BOOK REVIEW: Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

Dead to the World is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2004, the fourth in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris, which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood–this book was used very loosely as the basis for season 4 of the show.  The previous books in the series (in order) are Dead Until Dark, (reviewed here),  Living Dead in Dallas (reviewed here), and Club Dead (reviewed here).

Sookie (fresh from a breakup with her vampire boyfriend Bill)comes across the vampire Eric Northman running down a deserted road, with no memory of his life before that moment.  She finds out that he has been cursed by a coven of witches that have moved into Shreveport and have been threatening Eric and his business interests in order to extort money out of him.  Since Eric is more vulnerable than usual, without his memories, Sookie agrees to hide him at her house for a time; her brother Jason negotiates a fee for her to do this since she is short on money.  But, shortly afterward, Jason disappears and the local police can’t find a trace of where he’s gone.  Sookie fears that he has been abducted by the coven as well.

This story was the best in the series yet.  It had a lot of interesting mystery going on with the missing brother and trying to find out how to combat the invading coven.  One thing that kept it more fresh for me was that although a season of the TV show was loosely based on it, the basis was SO loose that there was still a lot to surprise me, and so I didn’t have the same issue as I had in previous books with wanting to draw direct comparisons between events.  Although that season and this book both involved an invading hostile witch coven, and Eric having his memory cursed away, that’s about where the similarities end.

I was a little worried going in that it would cast all witches as villains–I know a few Wiccans so I didn’t want it to be a blanket condemnation.  But the book had no issue in that regard–the book does differentiate between Wicca as a religion and witchcraft, and there are both witches as allies and witches as enemies in the book, so I was happy to see that.

Also interesting was that, with Bill out of the picture and an amnesiac Eric secretly living in her house, for the first time in the series Sookie gets a real shot at another romantic partner.  Which mixed things up a bit, to keep things interesting.

Like the previous books, it is a quick and easy read with a slight tendency to over-summarize previous books, but is entertaining and fun, and this was the best one yet I thought.


BOOK REVIEW: Club Dead by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

Club Dead is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2003, the third in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris, which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood–this book was used very loosely as the basis for season 3 of the show.  The first book in the series is Dead Until Dark, (reviewed here), and the second book was Living Dead in Dallas (reviewed here).

Sookie’s vampire boyfriend Bill has been working on a project to the point of nearly total distraction.  Now he has disappeared under mysterious circumstances and Sookie sets out to find out what happened to him. The clues lead to Jackson, Mississippi where it appears that Bill’s former lover and maker Lorena has summoned him (maker as in the one who turned him into a vampire).  Clues seem to indicate that he is being held there against his will and their first stop is “Club Dead” the nickname for a major hangout for the supernatural in Jackson.  Sookie enlists the help of Bill’s boss and local authority in the vampire hierarchy Eric Northman and newfound ally the werewolf Alcide Herveaux.

After being pretty disappointed overall by the previous book, I was happy that this one was much more satisfying.  It still tends to suffer in comparison to the TV show, IMO, but this one differed from the TV show in enough ways to keep things more fresh which made it easier to keep interest (Since there are more books than seasons of the show I’m hoping that some of the books will be entirely new so that I can view those books at least with fresh eyes).

There was plenty new here to keep me interested, from Bill’s secret project, to how the attempt to break Bill out of Russell’s compound, and it kept me reading to the end.

The main thing that paled in comparison to the book was that Lorena, while playing a pivotal role in drawing Bill to Mississippi, was barely onscreen and we never got to learn much of their backstory together.  That backstory is explored in much greater depth in the TV show during this season, through flashbacks from the point of view of Bill.  The novels stick strictly to the point of view of Sookie, which misses a lot of opportunity for finding out more about the lives of other characters and this was one case where that was especially true.  If you like the books, I would highly recommend you check out the TV show to dive much much deeper into the backstory of secondary characters.

All the books are quick reads, and I can burn through them much faster than I can most novels.  They do have a tendency to over-summarize the events of past books, which might be helpful if I were reading them at the rate they were published or if  I was jumping randomly into the middle of the series. But I think that might be an expectation of the mystery and/or romance genre readers, so that the books are easy to pick up in any order, so it may be an effect of the marketplace rather than the writing.

Overall, I was happy that this one was much better than the previous book, lots of action and mystery to keep things going, as well as a new potential romance element with Alcide.  Looking forward to where the TV show and books seperate from each other entirely, so that I can just focus on the happenings of the book without mentally comparing every element to the TV show.


BOOK REVIEW: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

written by David Steffen

Living Dead in Dallas is a romance/mystery/horror novel from 2002, the second in the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris, which is the basis of the HBO show True Blood–this book was the basis for season 2 of the show.  The first book in the series is Dead Until Dark, which I reviewed previously.

In the previous book, Sookie met her first love–the vampire Bill Compton.  She’s a telepath and her ability to read minds has proved disastrous to her love life, but she can’t hear vampire thoughts.  They are together now, and he is teaching her new things about controlling her powers, as she learns more and more about the supernatural world.

In this book, after a car breakdown and a fight, Sookie is attacked by a maenad, yet another of the supernatural creatures that secretly exists in this world.  Bill takes her to Fangtasia, the vampire bar in Shreveport, where the owner Eric Northman has only a little time to save her from certain death.  Soon he negotiates with Sookie for her to do some work for him–Eric is the sheriff of area 5, a position of authority to vampires in the local area, and as a favor to another area he has promised Sookie’s mindreading abilities to help  with an investigation in Dallas where the vampires suspect one of their human employees of betraying them.  Dallas is also the headquarters of The Fellowship of the Sun, a newly founded church dedicated to revealing vampires for the monsters that the church believes them to be.  Back in Bon Temps, the maenad’s influence is spreading–she demands tribute to her god, and will drive people mad if her demand is not met to her satisfaction.

This book was decently engaging and action-packed, with Sookie undercover in a strange city, surrounded by both supernaturals that she doesn’t fully understand, and by people who have dedicated their lives to trying to destroy the supernaturals.    The plot in Dallas was all interesting and engaging, though I thought it was weird that Sookie didn’t immediately ask why the Dallas vampires didn’t just glamour (a kind of hypnosis) their employees to get the answer.

I found the maenad subplot extremely disappointing in the book.  I’m not sure what it added at all, apart from giving us a sense of other kinds of supernatural things out there.  The resolution to that subplot just felt like the writer had gotten themselves into a corner and just gave up trying to find a satisfying or epic way to resolve it.  I was probably spoiled for it ahead of time because the maenad plot in True Blood Season 2, which was loosely based upon this book, was crazy and epic and freaky and really really good with a really cool resolution.

And, another thing that happened right at the beginning of the book that was extremely disappointing was the death of Lafayette Reynolds.  Again, I have probably been spoiled by watching the TV show first, but he was one of my favorite characters in the show, in part because you don’t see a lot of queer people of color in SF/F/H shows.  So it was a big letdown for him to play basically no important role in the books at all.

This book was okay.  It’s possible that I’ve been spoiled by the higher stakes and engaging nature of the TV show that’s based on it, which probably isn’t fair since the TV show wouldn’t exist without the book.  This one soured for me at the beginning with the death of Lafayette and only went down from there.


BOOK REVIEW: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

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.