Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on September 5, 2008
She has supernatural abilities, both a vampire and a shapeshifter romantically interested in her, various supernatural creatures appear in the stories, and vampire bars and nightclubs play major roles in the narratives and even supply names for books. Put that description out to most people and they are apt to say, "Oh yeah, Anita Blake." Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries, starring the telepathic Sookie Stackhouse, do bear a superficial resemblance to Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake books. But the resemblances quickly disintegrate after that. What drew me to the Anita Blake books were their wonderful premise of a world in which vampires and other supernatural beings were real and striving to live alongside humans. I loved the idea of necromancer Anita solving mysteries while interacting with the various creatures complicating her world. Unfortunately, the initial promising premise was horribly developed and the books became essentially hardcore porn novels. It is no accident that the last decent novel in the series took place in the American Southwest where Anita was unable to interact with her normal paramours. The Sookie Stackhouse books, on the other hand, take their initial promising premise and do it justice. There is some sex in the books, but the books never become nothing but sex.

Discovering these books was part of a wonderful serendipity. I was looking through some bibliographies of vampire novels for a reading project I've undertaken and was interested in these after reading some complimentary things. As a Southerner by upbringing (even if I've lived in the Yankee north for most of my adult life) I was especially interested in seeing how these books would handle supernatural tales in a rural setting. So I eventually took advantage of Amazon's 4-for-3 offer and ordered the first four novels in the series. Completely independent of this I had casually been aware that Alan Ball, the creator of one of the best series of the past decade, SIX FEET UNDER, had a new series dealing with vampires starring Anna Paquin entitled TRUE BLOOD on HBO. Shortly after ordering the Charlaine Harris books I read that TRUE BLOOD would debut on September 9. So, I went over to to get more details. I was utterly stunned to learn that the series was based on Harris's novels. This intensified my interest in both the books and the series. Then came the third serendipitous surprise. My books arrived and I read the author bio. I read that Harris lives in a small town in southern Arkansas. As an expatriot Arkansan I was delighted. Learning that Harris lives in Arkansas intensified my interest in the books which intensified my interest in the TV series.

One other way that the Sookie Stackhouse novels are superior to the Anita Blake stems from Harris's excellent writing style. I love Sookie's narrative voice. She is sweet, self-conscious, adorable, funny, and quirky. She comes across this way because Harris writes such wonderful prose to put in her mouth. Hamilton, on the other hand, gives Anita Blake some of the worst prose any narrative voice has ever been given. In one early book, as Anita was struggling with the deep attraction she was coming to feel for the master vampire of St. Louis, she says, "I was afraid. Afraid of how I much I felt for him!" I read that with shock. Most 8th graders would produce prose that atrocious. Sookie's voice never falters and never degenerates into embarrassing drivel.

Another way that the Sookie Stackhouse books surpass the Anita Blake comes from the sense of place that one gains in the former. St. Louis never, ever comes to life as a locale in the Blake books. It never feels like a real place, or rather never feels like a city distinct from any other city. Contrast this to the Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald or the San Francisco of Dashiell Hammett or the Florida of John Macdonald's Travis McGhee books or the Boston of Robert Parker's Spenser novels. St. Louis in the Anita Blake books feels like the most generic place in the world. You could remove the designator "St. Louis" and replace it with the name of almost any other city in the United States and it would work. But Bon Temps, Louisiana, though fictional, comes alive. Though I've been in Chicago for over twenty years, I've lived in towns not terribly unlike Bon Temps. I've been in houses with tin roofs and know just what kind of noise the rain makes as it drums down. I've spent time in towns in southern Arkansas like Magnolia, Hamburg, and Monticello and can easily imagine Bon Temps along those lines. I also went to college in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, a tad further north but probably very similar to Bon Temps. And my country relatives were scattered around the very tiny town of Wilburn, Arkansas, further north but much smaller than Bon Temps. My point is that all of the small town elements felt real to me. In these towns everybody really does know everyone else.

The Southern Vampire Mysteries are the third series attempted by Charlaine Harris. The experience shows. While the second and third novels developed further the things we enjoyed in the first novel, the series really is born full blown. One of the keys in any vampire series is making decisions about what part of vampire mythology one is going to accept. Harris is a bit light on some of the traditional elements, which I think is a good thing. It isn't clear whether they can be seen in mirrors (in my opinion, one of the dumbest things ever - the origin is that mirrors supposedly reflect one's soul, whereas vampires are allegedly soulless). I believe that Harris's vampires have souls. They can enter churches. I doubt if crosses have any affect on them. They don't like the taste of garlic, but it won't kill them. Initially she seems to have it that vampires must sleep in the earth, but in the two successive books that doesn't seem to be the case. Vampires do have to be invited to be able to enter a house and they can glamour humans. Contrasting them with the vampires on BUFFY and ANGEL, Harris's vampires are physically stronger, less inherently evil (Angel and Spike aside), but more constricted by daytime hours (Spike on BUFFY spent a great deal of time running around in daylight with his blanket over his head, while Angel spent vast amounts of time active during the day, as long as he stayed out of the sun). My lone complaint is that Harris's vampire, much like those in the Anita Blake books, have a complex political structure. It isn't quite as awful as that in the Blake books, but it is bad enough. At least we are spared the hundreds of excruciating pages detailing vampire posturing and posing.

If you go to the Anita Blake books you will see that while they are heavily reviewed, they consistently are given very low ratings by Amazon reviewers. The Sookie Stackhouse books, however, are given consistently high reviews. This completely conforms to my experience with both series. If you are a reader of the Anita Blake books but are fed up with the political and social nonsense as well as the endless hardcore sex scenes that overwhelms the excellent premise, you will almost certainly be delighted with these books. If you are a reader of the Sookie Stackhouse books but haven't read the Anita Blake books, don't bother to try the latter. You've already read the best.
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