REVIEW: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark (Southern Vampire Mysteries, No. 1) by Charlaine Harris, published in 2001, is the first book in the Southern Vampire mystery series. Sookie Stackhouse, a barmaid from Bon Temps, Louisiana, narrates the story.

Sookie has a gift: she can read minds. She considers her telepathy a disability because many of the townspeople consider her crazy. However, reading other people’s thoughts is not as easy as it sounds nor is it any fun. It is sometimes indistinguishable chatter mixed with emotions, feelings and unwelcome thoughts. She avoids using this “gift” whenever she can.

Sookie doesn’t date much because of her gift (or curse). She stays with her grandmother and works at a bar called Merlotte’s. Her life is routine until Bill Compton steps into the bar one night, a vampire more than a century old. The events of the night take a unexpected turn for the worst for the vampire, however. Sookie rescues him from a couple who are trying to drain him for his blood to sell on the black market. Vampire blood is highly sought after because of its medicinal properties. She helps him heal and a mutual attraction sparks up between them.

Bill is a recent resident to this small Louisiana town and the only vampire in residence. Thanks to Anne Rice, the city of New Orleans is a more of a popular vampire magnet. Despite government propaganda supported by most vampires in explaining how a virus causes vampirism, most people give them a wide berth. Their pale looks and superhuman strength causes much fear within the human community.

In addition to that, not all vampires are willing to settle into the community quietly. Some nest in groups and are a nuisance to their human neighbors. However, Bill is different. He drinks synthetic blood (made by a Japanese company) and has decided to “mainstream” it with humans and abide by their rules. Synthetic blood doesn’t provide all the nourishment that vampires may need to stay well fed but substituting it for the real thing helps to keep the “murder rate” low.

Bill and Sookie become a couple during the worst crime spree the town has ever seen. There have been two unsolved murders with suspicion thrown on a couple of residents that includes Bill and the vampire population in general. These unfortunate events create further discontent between the human population and their supernatural counterparts. The victims were women who were fang-bangers or vampire groupies who had bite marks on their thighs and ligature marks around their necks. I guessed the killer early on but your mileage may vary.

The main story arc follows the murders but there are several subplots that made this story a page-turner. First, there is the romance, which is hot and a major subplot of the story. The sex is explicit which was surprising and the chemistry between Sookie and Bill was hot. Then there is the vampire politics and hierarchical power structure within their community that promises to challenge the couple’s relationship.

Also, there’s another vampire even stronger and older than Bill who has an interest in Sookie’s supernatural abilities. Sookie finds herself spending a lot of time in Bill’s world. She is frightened of his friends, sometimes she is frightened by Bill who gets downright scary when he’s angry or in blood lust. There’s an unexpected plot twist where Sookie finds herself the target of a killer and the only commonality between her and the other two victims were their associations with vampires.

The colorful characters of this southern vampire mystery kept me turning the pages quickly. Sookie comes across as a believable character. She is a young lady with southern manners who often hides her feelings behind a tight smile. She is very protective of her family and friends. She has her moments of vulnerability about life and love.

After meeting Bill, her life has become much more interesting compared to the life she had previous. One of the bonuses for dating Bill is that she can’t read his thoughts. His vampire tricks don’t work on her either. Also, he teaches Sookie how to use her gift and how to control it. It isn’t until Bill takes an interest in her that someone else steps up to lay claim to her heart, too. I sincerely hope that thread doesn’t go any further.

Many of the townsfolk deem Sookie as being not only crazy but a little slow which she goes on to prove is quite false. The girl is quite smart, almost always optimistic and always wanting to help others. I liked her a lot. Other secondary characters like her older brother Jason (god’s gift to women), her boss and bar owner, Sam, fellow waitress and friend Arlene and the three troublesome Monroe vampires along with many of the other cast of characters made many of the scenes of this book fly by quickly. There are several other scenes worth discussing but I don’t want to spoil it all for you.

After closing the last page of this book, I came away excited in discovering yet another series to indulge in and came away surprised at how much I enjoyed this story. I bought Dead Until Dark when it first came out 7 years ago. I remember many readers enjoying it but I remember I couldn’t get past the first chapter. The problem I had was with Sookie’s “southern” voice, which kept throwing me out of the story. I was prepared for it this time and managed to get past it.

The supernatural creatures and events that the community is now faced with is still a work in progress. Two years after vampires have been legally recognized and accepted into society there is still prejudice and misunderstanding. There will always be the few bad apples to spoil it for others who choose to mainstream it. But those things will only add more tension and excitement, which is good.

The supernatural community has thus far introduced a shape shifter and a community of vampires but I’m sure this shall expand further. As for faults – I don’t care for Sookie attracting so many different suitors. Anyway, I read this book in one sitting and have already finished the second book in the series.

Dead Until Dark was my TBR pick for March and my grade, B+ because the beginning chapters were a bit slow in gaining this reader’s attention but once I was hooked, I couldn’t put the book down until I was finished. A strong recommend for readers who have yet to start this series (do I hear a echo in here?). If you enjoy urban fantasy and have overlooked this series like I have or you have a copy in your TBR pile – pull it out of there and read it.

Other similar authors I’ve enjoyed: Patricia Briggs and Laurell K Hamilton (first eight Anita Blake books only)

Note: Make sure to check back later this evening for Sonia’s review for Dancing With Werewolves by Carole Nelson Douglas.

Note: Please check out the other participants of TBR Day here! Enjoy!
[tags]Sookie Stackhouse series, Charlaine Harris, Vampires[/tags]

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21 Responses to REVIEW: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

  1. Jan says:

    This is one of my favorite series. I envy you discovering these books and reading them for the first time…have fun!

  2. Kristie(J) says:

    I’ve never tried her before – I think because funny vampire books don’t really appeal to me. But I’m glad your first book was a winner!

    And I posted my March book.

  3. AAR Rachel says:

    I loved Dead until Dark, but have had a start-and-stop relationship with the rest of the series. I started to see the writing on the wall regarding a certain main character and that stalled me. Then after a few years I started reading again. Unfortunately, having done that I have a harder time re-reading the first book and enjoying it the same way.

    I hate it when that happens.

    I think you have to be willing to follow where the author goes, no matter where she is going, to love the Sookie series. You can’t be thinking in the back of your mind that it would be better if she’d left certain characters alone. This is all very reminiscent of how I felt about Anita Blake.

    And, like KristieJ (Hi, KristieJ!) I’ve posted my TBR Wednesday book for March. Whew!

  4. jmc says:

    KristieJ,

    If you aren’t interested in vampires but want to check out Harris anyway, you could try her three other series. One series is sort of paranormalish — the heroine sees dead people, but not in “Sixth Sense” way — but the other two that I’ve read were straight mysteries. And they are being reissued, so they are more readily available than they had been.

  5. LesleyW says:

    I think I stalled out on the Sookie series at Book 7 – which I have on my TBR pile somewhere. LOL. Must dig that out.

    And my TBR Wednesday review is also up. 🙂

  6. Avid Reader says:

    Rachel – I remember reading your thoughts on this series so I am prepared for whatever Ms. Harris has in store for Sookie. The books, thus far, have been very entertaining. I really like Bill. I may read three or four in a row but my goal is to finish the first seven and be ready for book eight (if I don’t burn out)!

    Does anyone know anything about the HBO series, True Blood that is based on these books? Are you all looking forward to it? Lesley? Rachel? Anyone? I am wary.

    Hey Kristie, I added you and quite a few others. I wouldn’t say that the Sookie books are like LOL funny but they are I guess, quirky? I don’t know.

    Hey Lesley, book eight is due out in May.

    Hey Jan, so far so good. I am so glad that I finally picked this one up. There is another author I’ve never read that many readers love: Kelley Armstrong. I plan to read Bitten – a book I’ve avoided for a long time.

  7. LesleyW says:

    Re. True Blood, as I’m in the UK it will take a while for it to get over here. I’m cautiously optimistic. Though for me it depends how far they move away from the books. I never pictured Sookie as Anna Paquin, but then I never pictured Anna Paquin as Rogue either.

    And thanks for the heads up about Book 8. 🙂 I hate to get too far behind on a series. It happened with Stephanie Plum. I think I stalled out at Book 8 on that and haven’t yet managed to catch up.

  8. Lisa says:

    Hi,

    My March book is up at:
    http://bookslistslife.blogspot.com/2008/03/tbr-day-moneyball-by-michael-lewis.html

    Also, my good friend Gina is participating and blogged a book on our joint blog today at: http://ratherread.wordpress.com

    I loved the Sookie books, but found the Lily Bard ones to be less interesting.

  9. Sarai says:

    I loved this series I only got through the first 3 I think before something happened and I dropped it. (yet I still bought the rest) I might have to pick it back up your review reminded me how much I miss Sookie.

  10. Maura says:

    I have read and enjoyed all of the Sookie Series. There is humor thoughout these books, but they are not comedies. Sookie and especially Eric are very funny. She takes you through many twists and turns and in the last book there was a relationship that I don’t like. but then I am a Sookie and Eric fan and once you read book four you will be too. the book has turned very serious the last two, getting quite a bit darker.

    The series filmed 3 episodes before the writers strike and will start filming the other ten episode soon. according to the sites it will air next fall. They just casted Eric and He does pretty much look like he could be a viking.

    I am a very big fan of Kelly Armstrong, especially her werewolf series.

    Enjoy it, there are a couple of down home comments that had me laughing that the whole bubba storyline is a treat.

  11. Li says:

    I love this series! It’s funny you say you had problems with Sookie’s “southern” voice, because that’s part of this series’s charm for me. Sookie’s an incredibly appealing lead character, isn’t she?

    While the last book didn’t quite grab me, I’m still looking forward to the next book in May.

  12. Pingback: Review: Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris « Racy Romance Reviews

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  14. Michelle says:

    Hey, apparently you should read the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. Just switch Sookie for Bella and Bill for Edward and synthetic blood for animal blood… I think you get my drift. I’m looking for a new series to pick up, maybe it will be this. I completely recommend Twilight!!

  15. Avid Reader says:

    Hi Michelle:

    Hey, apparently you should read the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

    Thank you for the recommendation but I have already read TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer and the entire series up to ECLIPSE. Overall the series was meh.

  16. Megan says:

    I’m just a reader with a blog, too. I recently wrote a post comparing Dead Until Dark with Twilight and have been out browsing the web to see what other folks thought. I enjoyed your D.U.D. review. I, too, thought D.U.D. was a slow start. So slow, in fact, it took me about five months to get to the point where the pages started flying (I was reviewing other books in the meantime). Of the two, I prefered Twilight, but I’m not generally a mystery/action fan, so my opinion is biased.

    http://meganjust.wordpress.com/2009/07/11/bella-and-sookie/

  17. Avid Reader says:

    Hi Megan,

    Interesting post re Twilight vs. D.U.D. I loved Twilight when I first read it but if I had to choose between the two novels, I’d pick Harris because she’s a much stronger writer. I voted as much in your poll. Thanks for the feedback.

  18. Jessika says:

    Does anyone realize this is the exact same thing as that new television series tru blood? Did they steal Charlaine Harris’ idea??

  19. jennygirl says:

    So I should drink the Kool-Aid and read this series too, huh? Your review has put it over the top for me. I think it’s one of the best I’ve seen. It explains what the book is about and why everyone likes it so much. Thanks AR 🙂

  20. Avid Reader says:

    jennygirl: So I should drink the Kool-Aid and read this series too, huh? Your review has put it over the top for me. I think it’s one of the best I’ve seen. It explains what the book is about and why every­one likes it so much. Thanks AR

    Of course you should read it! Not a fan of the TV series myself…

    Edited for better clarification.

  21. heron says:

    i love these books books so much that i hope that they never stop!

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