Read: 2001 – 2014
Author: Charlaine Harris
Published: 2001 – 2013
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Selected By: Lady Esbe
Lady Esbe’s Score:
“The Southern Vampire Mysteries (informally known as The Sookie Stackhouse Novels / Chronicles and retronymed the True Blood Series upon their reprinting) is a series of books which describes an alternate history that assumes the supernatural is real and vampires, shapeshifters, maenads, werewolves, and other beings have only been public knowledge for a couple of years. Its history has otherwise unfolded so identically to that of the real world that the series contains occasional references to popular culture.
“The series is narrated in first-person perspective by Sookie Stackhouse, a barmaid and telepath in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana.” – adapted from the Wikipedia synopsis.
Lady Esbe’s Review
This is a general review of the entire series, which includes the following novels; the series also includes eighteen short stories and novellas, which I have not read. The novels, which I shamefacedly admit to having read (or listened to) are as follows:
Dead Until Dark (2001)
Living Dead in Dallas (2002)
Club Dead (2003)
Dead to the World (2004)
Dead as a Doornail (2005)
Definitely Dead (2006)
All Together Dead (2007)
From Dead to Worse (2008)
Dead and Gone (2009)
Dead in the Family (2010)
Dead Reckoning (2011)
Dead Ever After (2013)
The CliffsNotes version of this review would read thus: Guilty…yes. Pleasure…No.
If you managed to dodge the television series True Blood and steered clear of the book series, the premise is simply that you have a telepathic barmaid who becomes entrenched in the supernatural world of vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters (or the two-natured), and more. Of course if you’ve seen the television series and not the books, they are drastically different from the books but what holds true is this: Sookie Stackhouse is an absolute waste of space.
I hate to do it, but I must compare it to the Rachel Morgan Series by Kim Harrison. Both have alternate realities. Unfortunately, Charlaine Harris has not felt so inclined to create such a stark alternate reality beyond the knowledge (or the gradual knowledge) of the existence of supernatural beings as does her counterpart, Kim Harrison. Kim Harrison has weaved another world that is a stark contrast but also seamless in its creation that draws you in and makes you want to know more about the happenings of this place. Charlaine Harris merely drops you in the country (not even the Bayou) of Louisiana with supernatural beings. Both have created supporting characters that drive you onward to see how they fair versus that of the pseudo-heroine (I’ll get to that in a moment).
At the mention of the pseudo-heroines, let’s make a brief comparison. Unfortunately, both stories are mostly told in the first person (Sookie’s stories do tend to flash you elsewhere to let you know someone’s plan if need be…you aren’t always getting her biased versions as you are beaten about the head with Rachel’s.) Rachel Morgan is allegedly a talented/gifted witch (emphasis on allegedly), which is a practical skill to have handy in a fight in the supernatural realm in which that story takes place. Unfortunately, her talent and gift tend to be the bane of all of her cohorts’ existences, because she is unable or unwilling to use her skills in a timely or accurate manner and the character has an over-inflated self-worth as to her skill and (to borrow from Elle Tea) “bad-assedness.” On the other hand, Sookie is merely a telepathic barmaid that happens to have a dash of fairy blood that makes her more attractive to the supernatural parties. The skills she has that can be clearly discerned are these: she can refill your cup, and she can correctly take down your order. She has no preconceived notion of being a bad-ass; in fact, she is painfully aware that she is not. Sookie’s “skills” are often used by her cohorts to determine if someone is being truthful, but not much more than that. In addition, neither Rachel Morgan nor Sookie Stackhouse can hardly be classified as heroines (at least in my book), as both spend more time being rescued by their friends than anything else. Death surrounds both of these individuals.
My last point of contention is that both characters have an overly obnoxious vanity streak that drives a reader to insanity. From Rachel’s obsession with her tacky, slutty wardrobe to Sookie’s preoccupation about her blonde hair, tan and cleavage size, these women represent a population of real women I just don’t understand. Really, is that all you have to look forward to in life? Don’t get me wrong, we are all vain in one way or another, but when it’s harped on in each installment of a book ad nauseam, it gets old – and quickly. In turn, we also see both of these characters bed hop like it’s an Olympic sport. Yes, there are many women who are so “free” that they just follow their whims. However, this looseness is not an attractive trait. Granted, Sookie did stick it out a very long time (at least for her record) with one suitor; but she still had no qualms about hopping into someone else’s bed within a week’s time. This type of heroine troubles me. Not only are you useless in your given capacity causing a damsel-in-distress syndrome (herein to be dubbed DDS), you are vain, petty and superficial. Avid readers of this fiction series will disagree with me and say that Sookie is extremely strong. Well, I’m here to represent those who stand as opponents to that misguided conception of female strength.
As not to belabor the point of Sookie’s inadequacies, I’ll move on to the series. Most of the action takes place primarily in Bon Temps, Louisiana at Sookie’s remote country home, and her place of employment, a little redneck dive bar/restaurant by the name of Merlot’s. Never fear, the series is broken up with excursions to Dallas, Shreveport, New Orleans and Michigan. It is unclear as to the exact time frame of the story, as one of the supporting characters is referred to as a Vietnam Veteran but is portrayed as being only in his forties or possibly fifties. The series opens with the vampires having revealed their existence and a synthetic blood was created to aide in their assimilation into modern society. They have a complex society amongst themselves that requires they police and govern themselves. The local governments are dealing with this new “population” on a state-by-state basis, granting as many or as little freedoms as the state legislature feels comfortable.
Now living in the open, Bill Compton, an American Civil War Veteran, returns to his pre-vampiric home of Bon Temps. Sookie haphazardly comes to his defense when criminals attempt to accost Bill and divest him of his vampire blood to be sold as a drug amongst the humans. Bill is immediately enamored of his savior and they begin to date. Mind you, this is Sookie’s first boyfriend and soon to be lover, as no one else will have her because is perceived, in the small backwoods town, as being crazy, which is merely an unfortunate side effect of her being a telepath and not knowing when to keep her big mouth shut as a child. We go on for a few books with these two as thick as thieves. Due to her association with Bill, she soon comes in contact with the vampire world and its hierarchy. We are introduced to Eric, once a Viking and now the Sheriff of Area Five (Louisiana division), his progeny and right-hand vampire, Pam and several other vampires, good, bad and indifferent.
As the series moves on, Sookie is further pulled into the supernatural world by becoming more entrenched with the vampires, whether she is willing or not. She becomes friends and the object of affection to the werewolf Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello is an excellent choice to play Alcide). As with all of her friends, the relationship is rocky because her slightly narrow-minded ways or sheer obliviousness to the person in front of her. She knows enough to say the man is desirable, a good man, and that’s about it. However, through her friendship and alliance with Alcide, she also becomes a friend of his pack and is both loved and hated by many amongst them. While Alcide is a noble, if not slightly dense, werewolf, he’s someone you can rely on for his solid decision making skills, unless it comes to women.
I return my attention to Eric, the Viking (While I love Alexander Skarsgård’s sarcastic and arrogant humor on the show, he is not the Eric I picture in my mind’s eye. Sure he has the height, but definitely not the brawn). Eric is the bad-ass of vampires, comprising all that made the Viking civilization great (resourcefulness, cunning, adaptability, profitability, and more than a touch of ruthlessness). Running a successful vampire bar in Shreveport, Eric is a shrewd businessman and his centuries of living has taught him to prosper, no matter what. What I also admire about Eric is that he doesn’t mince words, whether the truth hurts or not, that is when he chooses to speak. He’s not above using his cunning to protect those he loves or feels honor bound to protect. Despite his adaptability, Eric reminds you time and again (and Sookie through her lustful commentaries) that he is an indomitable Viking through his prowess in battle, even when he does get a little amnesia. Unfortunately, he is pulled into the Sookie vortex and becomes the longest suitor she has in this series. I admit of the guys she’s cavorted with, he’s my favorite. He is who he is and makes no apologies for it.
We come to Pam; dear, sweet, sarcastic Pam. Eric’s progeny, best friend and constant companion is a force to be reckoned with. If we could push her to the fore, then you have a heroine in my book, not some idiot with DDS. She isn’t a fan of Sookie’s straight away, but they become friendly by the end of the series. Pam is just as sarcastic and spiteful in the books as she is on the show and I love it. She offers advice and is true to Eric, no matter what.
I know, I glanced over Bill. Bill, a southern gentleman who was thought lost to the Civil War, is a learned man. Despite his age, he is a keeper of history, a sociologist of sorts, organizing the “family trees” of the vampires around the world. Bill is so advanced, he even makes a database (kudos to not being afraid of technology). However, though I find Bill to be loyal, he’s extremely conflicted and tends to be on the periphery quite a bit. Yet, he is Sookie’s “friend” to the end.
Peripheral characters such as Sookie’s brother Jason, best friend Tara, local detective Andy and friend / boss Sam are annoying yet endearing. Jason is a shallow young man who is still living off his glory years as a high school jock; he is attractive but seems to have inherited the same whore gene as his sister. Tara is yet another shallow and idiotic friend that we are reintroduced to here and there in the books. Sam on the other hand is a two-natured man who never was quite upfront with his feeling, but never quite subtle about his feelings toward Sookie either. Sam’s favorite animal to assume is that of a Collie and he’s as loyal as man’s best friend. He makes his mistakes, as do all characters in the books, but he’s true to his character.
Our villains are easily despised no matter which book you pick up. Ms. Harris villains are black-hearted, greedy and inherently evil. She only makes her potential heroes gray, and unfortunately, that’s a little unrealistic. No matter what, they all want Sookie dead or enslaved in some way or another. There was nothing memorable about the villains for me other than Eric’s maker being pretty much a pedophile control freak.
I cannot say that none of the characters grow. There is growth and self-discovery for many of the characters in the book. However, I feel like Sookie’s growth is only to morph from Unwanted Weirdo to Sex-Crazed-DDS-Afflicted Female. She only makes that progression because she comes to people who haven’t been around her whole life to assume she is just strange or crazy.
Overall, the series is hardly worthy of the accolades that I’ve seen it receive. Sookie is only a slightly extraordinary person who doesn’t do anything extraordinary other than be vain, whine, be beaten up, kidnapped or on the verge of being murdered, over and over again. The writing style is simplistic, an easy one-day read if you are uninterrupted. I think Ms. Harris hit gold only because there is a class of readers out there that eat this drivel up like hotcakes, and I’m still at a loss for why. In essence, it’s a beach read. You sit in the sand, sunbathing (Sookie’s favorite past-time) and knock this out.
To be honest, at the end of each book, I was more curious as to what would happen to Eric, Pam, Alcide and others, than Sookie. Her character went from zero to slut in three books and the last book was moving along swimmingly until the last two chapters and BAM unnecessary and stupid sex scene thrown in. Why? Let her be alone for a book, it won’t kill her, or maybe it will? Death by not getting any…that would make for an interesting demise. I can admit, I was down to the very last chapter, hoping against hope that the DDS inflicted character of this story would be put out of her misery and just be dead!
As if you couldn’t tell, I prefer a female hero to be that: a hero. She can be gray and have flaws and be hard on herself, much like Mercy Thompson in the series written by Patricia Briggs. Now that is a character who knows her limitations, doesn’t whine, takes a licking and keeps on ticking – the type of gal I can get behind. There is no false modesty, no self-important, leech-worthy behavior from Mercy. Unfortunately, I feel that you get all of those negatives in Sookie Stackhouse. Many may want to view her as an underdog, maybe because she’s a backwoods, good-hearted little idjit, but I view her as a public nuisance. I do agree with other readers in that Ms. Harris kinda phoned it in with a neat and tidy ending that flew in the face of all the things that happened previously. I was also left saying, “Are you serious? After all of the shenanigans and tomfoolery, this heifer goes to who?” Unfortunately, the only consolation I had with the last hookup was that he had the good sense to use a condom!
I’ve technically given the entire series 2.5 cups. There are enjoyable characters. There are some bright spots with situations and resolutions are presented for those situations, but overall, it’s a trying collection and one that I more often than not found myself wondering why I was even bothering to read. Unfortunately, curiosity got the best of me for supporting characters and that is it.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle versions of most of these books but readily admits that she listened to the audiobooks whenever Sookie’s antics proved unworthy of the caloric expenditure it would require to move her eyeballs from left to right.