Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dead Until Dark

Ever since I was in elementary school, I've had a soft spot for vampires, witches, and werewolves. I used to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the different guises the monsters wore in different cultures and time periods. When I was young, my fix was a series called The Last Vampire by Christopher Pike. Maybe I'll re-read that later and post my more mature (?) impression of them.

However, more recently I've discovered the guilty pleasure that is the Southern Vampire series, by Charlaine Harris.

Dead Until Dark is the first book in this series, and I liked it. I just finished re-reading it (and the second book-- I probably should have written this review before I started reading the next one..) after having seen up through Season 2 episode 10 of the HBO series based on the books, True Blood. My memory is awful, so I thought I should go back through the books and see just how true to them the show is.

The show goes much more deeply into some side-plots than the books do, but I think that it only adds richness and makes it more interesting. The minor characters are also more fleshed out and defined, again adding a new dimension.

Dead Until Dark focuses on the heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, and her 'disability,' which is telepathy. I think that Charlaine Harris might be overdoing her quirky character a bit much sometimes, making her a tad unbelievable. For instance, Sookie is always referring to her telepathy as a disability. Now, I understand that it's made her life harder, and she would rather not know everything that everyone around her is thinking, but 'disability'? That word just conjured up all the wrong images. I think a better route would have been the more obvious blessing/curse dichotomy, especially since Sookie proves herself time and time again to be a religious person.

Also, Sookie has never been in a serious relationship, because of her 'disability.' Since vampires are a 'blank spot' for her telepathy, they are some of the few people she can feel comfortable around. So when the vampire Bill wanders into the bar where she works, Merlotte's, she is instantly attracted to him (and the calming mental silence around him). However, once she is in the relationship, she seems to be quite a bit higher maintenance than one might have assumed. She takes offense at the strangest things, and gets her knickers in a knot for no reason I can see. I suppose it might be merely a writing device to differentiate between the usually cool vampire, Bill, and the hot-blooded human, Sookie, but I think that her 'reasoning' for starting tiffs with Bill is poorly thought out, even though the story is told from her perspective. It paints her as quite an irrational person, which is odd, especially since her telepathy supposedly gives her such great insights into human nature.

The foundation of the relationship of Sookie and Bill seems to be just that she can't hear his thoughts and that he thinks she tastes remarkably good. Oh, yes, and of course all of the incredible sex. Honestly, with all the fights they have over nothing, I can't imagine much else holding them together. It is quite possible that they have long, meaningful talks that the reader is not privy to, but if that's the case, they seem to forget about them pretty quickly when Sookie decides Bill isn't letting her be her own assertive self.

Bill, too, seems to have some strange personality quirks, in that he doesn't seem to have much of a personality. Perhaps it's just that he is so opaque to Sookie, who is used to reading everyone's mind. As the reader, we only know what Sookie knows-- that may be the base of the problem. Maybe.

Sam Merlotte, too, seems to be a somewhat flat character. He is Sookie's boss and owner of the bar, Merlotte's, and is defined first and foremost by his longing for Sookie-- Lord only knows why.

Flightiness of women and blankness of men aside, this book is quite entertaining. I enjoy seeing the hierarchy and power plays of the vampire society, how some vampires choose to 'mainstream' and try to join human society, and the sneak peeks that Sookie gets into the thoughts of those around her.

One out of one bloody mess!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fool Moon

As you can probably guess by the title, the second book in the Dresden Files deals primarily with werewolves. Again, author Jim Butcher weaves a nicely detailed tapestry of the rules of magic, in this case separating out several different types of werewolves.
There is a series of grisly murders, apparently committed by wolves that aren't quite like normal wolves. Therefore, Harry Dresden, freelance wizard and sometime helper to the Special Investigations section of the Chicago PD, gets called in to lend his professional expertise.
Despite being the only wizard listed in the Yellow Pages, Harry often has a difficult time finding employment. He seems to be living the life of a broke college student most of the time, especially when his contact in the Chicago PD, Murphy, is avoiding him. His detective work seems to be the only steady employment he has, and Murphy has trouble asking for help. She also seems to have trouble trusting anyone. Harry is burdened with many secrets of the arcane world, but Murphy can't seem to accept that, and is personally offended when he doesn't tell her all of the forbidden knowledge that he has, or when he tries to keep her in the dark to protect her. His chivalry sometimes does not go too well with her fierce independence.
Either this time Mr. Butcher cut down a bit on the hard-boiled, sarcastic comments, or I've just become more accustomed to them and didn't notice them as much. Either way, I thought that this book was a bit better than the first, though it was still rather heavy-handed with the introspection as characters tried to work through their trust issues. At one point, Harry even has a conversation with himself in a dream as a way to work through the hectic events that had happened up to that point. Call me hard to please, but that seemed a little hackneyed.

Four out of five wolves!