REVIEW: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

REVIEW: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

I’ve been interested in reading the Southern Vampire Mysteries series for a long time. It’s one of the only times I’ve caved and watched the adaptation before reading the source material. That being said, I hardly remember anything about the True Blood TV series – I consumed it in the space of about two weeks while pulling all-nighters studying for my A Levels – so I went into Dead Until Dark pretty blind.

Things I could remember: there’s a girl called Sookie Stackhouse who’s a waitress and a telepath. Her brother Jason is extremely good looking and sleeps with everything that moves. Her boyfriend is Bill, the new vampire in town. Sam, her boss, is so in love with her that she can’t see it (but everyone else can). There’s also a sexy bar owner called Eric, who’s another vampire. Oh, and Lafayette the chef! I love Lafayette in the TV show (R.I.P. Nelsan Ellis).

Things I couldn’t remember: basically everything else.

So when Sookie got a call from Sam asking her to go and check on fellow waitress Dawn, I had no idea that Sookie was about to find Dawn dead – the second in a series of spree killings which would rock Bon Temps to the core.

I’ll be honest: I nearly DNF’d Dead Until Dark at the bottom of the first page. Sookie comes across as vapid at best, completely self-absorbed and irritating at worst. ‘I’m blond and blue-eyed and twenty-five, and my legs are strong and my bosom is substantial, and I have a waspy waistline.’ Cringe. So much for show, don’t tell…

After reading that sentence I literally put the book down, turned to Sean and said, “I already hate this”.

We decided to keep going until the end of the first chapter, which ended up being 40 pages later. When we realised we weren’t hating it quite as strongly, we decided to carry on.

The main reason that we were enjoying Dead Until Dark is because the pacing is brilliant. The book starts with a bang – Bill walks in to Merlotte’s where Sookie works, and by the end of the chapter she’s already saved his life – and the pacing doesn’t let up much throughout. The plot does get a bit distracted later on, focusing more on Sookie and Bill’s burgeoning relationship rather than the murder mystery (which was the bit I was more interested in!) but Charlaine Harris makes an effort to tackle both plot lines consistently within each chapter.

I definitely wasn’t expecting this book to have a sense of humour. As well as being fairly dark and gritty (there’s a multiple murderer on the loose in a town rapidly filling up with vampires, so there’s a fair amount of bloodshed!), Sookie’s dialogue is often dry and sarcastic, and it got a few chuckles out of me. However, a lot of the jokes seemed to miss the mark, and I found myself rolling my eyes more often than not.

One thing True Blood is well-known for is the amount of on-screen sex that the characters have. At times it’s just glorified porn (with more fangs… I hope). So I was extremely surprised by the lack of sex in Dead Until Dark. This was a pleasant surprise. I don’t read smut and don’t really enjoy erotic books, so picking this up in the first place was outside of my comfort zone. However, the sex which is included is… Laughable, is probably the best way to describe it?

There’s one scene in which Sookie and Bill are going at it in the graveyard, and she says that it was ‘as if he were trying to reach through me to the soil’. That’s not sexy! If you were hoping to get your rocks off while reading this book, I think you’ll have a hard time doing it.

As well as some uncomfortable sex scenes, there were also a handful of plot holes which weren’t addressed and I couldn’t let slide. The most memorable one is when Sookie finds herself reading the mind of Eric. Understandable, she is a telepath! However, she’s already mentioned a handful of times that she can’t read the mind of Bill or any of the other vampires she encounters. What makes Eric different? Will this get tackled later in the series or is it just a mistake?

Yes, I’m probably overthinking things. No, I won’t stop overthinking things.

The other major thing which knocked my rating for this book down was the scene where Sookie addressed the childhood abuse that she experienced. Although her reaction was realistic – she is flippant to start with, but then begins to exhibit symptoms of PTSD – I thought that Charlaine Harris could have done a better job of the way that she approached the subject.

It’s important for victims of childhood abuse, molestation and sexual abuse to see themselves represented (particularly in a character who doesn’t let the event be their defining characteristic, and has clearly learnt how to cope with the things which they have experienced). However, with Sookie mentioning it very briefly – and it mostly being used as a plot device to show the lengths that Bill will go to to show Sookie the depths of his feelings – I do wonder whether readers with those experiences could find this more triggering than empowering.

I’m not someone who has experienced any of the aforementioned things, so that’s just the way that I wonder if it could be received. I will be doing some more research to see if there have been any reviews looking at the impact of this representation more closely.

Although I didn’t love Dead Until Dark, I did enjoy it more than the first Charlaine Harris book I read, which I only gave one star. If you look at it like that, then this book is two and a half times better than Midnight Crossroad! However, I’m not feeling compelled to continue on with the rest of the series. I own all of them, so will at least try another one or two installments, but I honestly don’t know why there’s so much hype surrounding this series.

Thank you for reading this review. If you have read and enjoyed the Southern Vampire Mysteries, please let me know!

See you soon,