Feb 21 2013 10:00am

The Sookie Stackhouse Reread: Book 1, Dead Until Dark

The Sookie Stackhouse reread on Book 1, Dead Until DarkCharlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series is one of the most popular urban fantasy series around, with thirteen books, numerous short stories, and a hit television series on HBO. And it all began with 2001’s Dead Until Dark.

“I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.”

With this opening line, we are ushered in the world of Bon Temps, a small town in rural Louisiana. Our heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, lives with her grandmother in their old family home, and is a waitress at the local bar, Merlotte’s. Make that a telepathic waitress.

Sookie’s “disability,” as she terms it, will lead her into all manner of scrapes over the course of the series, but her first adventure begins when a vampire walks into a bar. Sounds like the beginning to a joke, right? But this vampire just sits down a table, and orders red wine.

Sookie is thrilled and excited to finally meet a vampire. And—wonder of wonders!—she can’t hear his thoughts, unlike every other human around. But she can hear the thoughts of the couple joining him—the Rattrays. They’re vampire drainers, and are planning to take Bill outside and drain his blood to sell on the black market.

So, without thinking to ask others for help (her brother Jason is at the bar, as is her boss Sam—both perfectly suited for a brawl), Sookie grabs a chain from Jason’s truck and heads out to save the vampire. Sookie herself says, “I’d never actually been in a fight before. Somehow I was positively looking forward to it.” Sookie succeeds in driving off the Rattrays, though not without considerable risk to life and limb, and we are introduced officially to Vampire Bill.

Yes, his name is Bill. Classic.

Sookie is enamored of the telepathic silence and peace that being around vampires brings. Her grandmother, Adele, is equally thrilled by the news that a vampire is in town. Since Bill lived through the Civil War, she hopes that he will speak to her club, the Descendants of the Glorious Dead, about his experiences. Sookie promises to invite Bill on her behalf. So when Bill visits Merlotte’s the next evening, Sookie asks Bill to meet her after her shift. But the Rattrays get there first, and viciously attack her, inflicting life-threatening internal injuries. Fortunately, Bill arrives (after possibly being fetched by a dog?), kills the Rattrays, and feeds Sookie his blood, healing her injuries. This violent incident essentially begins their relationship, as Bill and Sookie begin spending more time together...

Bill agrees to speak to the Descendants of the Glorious Dead about the Civil War, just to make Sookie happy, and later visits in a courting-like-manner to take her on a walk. They kiss, and Sookie agrees to visit his house the next night. When she does, however, Bill is not alone—three aggressively sexual vampires are visiting. They threaten Sookie, and tempt Bill with the blood of their human. But Sookie overhears that the human plans to infect them all with Sino-virus, the vampire version of AIDS. While Sookie saves Bill, she also reveals her “disability” to the vampires, and they are far more intrigued by her than is safe.

After that horrible experience, Sookie isn’t sure if she wants to see Bill again.

The next morning, Sam asks Sookie to check on Dawn Green, a waitress who failed to show up for work that morning. When Sookie goes to her house, she finds Dawn dead, strangled. And she wasn’t the first victim in Bon Temps—Maudette Pickens was killed in just the same manner a few days before. Both women had old vampire bites, indicating they were “fangbangers”—essentially vampire groupies.

As it turns out, both women were known not only for their association with vampires, and for their association with Jason, Sookie’s brother—which means that not only is Bill under suspicion, but Jason is as well. Sookie decides to do a little investigating of her own to clear their names. She begins to listen in, telepathically, trying to find the murderer in the thoughts of her neighbors.

She also asks Bill to take her to Fangtasia, the vampire bar in Shreveport. There she first meets Eric, a vampire and former Viking, and his associate Pam. When she gives them advance warning of a police raid, Eric finds out that she isn’t entirely human…and so begins a long association between Sookie and the vampire community.

While Sookie and Bill are on a break, Sam invites Sookie to attend The Descendants of the Glorious Dead meeting with him. They get coffee afterwards, and Sam kisses her before he leaves. Returning home afterward, Sookie walks into her house and immediately knows something is wrong—she smells blood. And then she finds her grandmother on the floor, strangled. It seems likely that Sookie was the intended victim, because of her new association with vampires.

Bill comforts Sookie that night, and they become lovers. When her friends find out, they are horrified that she’s taken up with a vampire. The appearance of Bill’s vampires “friends” at the bar doesn’t help his cause—they threaten Sookie, and basically freak everyone out.

The murders have understandably terrified the community, and a few men decide to take matters into their own hands. Sookie can hear the townsfolk’ thoughts rising to a fever pitch, but can’t determine which person is the inciting force behind the incipient mass hysteria. She’s unable to stop them from burning down a house with Bill’s vampire friends in it; all the vampires are destroyed, and Sookie worries that Bill was with them. She spends a few terrified hours before finding Bill safe at home, in a hole in the ground.

Jason is now a more serious suspect in the murders, as the police have found the tapes he made with each of the victims. He asks Sookie to “listen” and help him prove his innocence. In the meantime, Eric orders Sookie to visit Fangtasia. As he is the sheriff of Area Five—part of the vampire’s division of territory—Bill has to obey him. Apparently, someone has embezzled sixty thousand dollars from the bar, and Eric wants Sookie’s help in finding the culprit. He also wants her, but that’s besides the point...

After reading several human minds, Sookie discovers that the embezzler is Eric’s business partner and Fangtasia’s bartender, Long Shadow. The bartender attacks Sookie, and Eric stakes him, saving her life. During the fracas, Sookie accidentally swallows some of Long Shadow’s blood, and her strength and senses are temporarily heightened.

As a reward for Bill, Eric sends him a the form of the fangbanger Desiree. Bill refuses the offer, and Jason drives her back to Shreveport, instead. Unfortunately, when Desiree later turns up dead as well, Jason is in even more trouble than before.

When Sookie’s cat is killed, apparently as a warning, Bill brings Sookie a vampire guard, Bubba, to watch over her while Bill is in New Orleans. He’s a bit slow, and has an unhealthy fondness for cats, and oh yes: his real name is Elvis Presley. Sookie also brings an adorable stray dog home with her from the bar to keep her company, and names him Dean. Turns out, though, that “Dean” is actually her boss, Sam, tagging along to watch over her while the murderer is on the loose. He’s a shape shifter, and can take any form he chooses.

In the meantime, another girl has been strangled. And when Sam and Sookie get to the bar that morning, they find Jason unconscious. He’s the last person to have seen the girl. But don’t worry too much about Jason—luckily for him, this mystery is about to be solved!

Sookie is home alone the next night when she hears noise outside. When she investigates, she finds her guard, Bubba, unconscious, and her gun missing. Sookie runs out towards the woods where she can hide. She sees flashes of thought from her pursuer…a progression of the murdered girls, beginning with the murderer's own vampire-dating sister. The man hunting Sookie in the woods is Rene, Arlene’s boyfriend, and Jason’s best friend.

Turns out Rene had murdered his sister in a fit of rage, when she refused to stop dating a vampire. To justify that killing, he continued target so-called “fangbangers,” convincing himself that these murders were not only morally right, but necessary: because Sookie is dating Bill, she therefore has to die.

He attacks Sookie, trying to strangle her as he had the other girls. They struggle violently, but Sookie is stronger than he expects, largely due to having ingested Bill and Longshadow’s blood. Finally, she is able to pull the knife off Rene's belt and stab him. With Rene in jail and Sookie recovering in the hospital, this particular mystery is solved—yet it’s clear that Sookie’s adventures are only just beginning.

With this first book in the series, Charlaine Harris founded an incredibly rich supernatural world, with plenty of angst and heartache but lots of laughs as well. As dark as this book can be, it never loses its subtle sense of humor. Take Vampire Bill: what a purposely incongruous name! Bill doesn’t wear black or leather, but Dockers, loafers, and polo shirts. While he may hide a double-homicide by staging a fake tornado, he also enjoys flowered wallpaper and Jacuzzis (to point out just one small example of Harris’s brilliant characterization). Each small character in the town of Bon Temps radiates individuality, and each has their own part to play throughout the coming books.

Sookie is a unique heroine, not just in her special power, but in her personality. As Sookie herself says, “I may be uneducated and unworldly, but I’m not stupid or unread.” Aside from her natural intelligence, it’s pretty difficult to surprise or shock a telepath. Vampire licking her head? No big deal. Discovering her boss is a shape shifter? She's more annoyed that he woke up naked in her bed than shocked at his shifting. Sookie is a classic strong heroine, one that gets even more powerful in subsequent books. Her heart breaks, but she powers through. She gets beaten, but never stays down for long. I love that aspect of her character, and Harris is a master of letting us read through the lines, between what Sookie says to what she actually feels.

At one point, Sookie shares, “Somehow we were at the door, and I knew that Bill had lifted me and moved me quickly. I smiled, genuinely. I like the unexpected.” This is an essential part of what drives Sookie through this first book—her desire for adventure, for something exotic. She seeks out Bill, partly because of his mental silence, but also for the potential adventure he represents. Though Sookie may end up in a lot of crazy situations, they are largely due to her own active curiosity about the world.

So is Sookie using Bill for adventure? It may be controversial, but I think that some part of her is. She loves his mental silence, she loves being in a relationship, she even loves Bill. But even in this very first book, it doesn’t seem to be the forever kind of love. Bill’s own feelings are also muddled. He clearly cares for her—after Sookie tells Bill of the uncle that molested her as a child, Bill orders him killed. Vengeful? Sure. Deserved? Yes. He’s there for her when she needs him—most of the time—and wants to make her happy. We cannot forget, however, that he is a product of another time, and another supernatural species.

And what about Sam? Sam clearly has a connection to Bill, one that is not fully explained in this book. Is he the dog that was with Sookie when she was attacked by the Rattrays? Did he run to get Bill? It certainly seems so. And while Sam has been her boss for years, he only makes a move when Bill begins to show interest. Did he take Sookie for granted, or did Bill open his eyes to how he felt about Sookie? It's an open question—let’s discuss.

As for Eric and Pam...well, they only get better from here. They’re the dynamic duo of the series, both vampiric in their attitudes, selfish, and yet endearing. Eric is my favorite character in the series, and while we only get a small taste in this book, don’t worry: there will be plenty more from here on out!

In my opinion, the series only gets stronger from here: as Sookie develops her power and knowledge, the tension and the stakes get higher and higher. But enough of my thoughts, let’s talk about you. What do you think of this first entry in the series?

Whitney Ross is an editor at Tor Books. In her free time, she’s also a book collector, wannabe jetsetter, and Starbucks junkie, and enjoys competitive sports such as skiing and shopping.

Francisco Guimaraes
1. franksands
This first book was a great breath of fresh air from what I was reading at the time. The idea of vampires going public is brilliant, innovative and creates great situations through out the series. I really liked the thourough description of the book, felt like I was rereading it myself. I am on the beginning of book #8 right now ( From Dead to Worse) and in fact, the series only gets better.
2. DougL
I have never read these books, I have watched the tv show. I have read the Parasol Protectorate, which also has vampires and werewolves, but is, umm, lighter?

Maybe I will try these books out, but I quite enjoy the show, so maybe not, since I tend to not like move/show/game versions of books I have read.

That first scene where Bill enters Merlot's was very well done on the show, and I just based on this recap seems to have followed the book quite assidiously.
3. Asfandancer
Am so happy to see you reviewing the series in anticipation of the final book. I have read the entire series several times and found something new with each read. Like you, Eric is my favorite character, but I really love them all. Ms Harris has defined them so well.
4. Pellington
I was rabid for these books when they first came out. I couldn't get enough. Eric Northman was my all time favorite book character.

But then Charlaine started taking HBO money, and extended her original 10-book series into 13 books. She began writing more towards the show's plots, and further away from her own canon. I've become more and more bitter with each book and am absolutely dreading this last one. It makes me sad when good series goes bad.
5. Masharabb
Although I enjoyed the first book, I started reading it because of the TV show and since I was very curious about Eric this first book sort of dragged for me, but still I found it very entertaining.
I felt disappointed with the 11th, so I haven't started the 12th.
But since there's a reread and an end in sight, I'll get on board and join you!
6. ConnieK
This first book was a real surprise when it came out. Very fresh with an edge of humor and lots of twists on standard plots. I like them much better than the TV series.

I do agree that the series has gotten a little stale in the last few books but I must give Harris credit. She's one of the few series writers that actually ENDS her series and I'll also buy her last Sookie. She's ended several well selling series. Some mystery writers keep on LONG past their "sell-by" dates taking their plots to absurb places. If you haven't read this series you are definitely missing something fun.
7. DianaF
I agree with Pellington; I loved the books in the beginning but I dread the last book. Eric has been emasculated, Sookie is hardened to the violence and gore. Everything that made them special is gone.
Christine Heron
8. VampireBlah
Glad to be able to revisit the books like this. Awesome how close the first True Blood was to the book! I hated what they did to the story of last seasons True Blood. The books are so much better! I look forward to the last book, but am scared that I might not like the ending.
9. suilyn2006
I have to agree with VampireBlah. When I watch True Blood I have to think of it as a spin-off of the Sookie novels. Both are good, but they are too different to be the same. I am not looking forward to the end of the books, but I am kind of glad that it will be wrapped up and not just dropped. And Doug L, you should really read the novels--just keep in mind that there are differences.
10. dragon_gurl
I absolutely adore this series. I watched the first season of True Blood before I read the books. I never quite liked the show... I almost did, but just didn't. I was reluctant to read the books, but I am glad I did. One thing about the above synopsis though, Desiree doesn't end up dead. She's never really mentioned again after she leaves with Jason.
11. stephanie sizemore
I just saw this on facebook and was thrilled to know that would be having a re-read every thursday on the series! This book was given to me as a birthday gift and i have been hooked ever since! Luckily when I was introduced there were about 6 books out for me to devour! I am an Eric fan all the way but am also scared about his role in the end......This particular book really captivated me because Charlaine has the ability to be raunchy, sensual and hilarious all in the same chapter! It was a great read start to finish for me.
12. Noni Mausa
Definitely, the books are better than the TV show.

I find it interesting that the world of very long-lived vamps begins falling apart as soon as Sookie begins participating, and they start dying right, left and centre. I get the feeling that she is the one loose brick that loosens all the others. Surprising that the vamps don't grasp this.
Tracie Tabb
13. CleoJones
I loved these books from the beginning. I do not especially like the series. I am sorry, it is good for what it is but the books are far better. I do not picture Sookie as an Anna Paquin type. More a Gidget type if you can remember that far. I can see Sally Field's Gidget doing Sookie easily. My favorite character is actually Eric's second in command. Is her name Diana or something like that. I have not read one in a while, busy with school and work. I will really enjoy going back over them with this program. Great synopsis.
14. bungluna
I love this series and have followed it from its beginning. I stopped watching the HBO series when it diverged so drastically from the text, but more on that in the next book.

Of this first one, I liked the whole 'normal guy' vampire represented by Bill. I also loved how Ms. Harris illustrated that, no mater what they were in life, once they're vampires they become 'other'.

Sookie made a great heroine, down to earth and self deprecating without being TSTL. She does get into trouble due to curiosity, but when she explains how horrible it is to try and have relationships with people whose inermost thoughts you can read, I felt for her. (Her first boyfriend comes to mind.)

Ms. Harris has demonstrated througout her writing carreer that she's not afraid to kill any character and take the story anywhere she feels is necessary. I'm apprehensive about the end, but will hang in there because I've come to love and trust her.
15. bltonry
Love the book series and the TV series. Didn't know about the TV series until I'd read the fifth or sixth book. Loved Eric's charater in the books, but I'm just crazy for Vampire Bill in the TV series. It's so soothing to hear V. Bill say Sookie. In one episode, when V. Bill goes missing and no one can find him, Sookie says she can just hear him walking in the door and saying her name, and then she did this really great impression of the way he says it.

Eric's second in command is Pam, I like this charater in the book and on TV.
tina solomon
16. tmsmoody
I'm most grateful to Ms. Harris for introducing me to a lot of other writers with her anthologies - that's how I came across my favorite writer and book series - Jim Butcher's Dresdenverse. If she wasn't such a great writer, I never would have picked up "Many Bloody Returns."

I love Eric and would love to meet an Eric, but my favorite is Bubba. I mean, come on! Elvis Presley as a brain addled vampire named Bubba?!?!?! It doesn't get any better than that. :-)
17. Tiffsmith05
I love all twelve books, can't wait to tead the last one. A little sad the series is comming to an end, but I will say this you were amazing summarizing the book.
18. trilliand
I love the Sookie Stackhouse books and I'm dreading that the last one of the series is going to be realeased. I've been trying to find a worthy substitute read, and it seems almost impossible to find a story that at least comes close to the works of Charlaine Harris. I love her stories, the characters and how they evolve and interact, the setting, the language and style of the books, just about everything. They are fare better than the TV series, although I think it's a good thing that HBO chose to not stick to the book plot but go another direction. For instance I quite like Lafayette in the TV series, but in the books he never really got a chance. ;)
On the other hand side, the violence in the TV show is just about too much. I guess I like that in the books more things are left to your imagination and not quite as blunt as on a TV screen. Anyway, back to the book seriers: I love Sookie as a heroine, she's so different to the normal heroines of the vampire genre, she's often insecure but always stands up for herself and the ones she loves, fights and is NEVER naive like the damsels in distress in most other vampire fiction.

Eric is, next to Pam, my favourite vampire character, due to the fact how Charlaine Harris let his character evolve over time. Oh, and it is a bonus that he is badass sexy, in the book and in the TV show.

Now that the last book is coming up I'm left to wonder if I'm gonna like how the story is going to end. I'd really like to see Sookie with Eric, but somehow I get the feeling that Charlaine Harris will finde some other way for an epic finale.

Regarding the first book of the series: What an amazing, fresh, interesting angle for a vampire/romance/novel. Haven't come across anything similarly interesting since -- so if anyone has suggestions, please post!!
19. Lisamnoble
I, too, am a fan, but for a couple of reasons not mentioned. I have really enjoyed Sookie's crises of faith, as she struggles with whether or not she can be a good person, and particularly a person of faith, within the weird world that has become her reality. Her favourite swear is 'Jesus, shepherd of Judea" for goodness' sake. How does someone raised in small-town Louisiana reconcile her upbringing with what's happening in her world. I also like them as an allegory for the gay (and other) communities working to gain acceptance in a closed-minded space. I love Sookie's journey. And as for my favourite guy in her life? Sam, all the way.
20. ChaChaChaChanges
Eric is definitely my favorite character in the book series, along with Pam and Sookie. Books 2-10 are outstanding in the series.
Here's hoping for an epic, against-all-odds, non predictible ending for the Viking and the Telepath!
21. Flora
I've read vampire stories since a little kid and Charlaine is without any doubt the best at it. She makes everything so vivid, we fall in love for sookie and bon temps. I'm really sorry the series is about end and I'll won't have anything by her to read anytime soon :~ (after discovering the southern vampire tales I've purchased and read all her other series, my favorite being Roe ) That said even thought I really like her history with Eric, I kept my hopes high for quinn's return until last year's book when charlain gave him some sookieless closure ^:( so I'm settling for Eric.
22. Cubicleblindness
I think your right about Sam and his feelings for Sookie. The fact that he only shows these emotions for her now. I think that it was the appearance of Bill, and Sookie's interest in him that finally showed Sam that he had some competition, and at this point he has to say (or hint) at the fact that she does have a choice of whom to be with.
But I personally see no harm in dating both. I have always loved Sam and was always torn that Sookie doesn't even try.
As far as the Vampires go I am a bigger fan of Eric as well, even though he does try my patience further on in the series. And even though as far as companionship and a true emotional supporter of Sookie, Bill seems more likely to care for her that way. Eric's emotionally blocked, but sexier than Bill that's for sure
23. Evl666
When I read and re-read the books I never read Sam's interest as anything other than a mirror image than Sookie's feelings for him - attracted to her, lust but not romantic. I read his sudden interest in her when Bill came along as him trying to protect her from vampires. He tried to spark her interest romatically so that her involvement with vampires would stay as minimal as possible. He knew what they would see hín her since, I beliveve, he long suspected she was telepathic. There were all these rumors about her even before this book 1 and she herself said that she sometimes would respond to something she "heard" them say.

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