This is a review of the first three books in the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris: Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, and Club Dead. (Sensing a theme, here?) The series goes on after this, but I haven't yet read them, and I figured I'd just review these three for now. Especially as I'm not completely sure I'll get any more.
At any rate, click on the nice happy cut link to read more, to save your friends' list space. I'll try to avoid spoilers except for perhaps some character traits and backgrounds, and some general situations (the type of thing that it's fairly hard to write a review without discussing), but as usual I can't promise anything for the comments. Okay okay, so I may not do as well with non-spoilyness as I do in some reviews, so be warned. I don't go *too* far over the line, but there are a few cases that just call for more explanation.
The first thing that these books reminded me of are the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs, which I thoroughly enjoyed although they are a bit... fluffish. The Southern Vampire books, however, pale a bit (heh) in comparison. There's the same sort of background premise though: some form of the supernatural has "come out of the closet" (or in this case casket) within the past few years, letting their existence be known to humanity, while other elements of supernatural society are still hidden away, biding their time.
The second thing the books reminded me of, once I got farther into them, were the Anita Blake books, which I've never even read. I've just... heard about them. Plenty about them. From my impressions, these are tamer, but still have those elements. You know, the ones that try to be titillating and eye-brow raising, but instead make you stifle fits of the giggles in cases and wish that the book could either just be porn or not, and not try to walk the line very badly.
I mean seriously, while the sex isn't always *too* overdone in the Southern Vampire books, it a) sometimes seems thrown in just for the hell of it, and b) needs some work. I mean, she uses the term *manhood* at least once that I remember. Manhood! Can anyone write that in all seriousness? Hell, since it was a vampire in question, she could have at least used "vampirehood," which would have been good for a more direct laugh and mental high-five, rather than just a wince. Hell, I think before I used "manhood" in a book, I'd use "pulsating pleasure pole," or "lady-finger of love" or something. At least those have the benefit of being less over-used, even while they're giggle-inducing.
But to get away from the sex (far away, and how often do you expect to see me write that?), the rest of the books are a bit of a roller-coaster as far as my appreciation goes. The stories are interesting, as are some of the characters. Harris seems especially good at describing the incidental characters and general background, as this takes place in the very very southern South, with a capital S, and it's fun to see the mannerisms and character types that seem stereotypical on first blush, but are a bit deeper than that and feel so, so true to life.
The main character is also fairly fun in general: Sookie Stockhouse, blonde bar waitress and telepath (I don't think that counts as a spoiler, since you find this out within the first page or two of the first book). She feels very solid as a person in most places, and Harris also gives us an interesting take on how it must be to grow up with telepathy, which Sookie describes as her "disability" and which causes most normal people to view her as crazy. She's had very limited intimacy with guys for instance, despite her attractiveness, due to being able to, y'know, actually pick up on all those annoying incidental thoughts that her partner is having. Like just how fat her thighs look from that angle, or what have you.
Some of the other major characters suffer a bit, though. It seems like *all* the main guys are, like, totally yummy (despite her descriptions of them which is totally not my type, which doesn't help matters). And of course it seems at times like an episode of Everyone Loves Sookie, which is really one of my main gripes with the Marcy Thompson books that I mentioned above, as well. And many of the supernatural people are all so powerful, yadda yadda, and also incidentally inhuman in ways that can make it hard to really like them, even when I suspect we're supposed to. It seems like Harris wants to both play the "vampires and other supernatural creatures can't be expected to conform to human rules" card and the "despite their differences, these are likable people and in fact just *people* in their own way, damnit!" card at the same time, with limited success.
I'm also lukewarm on the plots themselves. They can be vaguely interesting in places, but for one thing, it's harder to feel a serious feeling of "something bad can happen" when there are preternaturally strong characters to pull the main girl's fat out of the fire, and the author is obviously picking out a new way in each crises to get Sookie on her own and away from help, or in a situation where they're not able to come to her aid. Sorta like Superman syndrome... how are you gonna introduce the Kryptonite this time, guys? The plot also seems a bit... thin at times, honestly, like it's more something there to excuse some Quality Time with Undead, or relationship-based spats, or other characters' attempted seductions, or... whatever. I like it when elements of romance and such are blended well with a story, but here they don't blend as well as I'd like.
It's also annoying when Sookie turns into a bit of the damsel in distress, or frankly just lets herself stay in bad situations. She's normally fairly smart (if not completely educated) and strong in will, but there are times when I just want to shake her and tell her "why are you letting people DO this to you? Stand up for yourself, girl! Get yourself out of this situation, it's NO GOOD!" Argh!
With all the negatives I've given above, it's probably surprising that I'm still considering buying the next novel at all. I don't really know what it is - part of it is that book 3 ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and part is that I do like the whole world with vampires, other supernatural creatures, the rare psychics like Sookie, and then your normal folk trying to interact with them. And I like the way Harris handles her southern society, as well as some of the gentle humor. But I just don't know if those good points are worth putting up with some of the negatives.
Enh, I'll probably pick up the next book in the series to give it one more try and see if it grows on me, but we'll have to see after that. And I won't be in a big rush.
So... who thinks I should try some Anita Blake?