Saturday, June 11, 2011

Of True Blood, Dead Reckoning, and the end of a series

In case you've been living under a rock, a few years ago, HBO launched this new series called True Blood. I don't have HBO, so I didn't watch it.  In fact, I'm not sure I even knew it was out until after the first season aired.  All of a sudden True Blood was EVERYWHERE. It was winning awards, friends were posting about it on Facebook, I was hearing about it on the radio and TV, and the books with the series tie in covers started popping up in supermarkets and book stores all over the place.  I had discovered Urban Fantasy by then, and I was pretty deeply emersed in the likes of Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Jim Butcher. It's a wonder I hadn't heard of Charlaine Harris before all the mania, as all three of those writers (personal favorites, check out my links to the right) have published anthologies with Charlaine.

Well once I became aware of her, it seemed only natural that I check out the latest vampire craze and so I discovered Sookie Stackhouse in the pages of Dead Until Dark (Sookie #1). How to describe Sookie?  I always thought of her as something of a cross between a Southern Belle and trailer trash.  She was a charming, perpetually sunny waitress that was flat broke. Oh! And she was "cursed" with telepathy... sometimes... you know... when it suited the story.  There are a truck load of people that think that Sookie is the height of Urban Fantasy, but I'm not (and never have been) one of them.  Although I wasn't captivated, I did enjoy the books.

First off, I've always been annoyed by the on-again-off-again nature of her "curse", particularly in that first book where it was rediculous to think that she wouldn't have spotted the bad guy WAY before she eventually did.  The problem with giving your character the "infirmity" of being plagued by the thoughts of others is that a person can't choose to not think about a particular thing once it's been suggested to them.

If you don't believe me, try it.  Go ahead, try not to think about... baseball, for instance.  Right.  See the second you read the word "baseball" all kinds of thoughts and associations popped into your head, you had instant understanding of the game associated with the word.  It's worse if your sitting there thinking "don't think about baseball, don't think about baseball."  To compensate, Charlaine began introducing all sorts of beings that were more difficult and/or impossible for Sookie to "hear".  Anyway, though this annoyed me, I suspended disbelief and just rolled with it. I mean, hey, this IS a world populated with vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc. etc.

My second difficulties is simply in the way Charlaine writes, at least in the Sookie books. The flow goes something like this... At the beginning of pretty much every book, something major happens, "the hook".  We then meander haphazardly along without much happening, "the filler" (although actual exposition happens here, I refuse to refer to it that way because so much of this portion of her books does little to nothing in advancing the plot).  Finally, lots of things start happening "the climax" but the book ends without resolving everything "the cliffhanger".  At the end of a Sookie book, I am ALWAYS eager to jump right into the next so I can find out what happend. Obviously, the pacing has worked for Charlaine, these books are bestsellers afterall, but I don't really care for it.

Now for this next issue, it is important that I explain that I picked up Season One & Two of True Blood after finishing Dead in the Family (Sookie #10). After watching them, especially Season One, my appreciation for the books rose considerably and NOT because I hated the show. On the contrary, I LOVED it. The written series took on a much darker tone after experiencing the imagery (I'm somewhat concerned about what this says regarding my darker nature...<shrug>... it is what it is, I guess).  While there are a lot of differences between Dead Until Dark and True Blood Season One, I feel like Allan Ball did an excellent job of relaying the story.

The real difference to me comes from point of view.  In the books, we are in Sookie's head. Consequently, her upbeat nature takes alot of the edge off the events for me.  She doesn't really dwell on them, so neither do I.  On the other hand, the show is necessarily third person.  When stuff happens, you see it... there's no filter.  These books are VERY violent and sexually charged, but I never really noticed that until I actually SAW it.

I am about half way into Season Three (Blue Ray edition) and am enjoying it less than Season One, but more than Season Two. The series has steadily distanced itself from the books and although you can still make out the bones of Club Dead (Sookie #3) it really only bares a cursery resemblance to the source material.  Sometimes I'm okay with this, and sometimes I'm not.  I watched an episode last night that was particularly jarring.  My continued enjoyment will depend heavily on how well I manage to separate the two works in my head.

So I finished Dead Reckoning (Sookie #11) the other day. This was the first Sookie book I had to wait the full year for (I finished Dead and Gone (Sookie #9) a couple months before Dead in the Family came out).  It has received pretty mediocre reviews so far and I won't be upsetting that trend.  The major gripe people seem to have are the continuity issues and the out of character behavior of the players. 

Personally, I can't really speak to the continuity issues.  As I said above, this is not my favorite series.  I don't re-read them.  While I remember generally what has taken place, alot of stuff has happened in 11 books and alot of characters have been introduced.  I found myself recognizing names (like Kennedy) without remembering exactly who they were and I certainly didn't remember the details well enought to register the inconsistancies, so this didn't hurt my enjoyment of the book as much as it will if you are a more devoted fan.

As far as characterization goes, I kind of get this, but not really.  If you compare Sookie of Book 11 to Sookie of Book 1, they are worlds apart.  But Sookie has been subjected to a hell of alot in the intevening time so I get the differences.  There was quite a bit of jabbering about her calous nature in how she handles the major plot thread in this one and the hypocrisy of her reaction in the aftermath. I can't truly discuss this without spoilers, but honestly I have to say that anyone who thinks Sookie was acting the hypocrite is missing some subtle but major distinctions between how she felt and what she believed needed doing.

Most of this I lay at the feet of Allan Ball and the direction of the TV show.  Many feel that Charlaine no longer cares about Sookie (a possibility given recent announcements, see below) and/or she has been influenced by how her characters have been spun.  I kind of see this too.  There have been definite moments in the last couple of books that I have thought... okay, that was written for HBO.  Reinforcing this point... I just watched an episode in Season Three where Pam makes a statement to Lafayette that is used by Pam verbatim in Book 11 in a different context.  I don't know if the episode aired prior to that line being written, but a coincidence it was not.

Getting back to the book, there are some pretty big reveals in this one with regard to Sookie's origins and past.  Some readers are calling them revisionist.  The series is taking another major turn which will likely be its last as it is now in the home stretch.  Apparently, Charlaine has decided to call it quits on Sookie.  She has stated that the series WILL end when her contract does on book thirteen.  I'll be sad when the last one publishes in two years, but far from devestated. I have enjoyed the ride, but never been truly transported. Now the question is, how strong are True Blood's legs.  As it stands, I'll be more disappointed when it ends... maybe.  There is a strange synergy between the books and the show for me, so we'll just have to see.



  1. I definitely will read this book.

  2. i definitely will not be reading this series lol it sounds like you arent enjoying it much i will prolly watch the series though cause you seem to like that one

  3. Guess I gave you the wrong impression. I did enjoy them. I read all 11 books after all.

  4. well more to what i meant was that you seem less enthusiastic about these books as you are to a few of the other series i have yet to read and that before i read these books, which i was going to start after the luxe series, i will prolly read something that i find more pressing. i will prolly eventually read these books but for now they are on the back burner. i love you :) i loved talking to everyone this morning. i <3 book club

  5. Wall of text... only read half. :P Not really. Reading your reviews makes me want to read the books... ALL of them.

  6. LOL, yeah... concise I am not. Still what's the point in having a blog if not to express your opinions about stuff. I'm very much looking forward to your first review!