Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Sookie Stackhouse Series, by Charlaine Harris

After being laid-off from the worst job imaginable in March of last year, I jumped from the frying pan into the fire by accepting a job at the Government of Canada general inquiries call-centre.  I still have mixed feelings about that job; the management was great (one set of rules for everyone, versus the politics of favoritism at the other place) and I really enjoyed my co-workers.  What killed me was dealing with the public; I don’t suffer fools lightly, and I guess I have some non-verbal cues to shut down idiocy pretty quickly – but non-verbal cues aren’t worth crap on the phone.  The result was a serious anxiety-ridden month where I wasn’t eating, barely sleeping, and hardly talking to anyone.  I would work 9 to 5 (and, as a morning person, it would feel like half my day was gone by 9) and get home and have no energy to will to do anything.  Except read.  During the last weeks at the call-centre I was reading the True Blood books by Charlaine Harris.  They went a long way to keeping me sane.

A year later, and I found myself on a staycation.  I knew I wanted to spend a lot of time reading, since I love to do it so much, and so I decided to revisit the series.  It was as enjoyable as I remember it being last year, which I was glad to see.

For those of you living under a rock for the last five or six year, the True Blood series tell the story of Sookie Stackhouse from Bon Temps, Louisiana.  We are introduced to Sookie two years after the Great Revelation, when the world’s vampires (encouraged by the development of synthetic blood that meant they no longer had to feed of humans for survival) came out of the proverbial closet and have started mainstreaming with the rest of the world.  Sookie is different herself – she’s a telepath.  Out of place with other humans, Sookie is excited to see a vampire in the bar she works one night.  After a chance act of kindness, Sookie ends up dating that vampire and emerging herself in the supernatural world.

Harris’ skill as an author is clear in a variety of ways.  First of all (as previously mentioned), she’s got a great wit and sense of humour.  At first blush, the topic mater could be considered rather darks, but Harris makes it laugh out-loud funny in a variety of ways.  Second, her characters are engaging as fuck.  If I’m willing to read a dozen books about the same people, you’d better believe the characters are charming – from Sookie’s down-to-earth personality, to Bill’s soft courtesy, to Eric’s self-conflict, all the characters are interesting and are constantly growing and changing (which says something when you’re talking about centuries old vampires).  

Finally, Harris is deftly building a supernatural world – there is always something new that the reader learns about vampires, or shifters, or fairies, or other supernatural creatures in each book. I don’t know if Harris has a road-map in mind of when/where/how she wants the series to end, but there’s no Twilight-syndrome at work here where it’s pretty clear that the author is out her depth.  Of the 11 books I’ve read so far (Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, Dead as a Doornail, Definitely Dead, All Together Dead, From Dead to Worse, Dead and Gone, Dead in the Family, and Dead Reckoning ), they all have this forward momentum with only one exception.  (I wonder though if that exception is born from the fact that I knew that serious shit would be going down in the following book.)
What I didn’t like about this series is that there are apparently short stories that accompany the full books.  There is one book where the plot is based almost completely on a short-story that is never referenced or mentioned in the ‘other books by the author’ list at the front of most books.  It made me feel out of depth for most of the book, a feeling I didn’t enjoy.  I’m going to (eventually) seek out these short-stories and see what they add to the experience in reading the Stackhouse books.

What this series did do for me is realign my expectations for the next non-Stackhouse book I read.  I found that I was so accustomed to Sookie’s telepathy helping with story development, that in the next book I read, I couldn’t figure out why the main character didn’t just drop into the minds of the people she was talking to to get the answers she needed.  Then I realized what I was doing and had to laugh at myself.  To really mark how blond I am, I had this thought twice while reading a book by another author.  I think it says something about Harris’ ability to craft believable characters when I’m trying to impart their skills on un-related books.  Sheesh. 

No review of the Sookie Stackhouse books would be complete without mentioning in passing at least HBO’s True Blood series.  Last year, when I first read the books, I was interested in seeing the show.  After asking around and doing some on-line reading, I realized that the show doesn’t hold very closely to the books.  The best way a friend described it was to consider it as being ‘loosely based’ on Harris’ work.  But I like Harris’ work.  A lot.  I don’t want to invest time and money (because I’m a DVD box set collector) on a show that wasn’t going to deliver on what I was expecting.  I made the decision last summer to forgo the HBO version of True Blood.  I’ll be sticking with the books, and the books only.

So, final verdict?  Read these books!  Harris has created a world that is at once fantastical and believable, populated by characters that are engaging and likable.  These books first got me through a really tough time (and, BT-Dubs, I quit the call-centre job in just over a month), and they were how I just spent an enjoyable staycation.  I highly recommend these books as a great series to read.

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