Book Club book #3: Dead Until Dark (aka: True Blood #1)

In my last book club blog post I extolled the fact that we read such a high-brow book as Candide, which in turn made me feel all sorts of classy. There was going to be a very long break between that book club meeting and the next one (some members would be on holiday) so we thought we'd throw another book into the mix to keep us all occupied in the interim.

Oh what a contrast to Candide that second book was.

If the title of the blog post hasn't already given it away, the other book we decided upon was Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris, also known as The Southern Vampire Mysteries series, which is probably better known as the novels from which the True Blood television series is based on.

From a book that was a satire of human society and a critique of the world, to a book that was likely propelled to fame on the back of those damned Twilight books/movies, I dived in for my first ever taste of modern-day vampire fiction.

Dead Until Dark

Book, $12.69 USD on Kindle, written by Charlaine Harris,
Dead Until Dark

I remember this book was around the time I switched to the new job I've been talking about in my last blog posts, because this was the time my baking guinea pig and I were talking (something which we couldn't do before when we were on separate floors, but the new job meant a new floor) about our respective book clubs, of which hers was named (and/or themed) "Books and Booze". We got to talking about how our book clubs have been operating (book club was still very new for me at the time, so I was curious to learn how book clubs were like for others), and when we got to the topic of what we were reading at the moment, I straight-up told her, "The first True Blood novel."

I tweeted her reaction:


Anyway, the world in which The Southern Vampire Mysteries (I'm just gonna call it True Blood from now on - much shorter) takes place is one where a synthetic blood compound has been developed, making it unnecessary for vampires to feed on humans any longer. This allows the underground world of vampires to surface, asking for peaceful co-existence with humans.

The story is told through Sookie Stackhouse (whose name I still cannot take seriously), a telepathic waitress in a small fictional town in Louisiana, who leads a pretty quiet and almost solitary life until a vampire shows up in her diner. Murders start happening soon afterwards. Coincidence?

I knew of True Blood only as a TV series until our book club decided to read this book, so what little I knew of the TV show played into how I approached the book. And what little I knew of the TV show was that it starred Anna Paquin, so from the get-go, Sookie, in my mind, was Anna Paquin with a southern accent, which totally wasn't a bad thing. The only other thing I knew was what one of my workmates told me when the TV series first came out, which was that there was a whole lot of vampire sex going on. While there was that in the book, it never ended-up being as thoroughly described as what I imagine it would in Fifty Shades of Grey, so never really became the erotica novel I thought would be.

As I started reading the book, I got glimpses of so much more than just an almost-raunchy vampire novel: there was the whole attitude towards vampires trying to integrate themselves into human society ("mainstreaming"), a whole racism/discrimination aspect of humans towards vampires, in-fighting between the vampires who want to go mainstream and those who think it a lost cause because... well, vampires, and a mostly-misunderstood Sookie coming out of her shell.

I'm almost ashamed to admit that I found myself enjoying this book. Sookie's nose-dive into the detective role was enough to have me reading this book well up to midnight on several occasions (I always try to go to sleep for work an hour or 2 before), wanting to know what the next twist/turn in the mystery would be and what would happen to Sookie. I said as much at the next book club meeting (everyone else mostly hated the book, and the person who picked it out for us wasn't at the meeting that night to defend it with me), then went on to admit my propensity for reality television a la American Idol, and Project Runway.

However, I didn't care at all for the other characters, whose z-axes combined would still have less depth than my workmate's MacBook Pro. Bill, the main vampire, has zero personality, so I have no idea how Sookie could even like the guy, all the other vampires act exactly the same with only varying levels of horniness to distinguish between them, and all the people filling the citizenry of her small town feel like tools cut from the same douchebag-infused mould.

An even bigger downer for me though, was that of all the themes I enumerated 3 paragraphs ago, only the last one about Sookie's progression got any real attention in this novel. Looking at how many books are in the True Blood series (13 novels and a crapload of side-stories), it feels like this was done on purpose - roping people in in with the prospect of steamy vampire action (of which there is), then hoping people stay for the personality (of which there is next-to-none outside of Sookie's).

Maybe I should just watch the TV show instead

Given the biases I had when I went into this, Dead Until Dark was a good surprise for me and would probably fall into the 'guilty pleasures' category of things I enjoyed. However, the paper-thin supporting cast and lack of exploration of its world's bigger themes left me seriously wanting. I don't think it'll be a pleasure I'd indulge again.

6.5 out of 10.