampires in small communities.

Easily the best in the series so far, by a longshot.  And, major bonus, there is nothing resembling this book in the TV series, so it is all fresh even to a TV viewer.

BOOK REVIEW: Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

Definitely Dead is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2006, the sixth in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris (which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood).  The previous books are all reviewed here earlier on the Diabolical Plots feed.

Sookie heads to New Orleans to sort out of the affairs of her cousin Hadley who had been turned into a vampire and then killed.  Hadley’s apartment has been placed under a stasis spell placed on it by Hadley’s landlord, the witch Amelia Broadway.  Shortly after the spell is lifted, a newly-made vampire (the werewolf Jake Purifoy) rises within the apartment and attacks them.  Sookie’s new boyfriend, the weretiger Quinn, is also in New Orleans on business, so he helps with the investigation.  With the help of Amelia and her coven of witches they set out to discover how Jake came to be newly raised in that apartment on the same day that Hadley died.

This is where reading the book series become much more interesting to me.  Like the previous book, this one has no season of True Blood that is based upon.  But compared to the previous book I felt like this one was much less scattered.  There was a central mystery that was the main goal of the book, and the characters actively worked toward resolving it, (and there were other major plots that tied into that that I’ll let you discover for yourself).  I enjoyed the completely new characters like Amelia Broadway, and especially enjoyed her and her coven’s involvement in trying to discover the events of the night of Hadley’s death.  And, it was good to see Sookie have a new boyfriend character I wasn’t familiar with, because I didn’t know what to expect from Quinn.

The biggest issue I had with the book had more to do with series planning than about the book itself.  Each of the books in the series starts with some summary of the series and the last book specifically, which is fine, especially given that romance and mystery genre readers may be more likely to pick up a series in the middle.  But, in this case, if you’ve just been reading the books in the series, this one is likely to be confusing because among that “past story” summary Sookie talks about finding out about Hadley’s death.  But… that had never been in any of the novels, and so I spent the first several chapters wondering if I had accidentally skipped a book.  I hadn’t.  It turns out that there was a short story she had written that takes place between the two books and shows Sookie finding out about Hadley’s death and the cause of her death.  This struck me as kind of poor planning to assume one is going to have read a short story in its proper place in the novel series with no way to tell that there even was a short story.  At the very least, an editor’s note to explain what happened would have gone a long way toward alleviating confusion.

Despite that poor planning, it was easily my favorite in the series so far, a very enjoyable read.

BOOK REVIEW: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

Dead as a Doornail is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2005, the fifth in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris (which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood).  The previous books are all reviewed here earlier on the Diabolical Plots feed.

Sookie’s brother Jason, bitten by a werepanther, joins the local werepanther pack that lives in the nearby close-knit community of Hotshot (where the werepanther that bit him came from). Sam Merlotte is shot by an unseen shooter, and so is Calvin Norris the pack leader of Hotshot, and Sookie learns that other shifters have been shot all over Louisiana.  Colonel Flood, leader of the Shreveport werewolf pack, is hit by a car and dies, and someone shoots Sookie as well(presumably because she associated with shifters).  Although the existence of vampires is now public knowledge all over the world, shifters are still a closely kept secret, and so the common element of these shootings is not known to police, but Sookie can’t really tell them the common element either.

For someone who saw the entire True Blood series before starting any of the books, this book is remarkable in that it is the first book which doesn’t have a season of the TV series largely inspired by it.  so it felt new to me in a way that the first four books in the series didn’t, and it doesn’t invite one to play the “was the TV show version or the book version better?” question.

Even so, this one felt a little bit scattered to me.  While it did have a main central question of “who is killing/hurting shifters?” there is so little information to actually pursue that question through most of the book that I didn’t really feel like I was able to be very engaged trying to figure it out.  There was certainly a lot going on, even besides the central shooting thing, so I never got bored, and lacking a TV comparison I didn’t know what to expect, so that was good.

Overall, it was an action-packed read, even though I wished the central mystery had more supporting clues for me to work with to try to guess the shooter, and for my own engagement it was a relief for it to take a big split from the TV show so that I could read without feeling like I’d already been through the story before.