Sookie is not Barbie. I just had to clarify that because, going by Charlaine Harris's description of her heroine (as narrated by Sookie herself) you could easily get confused. Apparently Miss Stackhouse has blonde hair, blue eyes, strong legs, a "waspy waistline," and a "substantial bosom" (seriously--who talks like that?) She even has a fake smile plastered permanently in place. Just try to ignore the disconcerting resemblance (or do as I did and picture Anna Paquin instead). At least Bill doesn't look like Ken.
Okay, we all know the Sookie Stackhouse books are the basis for True Blood, so it's not surprising that it's difficult to separate the two when reading and reviewing. I've heard the show diverges in season two, but the first season relies heavily on "Dead until Dark" (book one of the series). In fact, it's almost like reading a recap of the season. Almost. There are a fair many differences (most of the major ones kicking in after Gran's murder). And almost all the changes made by the show are better. In fact, if I'd read the books first I might not have watched the show at all.
That's not to say the book is horrible. It's a fairly average paranormal romance. It's just not going to rock your world.
Some of the problems with Dead until Dark are typical of the genre. A great concept gets lost in the execution. Instead of spending more time on the integration of the newly out-of-the-coffin vampires into prejudiced human society, Harris gets bogged down describing irrelevant details (does anyone really need to know what Bill's socks look like?) Several things seem to go nowhere. The possibility that either Bill or Sam might be the murderer is built up throughout the book and then just dropped. And the editing sucks (a couple of examples I found: Picken's instead of Pickens's or Pickens' and goodness's instead of goodness'--really basic errors).
Bill and Sookie's relationship, such as it is, leaves something to be desired. After starting off saying how she's been waiting so long for "her" vampire to find her, Sookie is incredibly judgmental and suspicious once he is in her life. They seem indifferent to each other until they have sex, and then they still seem pretty indifferent (Sookie ranges from insecure to disgusted to "loving"). I don't know if their relationship was set up from the beginning as a prelude to bigger and better things (Eric, according to Bill's bizarrely adulatory description) but there's really no connection between the characters. What they call love is more about loving what the other can give them rather than loving who the other person is. Romantic.
There's also a really weird, apathetic attitude toward pedophilia in the book. Nobody who knows about Sookie being molested by Uncle Bartlett seems to be all that concerned. Sure, Gran cut off ties with her brother (after pretty much ignoring the same situation when it involved her own daughter), but apparently there was never any thought given to, I don't know, having the asshole arrested. Jason doesn't even believe it happened until Sookie proves it, and then he snaps at her to "get over it." Bill seems to care the most but even he reacts callously, insisting he and Sookie have sex immediately after she tells him the traumatizing details. Is this a Southern thing, because if so, man am I glad I live in the north.
And in the slightly-less-disturbing but stupid-and-pointless department, I have one word: Bubba. Somehow this character is a fan favourite, but I can't think of a more ridiculous plot device. Guess what--Elvis is a vampire (but don't call him Elvis--he doesn't like that)! Oh, and when he was turned, he came out wrong. So since he's basically useless, the other vampires keep him around to do odd jobs for them (like guard Sookie when Bill has to go out of town). But he's dangerous so Bill tells Sookie never to be alone with Bubba--right before Bill leaves her alone with Bubba. And he's dim, so he can't really perform said odd jobs correctly anyway. Oh, and did I mention he loves to snack on cats? Yup--hate him.
But like I said, it's not all bad. A few of the scenes play out better in the book. For example, Malcolm and Diane's visit to Merlotte's makes more sense here than on the show (as did Bill's naked underground nap). I was also really glad when book Sookie realized right away that Sam and the dog were the same creature, unlike show Sookie, who sometimes seems to have trouble figuring out what two plus two equals. And I was thrilled that Amy Burley was a non-entity in the book. I even kind of liked Eric, which I certainly didn't when I first saw him onscreen.
The book's not badly written--there's intelligence behind it, even if there's no love for vampires. It's also a fast read, and oddly compelling; I didn't want to put it down even though I knew what was going to happen. Harris also sets a good scene: you feel like you could be there, just another resident of Bon Temps. And I do have to give props to the independent, strong-willed heroine; even in the face of a murderous stalker she's prepared to save herself.
I think I'll get a better sense of the books when I read the next one, not only as the characters and relationships develop further, but also with less of the show's shadow looming over the action (the second season apparently doesn't have much in common with the second book). Maybe Harris will find her groove. And hopefully Sookie will give up that plastic smile and become a real girl.
Appearance: Glistening white fangs that descend and retract at will (often descending when the vampires are excited). Pale, glowing skin (although apparently only Sookie can see the glow). Hair/facial hair remains the same as when they were turned. Dead vampires decompose very quickly, turning into black gunk before finally dissolving into smoke.
Strengths: Super strength, speed. Excellent night vision. Ability to glamour humans (or "glamourize," as Harris puts it, although that sounds more like giving a makeover than the ability to hypnotize). Some vampires can levitate or fly.
Weaknesses: Silver, stakes, fire, sunlight. Vampires are sometimes drained for their blood, which is a potent drug for humans.
Mythology: Vampires don't eat or drink anything other than blood or synthetic blood (aka Tru Blood on the show). Vampires keep their origin a secret, but they've perpetuated a story that their "condition" is caused by a virus that makes them seem dead. Unlike in the show, when a human drinks a vampire's blood, the vampire cannot then sense or locate them. Sookie can read some vampires' thoughts (but not Bill's).
Sookie: I stared into space while Bill braided my hair, a pastime that he apparently found soothing. Every now and then I felt like I was Bill's doll.
Sam: Vampires aren't big on doing each other favors. They have a lot of structure in their world.
Sookie: I scuttered backward, getting up, trying to put distance between myself and the man who was a monster just as surely as Bill was.
Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris. From Penguin (Ace Books).