Pros: Fun, sexy here and there, excitement, adventure, mystery, and you never know what else!
Cons: Nothing major, really.
The Bottom Line: When over 3 people recommend it to you, you know it's probably worth your time.
Welcome one, welcome all to Louisiana, home of Sookie Stackhouse, vampire and werewolf/animal magnet extraordinaire.
I'd heard all about Laurell K. Hamilton and how her books went from fun to smut in no time flat. While I sit here and say more power to her (hey, if it sells), the usual vampire orgies and gothic tones get horrendously boring for me in about the first five seconds. While all the teenie boppers enjoy their sparkly Twilight vampires (though ironically, some of these covers have sparkles on them), I've wanted something with a little more substance. Sexy, fun, and adventurous. Paranormal romance, if you please.
Without even asking, suddenly everyone and their grandma seemed to tell me that I should read Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse Series (officially Southern Vampire Novels, but the word of mouth popularity of the reader version can now be seen on upcoming novel #9, haha). So I said, "Ok, I'll bite" (no pun intended) and a few days later, one of my co-workers dumped the entire series (#1-7 at the time) in my locker.
I read them all in a couple of weeks. If I hadn't worked or eaten, it would have been sooner.
The Lowdown Sookie Stackhouse is a girl who lives in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Vampires have gone public and now walk out and about at night as regular (or as regular as possible) citizens of their respective counties (minus a few, in which case those vamps got the hell outta Dodge). Sookie is considered crazy in her town - she has a small disability (as she calls it). She's telepathic. All her life, Sookie has been able to read minds and since that's a bit like being in a crowded bar x 2, she has to work extra hard to keep herself focused.
Then Bill walks in. Bill, a vampire, whose mind Sookie cannot read. She's drawn to Bill because his mind is like a cool drink of water in a burning desert. But there's a catch with hanging around Bill. Soon Sookie finds herself drawn into the world of the supernatural where she encounters werewolves, shapeshifters, faeries, witches, and more, and has to deal with the humans who feel people that associate with vampires deserve to be spat upon, or worse - killed. Sookie's life was so simple before she met Bill. Now every day could very well be an adventure.
Since this is a box set, you get all seven novels in mass market form (the small paperbacks). I'll go through each one and offer up a tiny blurb and a few of my thoughts and a star count (as opposed to the main 5 star count above). I'll try my best not to give anything away, but given some of the main plots, you may be able to infer a few things, so I suppose you read at your own risk.
#1 - Dead Until Dark (5 stars) Sookie meets Bill, which might not be so bad except someone in Bon Temps is killing girls that share similar aspects of life with Sookie. It can't be Bill, can it? Oh, and did I mention Sookie also gets to meet Eric, ex-Viking turned vampire? Yum.
A great way to start off the series. It's a solid mystery with nice bits of romance thrown in. I was thrilled, thrilled I tell you, to see vampires enjoying their vampireness instead of this angsty crap (a la Angel from Buffy - 10 seconds of that and I want to swallow a knife). Likewise, Harris pokes a bit of fun at the typical gothic vampire junk that everyone else writes. Here vampires are quite normal (though trust me, she does not leave out their supernatural side at all). Oh, and Eric is, well, hehehehe...
#2 - Living Dead In Dallas (4 stars) Sookie's telepathic skills aren't a secret to the vampires around her, and now they'd like her to help them. A vampire in Dallas has disappeared - no small feat considering how strong vampires are. Not to mention one of Sookie's co-workers has been murdered. Hopefully Sookie will be able to figure everything out and not get killed in the process.
Another interesting mystery that introduces new characters and future antagonists and elements that make the stories and plots more 3-dimensional. Likewise, it makes you think what would actually happen in vampires were real and did go public. It wouldn't surprise me if a few things in this novel surfaced. Good stuff with plenty of excitement and tense moments.
#3 - Club Dead (3 stars) Bill goes missing and Eric sends Sookie out to find him. With the sexy werewolf Alcide Herveaux acting as her bodyguard, she heads out to Mississippi. But there's more going on than she thought, and she isn't sure if she'll be able to forgive Bill.
This book gets three stars because I felt the reason for Bill's kidnapping was extremely weak. Especially considering what happens later in the series (which is easy to see coming). I had to pause a couple of times thinking, "Wait, is that it? Seriously? That's kind of lame." However, it was very interesting to see Bill and Sookie hit a nasty, rocky patch that could damage their relationship. And why not? It would be a little boring if Bill was around all the time to save her (not that he does anyway, but you know). Besides, Sookie certainly has more options now...
#4 - Dead to the World (5 stars) Driving home from work and minding her own business, Sookie suddenly sees Eric on the side of the road, jogging in the direction of her house. Except he doesn't remember anything. He knows he's a vampire and he can speak English - that's about it. While Sookie looks after him, her brother Jason goes missing. Who's behind Eric's memory loss and do they have Jason? If Sookie doesn't figure things out fast, someone might die...
So far this book is my favorite. Probably because I freakin' love Eric. Out of all the guys that vie for Sookie's attention (don't worry, it's not too many, but at one point I started to worry), I like him best (though the upcoming Quinn tied for the spot). There's plenty of action and a lovely dose of romance to boot. And considering how Eric comes back in the end, you just know it's going to make for some interesting goodies in the future. Eric for the win! Plus, it has a fantastic bit at the end (where you may find yourself screaming, "Yes! Finally that bitch is dead!")
#5 - Dead as a Doornail (4 stars) The wolfpack of Shreveport (a town near Bon Temps) is about to induct a new leader, Eric struggles to remember what he did while with Sookie, someone is shooting weres and shifters sniper-style, and Sookie's brother Jason is a suspect (due to developments in the previous novel). And all through it, Sookie finds herself dragged around and stressed out - will she be able to figure out who the real sniper is before it's decided she's guilty by association?
Every one of these books has multiple threads you'll have to follow, and sometimes it can get a little confusing. More so when you're going backwards trying to remember why so-and-so was trying to kill Sookie and even more so when that reason has roots in a much earlier book. Still, it's enjoyable reading and when you're not reading about a few of the random day-to-day actions Sookie has to go through, you're soaking in the action and trying to figure out who's doing the killing (a bit easy this time, actually) and who might die next. Feel the excitement!
#6 - Definitely Dead (4 stars) Sookie's cousin Hadley has died. The unusual aspect of this is that Hadley died a vampire. She left everything to Sookie, but there's something slightly fishy about the whole ordeal - especially when Sookie discovers a few very unexpected things in Hadley's apartment. Now Sookie finds herself helping the vampire Queen of Louisiana (that's right, they divided up the states between one another) and if she can't get what the Queen wants, there'll be hell to pay. Then again, even if she does, there might be hell to pay as it is because someone wants Sookie - bad.
While I do have to say that this book's climax was one of the most exciting, I gave it four stars because I've been going on how memorable each book has been and for most of this I'm kind of fuzzy (of course, I was reading this in a succession similar to how I might down potato chips). Still, readers will find themselves more and more immersed in Harris's interesting vampire subculture and the underhanded dealings and interesting relationships they have. And then there's the introduction of the oh-so-sexy Quinn (hell yeah were-----!). Awww, I'm not gonna tell you what he turns into.
#7 - All Together Dead (5 stars) Roped into going to the vampire summit as the Queen's little telepathic helper, Sookie's got to keep on the lookout for anyone aiming to sweep up Louisiana as their own. Hurricane Katrina has left the Queen's power weak and they're taking all the help they can get. At least Sookie gets to be near her new potential honey, Quinn. Complete with marriages, conventions, and dances, it's vampires galore. If only Sookie can stay alive through this whole thing...
This is one of those books where you can see what's going to happen from a mile away (ok, some people might catch it, others might not. Depends on how hard you're looking and if you're looking at all) and you want to start yelling at the main character, you know, the whole, "Don't go into that room! The killer's in the closet!" kind of thing. Still, even knowing what's going to happen adds in suspense because you don't know *when* it's going to happen, how the situation will go down, or who's going to survive it. It's exciting and thrilling and you'll breathe a few sighs of relief when the characters you may be pulling for make it. I also liked how Harris included hurricane Katrina into the mix. It gives the books more realism, even if it puts them in the here and now and here and now there are no vampires to speak of. Heh.
Overall Yes, I know. My average stars math doesn't add up. But the stars are for the series as a whole so forget the average. I've been very pleased with the series thus far. I'm enjoying the characters, I don't hate Sookie (some characters can grate after a while), none of the vampires have ever become angsty or typical. I love Eric and cast my vote his way. Other characters are fun and you can get into them over time so that you shake your head and mutter, "Dumbass" when someone does something completely ignorant.
Each book has had a pretty good plot with plenty of little side quests to indulge in. They all link together so I highly recommend reading them in order. Harris also writes them in first person so you get everything through Sookie's point of view, which is good and rather important since she has telepathy.
The downsides are few and far between. They're really not worth worrying about, just more like something you'd notice as you read anyway. One is that Harris tends to tell us what everyone is wearing. The first few books you tend to go with it and nothing think much of it, but after a while you'll start to think, "Ok, do I really need to know what this dude is wearing?" Especially if they aren't important and we'll only be visiting with them for about five minutes.
Harris also tends to introduce people and then not refer back to who they are and why they're important much, much later on or even in a different book. I found myself within the same book a few times wondering, "Who's this guy? He sounds important. Where did she introduce him?" But at the same time, she'll reiterate who Bill and Eric are and how they fit into Sookie's life. After a while you'll end up sitting there thinking, "Ok, I know. Move on please."
For those wondering about the romantic parts, sex is kept to a minimum. When I say that I mean there are no orgies, Sookie does not hook up with one guy on page 5 and hook up with another on page 6, and Harris keeps the writing to a minimum as well - you're not going to get 5 whole pages of thrusting and groaning. You're lucky if you get one. There's a good chance the opposite will happen and you'll end up wanting more. On that same note, not every book has a romantic encounter in it. So don't think you're gonna get some sugar with every novel.
I'm still rooting for Eric. I mean, Viking. Come on!
Harris keeps the action up fairly well. You do have some downtime where you have to follow Sookie around while she gets up and gets breakfast and puts on makeup and does her hair, but it isn't done spoonful by spoonful, so it's easy to gloss over.
Everyone who's asked me how I've liked the series so far has gotten a positive response. I don't think I'll have anything negative to say for quite some time, or unless Charlaine Harris suddenly freaks out and swings her books off into the deep end, but I seriously doubt that's going to happen. So if you're feeling like a bit of paranormal romance and enjoy vampires and shapeshifters, the occasional faerie, witch, or even a maenad, then hey, you're good to go.