Dead Until Dark (Charlaine Harris)

Dead Until Dark is the first book of the Sookie Stackhouse Novels (Southern Vampire Mysteries) by Charlaine Harris and the basis for the TV show True Blood.

Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in Bon Temps, a small city in Louisiana. And she’s also very SPESHUL, as she can hear people’s thoughts, which drives her crazy. Then along comes Bill – he’s a vampire and Sookie can’t hear a thing he’s thinking. Which of course means *snip* romance! With all the romancing, you almost forget that there’s a killer on the lose – killing girls, who slept with vampires.

So, as you may know, I’ve watched True Blood and I really liked it. So, I can’t really comment on the book without referencing the TV show. But before I delve into the differences and what I liked better, here’s what I can say about the book itself:

The writing is depressingly mediocre. It’s not bad enough to qualify as pulp/purple prose and fun, but it’s also not good.
The characters are sketchy at best and their motivations usually remain a mystery.
That said, even though I didn’t understand Sookie, that kind of made her more tangible. In real life, you don’t understand everybody completely either, nobody goes about explaining themselves like “I’m going to kiss you  because my father left me when I was a little girl and I crave the contact with a mature man now.” And in these books, the characters don’t do that either.

Summarising, I liked the book but not as much as the show and not enough to bother buying the rest of the series. If I can get my hands on them some other way, I’ll read them. If not, not.

Now, on to the fun part!

[SPOILERS galore]

The differences between the show and the book:

Okay, I admit that the book had the disadvantage (for characterisation that is) of being told in the first person. That just doesn’t lend itself to multiple plot strands and explaining other characters. But it should make Sookie perfectly understandable. And she isn’t. I don’t know why she’s attracted to Bill, other than she can’t hear his thoughts. She can’t hear any vampire’s thoughts. Why not sleep with Eric? Why Bill? And it doesn’t seem like she’s actually mourning her grandmother’s death. We’re in her head when reading the book, there should have been a bit more “I can’t handle this, I’m so sad” after her death.
Point goes to: True Blood, for not only making Sookie more accessible, but also explaining the other characters

Secondary Characters
This is hardly a question. DUD hardly has any secondary characters. People get mentioned, but they’re more cardboard figures than anything else. While True Blood has Lafayette as an actual person, Terry as a bit more than just “he’s so haunted” and Jason actually has more than one dimension. Oh, and we get to know the murder victims.
Point goes to: True Blood

DUD has Elvis Bubba. True Blood has … uhm … nobody? Well, definitely not enough anyway to trump the King.
Point goes to: Dead Until Dark

the whole Eric thing
Love triangles. If there’s one overused plot thing, this is it. And do you really need two love triangles in one single book? That said, I think Eric is an interesting character and I would like to learn more about him. I don’t know why True Blood didn’t pick up this plot, especially since it seems that it becomes quite central in the next book.
Point goes to: True Blood. They do include Eric without the love triangle and maybe we’ll learn more about him in Season 2. If not, I’m gonna take that point away again.

I thought Sookie’s reaction in TB was very weird and totally not like her, when she found out about Sam being a shapeshifter. In the book it was more like I’d expect from her.
Also, while I enjoyed Sam’s naked run through the woods in TB, it was not very logical – why didn’t he just shift back?
Point goes to: Dead Until Dark, for being consistent

Tara, demons and other voodoo
Apparently, a show playing in the south can’t do without some kind of voodoo. And I have to admit that while it didn’t really bother me that the thing was in the show, I wondered what it had to do with anything. So it was to no surprise that that storyline wasn’t in the book. What did surprise me, though, was that not even Tara herself was in the book.
Point goes to: Tie: True Blood, for including Tara at all and Dead Until Dark for not going down the cliché voodoo road.

This kind of goes hand in hand with the voodoo thingy, only that it’s witchcraft, probably and doesn’t fit the story at all. As Maryann would make even less sense without Tara, she isn’t in the book. Although, she provides a good cliffhanger for season 2 of TB, she came out of nowhere. Therefore…
Point goes to: Dead Until Dark

I think it’s completely unrealistic that Sookie would know Rene since they were kids and never once hear him think about anything incriminating at all. Therefore, I like the TB version better, even if it’s really over the top with the identity changing and everything. Still, there I could suspend my disbelief. In the book, I couldn’t.
Point goes to: True Blood

Some time soon, I’m gonna kill Jessica. As she’s supposed to be the most annoying character ever, I can only applaud: Whoever thought of her, succeeded in his ploy. She’s not in the book and I kind of like it that way. On the other hand, she is a major source for interesting conflict and I think that she will prove herself useful, plotwise as well as for character development.
Point goes to: True Blood

The Vampire Council thingy
I enjoyed True Blood giving us more in depth information about the vampire society and that they showed that Bill was not a naive idealist, but opportunistic enough to survive. In DUD, the society is almost only mentioned in the end, when Bill says that he applied for a position and got it. This is a) surprising, b) OOC for Bill and c) I don’t really think it would help.
Point goes to: True Blood

So, vampire blood’s addictive in TB. While I like the twist and the implications of that, they’re not very consistent with it – Sookie drinks a lot of blood from Bill and after that her senses are heightened, yes, but nothing else. Jason drinks one vial of the stuff and has to go to the hospital because he’s overdosing.
Point goes to: Another Tie

I probably liked the ending of True Blood, Season 1 least of all. And after reading Dead Until Dark, I like it even less. What the hell? Why did Sookie need to get rescued, all of a sudden, when it so wasn’t necessary in the book? What the fuck was up with flaming Bill? Annyoing as hell.
Point goes to: Dead Until Dark

Point Summary
Dead Until Dark: 5
True Blood:  7

So, I will continue to watch the series and maybe I’ll read some more books, but right now, nah…

5 thoughts on “Dead Until Dark (Charlaine Harris)

  1. Three words, honey – Southern Gentleman Vampire. Why NOT sleep with Bill? Every woman I’ve ever asked says they’d do it in a heartbeat… (bad pun considering we’re talking about the undead here? Apologies!)

    And I’d like to venture the opinion that Charlaine Harris’s books, while they aren’t great, are at least better than MaryJanice Davidson’s…

  2. Didn’t mean to slight Bill. :) I just meant to say that I didn’t feel any attraction between the two of them. It’s like they sleep together because they’re both bored and not because they both want to.

    And Bill is such a blank canvas, at least in Dead Until Dark that you can project anything you want on him. Of course you would want to sleep with someone you can make anything you want of.

    [Did I just slight Bill again? Didn’t mean to, really. Southern Gentleman Vampire is a great concept. Just not for me. I’ll take the viking, please. Or the shapeshifter. Or both!]

    Anyway, I only read the first chapter of the first Undead and … books. And I read a short story by MJD (see bookbitching) and yeah, definitely. Charlaine Harris is like a writing goddess compared to MaryJanice Davidson. But there’s a place in my heart for bad books. There’s no place for a mediocre book. I’m weird like that.

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