Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I don't request many books for review specifically, but I never miss an opportunity to read Charlaine Harris. Ever. I'm not sure what it is that draws me to her fiction, but if I had to guess I'd say it's the "voice" of her characters: Sookie Stackhouse in particular. I know I'm not the only person who has found Harris' brand of fiction to be particularly appealing. Last year HBO created a series based on Harris' Southern Vampire Mysteries called True Blood, and if any of you have seen it, you've probably gone out and picked up one of Harris' books. But if you haven't, let me tell you what you're missing. Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in a bar in Bon Temps Louisiana who just so happens to be a telepath. Not knowing where she gets her "disability" Sookie makes do as best she can, but it's not easy when you're bombarded with unwanted thoughts all day. Until, unexpectedly, a vampire walks into the bar and Sookie realizes she can't hear his thoughts. Thanks to a synthetic blood developed by the Japanese, vampires no longer need to live on human blood to survive, and that development has prompted them to come forward and announce their existence to the rest of the world. The vampires claim that their condition is the result of a virus that results in severe anemia and an allergy to garlic, but it's hardly that simple. Many vampires are still monsters who don't see humans as much more than a convenient source of nourishment. But Sookie finds herself drawn to Bill Compton, a 170+ year old vampire who becomes her first real boyfriend. Over the course of The Southern Vampire Mysteries Sookie becomes intimately involved in the world of the "supes" as she calls them, including vampires, Weres, fairies, witches and other assorted creatures. Most people aren't aware of any supernatural creatures other than vampires but there is a vast world that exists beneath the surface and Sookie, because of her unusual ability, can't seem to escape. Sookie has fallen in and out of love with a vampire and had a fling with a were-tiger. She's also been the victim of incredible violence and seen how monstrous and inhuman the supernatural world can be. The first five or six books of the series mostly took place in Bon Temps, then Sookie found herself anywhere from Dallas to New Orleans. A lot of new characters were introduced and the series seemed to be in a transitional period for awhile; not a bad thing, but the series did lose some of it's consistency. But Dead and Gone takes Sookie back to Bon Temps and in this book, the ninth in the series, it feels as if Sookie has settled back where she belongs. After observing how the public responded to the revelation that vampires exist, the Weres have decided to come out. Like the vampires, the Weres make the announcement on live television, demonstrating their abilities in real time. Predictably the reception is mixed. Some people respond with excitement and others with revulsion. But overall it seems as if the vampires have paved the way to a smooth transition. That is, until a Were is killed in a very gruesome manner in Bon Temps. Compounding Sookie's worry is the fact that her brother Jason is a recently turned Were himself. And if that wasn't enough, Sookie's great-grandfather, a literal fairy prince, is at war with a faction of anti-human fairies and Sookie has become a target. Like all of Harris' books, "Dead and Gone" is just over 300 pages. Short, sweet and action packed. And while The Southern Vampire Mysteries aren't meant to be deep, they still manage to make some firm statements about the costs of prejudice and the dangers of naïvité; lessons Sookie has learned the hard way. I won't go so far as to say "Dead and Gone" is the best book in the series, but it's the best one to come along in awhile. The last two books seemed to be looking for something but I'm not sure what. I think in a way they were necessary for the character development but the new characters never fully gelled the way the original cast of did. So this time around I really enjoyed seeing Sookie come home. But really, it isn't the action or even the supernatural elements that make the series special. It's Sookie. If you watch "True Blood" I think you'd get the same impression. Anna Paquin has really impressed me with her ability to tap into Sookie's sweet but feisty character. She's full of Southern manners and sass but most importantly she has steel core that makes her one of my favorite fictional characters. And that's saying something. I don't know that this series would appeal to everyone the same way it has to me. But I do know that there are a lot of people who have really enjoyed authors like Patricia Briggs, Kelley Armstrong and Kim Harrison, and if you're one of those people, you have to pick up Harris. If you like Mercy Thompson or Elena Michaels-- you'll love Sookie Stackhouse.