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Retro Review: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Age category: Adult
Release Date: May 1st, 2001


I fear I may have come to this book expecting too much of it. I have not read any of Charlaine Harris’s work before, despite her name taking up a sizable section of the urban fantasy section at my local bookstore. I figured if I was going to give her books a try, Dead Until Dark was the obvious starting point, and I opened it up with super high expectations. The problem with doing that is when a book doesn’t totally mesh with your tastes, what would have been an “it was fine” becomes an “I’m (perhaps unfairly) disappointed.”

Sookie has a unique power–she calls it a disability–she can hear the thoughts of others around her. The vampire Bill is the one person she can’t hear. Which reminded me of a reverse situation of the setup in Twilight, but of course, this book predates that one by about four years. Sookie is fascinated by Bill from the moment he walks into the bar where she works, and it isn’t long before they’re seeing each other. Bill is a pretty typical vampire boyfriend. He wants to protect Sookie, and he’ll go to violent methods if he has to. Sookie finds herself drawn into some supernatural power plays she really never meant to be a part of. And that’s before the murders start–with every victim seemingly connected to a vampire.

I get that the term “disability” was meant to convey that the power burdens Sookie more often than not, but this seemed like a shortcut rather than really showing us what it’s like to be in her head and how overwhelming something like this might be. There’s only a few select scenes where he get a glimpse of the barrage of thoughts and feelings she’s supposedly hearing all the time. Her dialogue never gets cut off because she overheard something she really didn’t want to. Her work performance never suffers due to distraction. I think my non-magical ADHD brain is more full of random thoughts than Sookie’s magical neurotypical brain is. (In contrast, if you compare Sookie to Edward Cullen, his ability is much more a part of his daily life. Whatever other opinions you might have of Stephanie Meyer’s Midnight Sun, it handles this aspect well.)

There also isn’t a whole lot that Sookie does on her own in advancement of the plot. She reacts to things well enough as they happen; she doesn’t just wait around for her vampire boyfriend to rescue her. But at the same time, she knows people associated with vampires are at risk, and she has a special ability that might be helpful in solving the crime. Yet someone else has to tell her to start listening in on everyone in the bar, and even then, she’s hesitant to do so. Her argument is that it’s not as easy as it sounds, they have to be thinking about what they did at the time she’s paying attention, and some people just give off feelings rather than direct thoughts. The person who asked her later apologizes for doing so. Except that honing her skill, the big thing she has at her disposal to counter the threat against her, is one of the few proactive rather than reactive activities she had to do. (Wait? Did I just say I wanted a training montage? Huh.)

I do want to end on a positive note: one character I really liked was Sookie’s grandmother. She adores Bill and wants to ask him all sorts of questions about what he remembers from the time when she was young. This isn’t something I’ve seen that much before. Often the fact that a vampire is centuries old is kind of ignored, or they reminisce about events that no one living would remember.

I may come back to this series at some point, but for now, I’m giving it a bit of a break.

Rating: 2 out of 5

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