Friday, June 24, 2011

Read & React: Dead Until Dark - Part 1

Welcome, Fabulous Readers, and thank you for joining me for this, the very first ever Read & React at SunnyReads!  As you can see, we are sinking our fangs into Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris, which is the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Please join me as I read (& react!) for the very first time to this highly praised novel.

Before we begin, a quick note on spoilers: There will be some (OK lots) - but only for the chapters actually covered in the post, and as we go on, the chapters that have been covered in previous weeks.  I may also make comparisons between the chapters covered and all seasons of HBO's adaptation of the series, True Blood.

As far as the comment section, please join in!!  I want to know what you think of my commentary, of the story itself, the characters, everything!  But if you've read the series before, or read ahead in this book, please don't let anything slip about what's coming up next!  Thanks in advance!

So there's all that.  So here we go!


What Happens:

Sookie Stackhouse wastes no time at all in introducing herself and the very first line hooked me like few have in the past.
"I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar."
In fact, she had been hoping one would visit the sleepy little town of Bon Temps in rural northern Louisiana ever since the vampires "came out of the coffin" two years before.  Sookie is a waitress in a bar called Merlotte's, named after the owner, Sam Merlotte, and she describes herself as  
"...blond and blue-eyed and twenty-five, and my legs are strong and my bosom is substantial, and I have a waspy waistline."  
 She knows she is pretty, but she doesn't date much anymore because of what she calls her "disability."  Everyone else just thinks she crazy.

She immediately knows he is a vampire, even though no one else in the bar seems to notice.  Later in the evening she realizes that he has been joined by "the Rat Couple," Mack & Denise Rattray, local drug dealers and all-around white trash. She's a little dismayed when her friend and co-worker, Arlene, points out how much Denise is flirting with the vampire, stroking her throat and the sides of her neck with her fingers, while her husband Mack stares at the vampire.  Sookie wanders closer to their table and lets down the guard on her "disability," and discovers that the Rat Couple have been previously jailed for vampire draining, and that they currently intend to drain this vampire of every drop of blood in his body and sell it for $200 per ounce.

Shocked, she suddenly realizes that the three have left, and she runs out to the parking lot to try and warn him, grabbing a chain from the back of a pickup truck that belongs to her brother Jason, who is inside the bar flirting with every girl he can.  She finds the vampire in the shadowy corner of the lot, on the ground with the Rat Couple already draining his blood while he's held in place with a silver chain.  Mack attacks Sookie with a knife, and she flings the chain at him, which wraps around his neck, then grabs the knife he drops and chases the pair away.  Picking the chain off of where it has burned its' way into the vampires flesh, she helps him sit up and asks if he's OK.  She then does something that she rarely does and purposely tries to listen to his thoughts, and suddenly realizes that she can't hear him.
"...and in my excitement I did something I ordinarily would never do, because it was pushy, and personal, and revealed I was disabled.  I turned fully to him and put my hands on both sides of his white face, and I looked at him intently.  I focused with all my energy.  Nothing.  It was like having to listen to the radio all the time, to stations you didn't get to select, and then suddenly tuning in to a wavelength you couldn't receive.  It was heaven."
  While she's marveling at how amazing it would be to have a companion whose thoughts she couldn't hear, he is wondering why she isn't afraid to be alone with a hungry vampire, then realizes that while he's been recovering, she's been wrapping the long thin silver chain that had held him down around her arms and neck.
"'But there's a juicy artery in your groin," he said after a pause to regroup, his voice as slithery as a snake on a slide.  "Don't you talk dirty," I told him.  "I won't listen to that."
 Then she laughs in his face when she finds out is name is Bill, and not something more dignified like Antoine, or Basil, or Langford.  She stands up and dusts herself off cheerfully, waving goodbye to Bill the vampire.

The next day her brother Jason shows up (he's already heard about the fight with the Rat Couple), and tells her and Gran about Maudette Pickens, a young woman who was just found murdered.  That night when she gets to work, her boss Sam gives her a lecture about chasing trouble in dark parking lots.  Then two nights later Bill comes into the bar again, and Sookie asks him to meet her after her shift is over, so she can ask him to come to one of Adele's club meetings and talk about the civil war, since he was there.  But after the bar closes, instead of finding Bill in the parking lot, she finds a really pissed of Rat Couple who beat the crap out of her, kicking and beating on her until she thinks she's about to die.

Suddenly she hears a dog growl and then a new voice, and the beating stops.  Bill is there, apologizing for being late, and convinces her to drink some of his blood before she dies.  The blood heals her completely, and while she recovers she tells Bill that she is telepathic, then asks if he'll come talk to Gran's club.  He agrees, and asks if he can "call on her some evening." As she heads to her car she suddenly remembers to ask if the dog was ok, but Bill has already vanished into the night.


Wow!  Lots of stuff happening in this first chapter, lots of characters to introduce, and settings to fix in place.  Also, it seems we are not going to waste any time at all getting straight to the blood drinking!!  Normally I  wouldn't expect to see that until later in the story, but apparently we're getting that out of the way right off the bat!

So if I was a Rattray, I would know that on average a human body has about 6 quarts of blood.  There's 32 fluid ounces in a quart, times 6 quarts is 192 ounces, times $200 per ounce is $38,400!!  Of course, that assumes that my math skills and Google are both correct - But still, wow, not bad for an evenings' work!

However, one would assume that a vampire with any experience at all under his belt would not allow himself to be so easily trapped by a couple of white-trash stoners, but maybe Bill the vampire isn't as savvy as we would like to think?

Also - I love Gran!!  She's almost as excited about the new resident of Bon Temps as Sookie is, which is really cool to see in a Gran-type person.  You'd expect her to be all finger-shaking & safety-lecturing, but I guess that job is falling to the hunky bar owner Sam.  Charlaine Harris does an amazing job of setting the scene and describing the characters, so I'm digging what we've got so far.  I love that she has made the vampires' blood into a human drug, as I can see that causing all sorts of problems in the future.  I was afraid that might be one of the liberties that True Blood had taken with the story.  I don't have much else to say about this opening chapter, so let's move on to Chapter 2!

Chapter 2

What Happens:

The next morning Sookie tells Gran that Bill will be "calling" on them the following evening, and Gran begins planning her house cleaning strategy.  Gran & Sookie hear via the gossip line that the Rat Couple were killed in a freak accident involving a trailer house and suspected tornado (insert Dorothy joke here), so on her way to work Sookie stops by the trailer to see the damage, and is found there by Sheriff Dearborn and Mike Spencer, the funeral director.  After trading sharp words with the Sheriff, Sookie arrives at work, and during the busy evening Rene saves her from the unwanted attentions of a customer, and then tells her that she reminds him of his little sister Cindy, who done run off to the big city.

The following day Sookie spends the day helping Gran prepare for Bill's evening visit, and Sookie ponders the possibility of dating a vampire, and wonders if they can even "do it."  Bill arrives after sundown and is introduced to Gran, who gossips about the Rattrays' death and the tornado, completely unsuspecting that said tornado might be in her very own living room!  Then she settles down to business and begins quizzing Bill on the Civil War and which families were in Bon Temps 130 years ago when he lived there.  They finally work out a date and time for Bill to come speak about the Civil War to Gran's club, The Descendants of the Glorious Dead.  Finally Bill suggests that he and Sookie go for an evening stroll, and Gran shoos them out of the house.  As they wander through the darkness, Bill asks her if the scene at the Rattray's trailer had bothered her.
"I feel very...hmmm. Fragile.  When I think about the trailer."  "You knew I was strong."  I tilted my head from side to side, considering.  "Yes, but I didn't realize the full extent of your strength," I told him. "or your imagination."
 She ask him how he became a vampire, but he avoids the question, and he tries to glamor her and they discover that it doesn't work on her.  She ends up telling him about her childhood and what it was like growing up telepathic.  While discussing whether or not vampires have souls, Sookie mentions that it's not his fault he caught the virus, which is what the vampires have been telling the humans, that their condition is based on a virus.
"Bill snorted, even managing to sound elegant doing that.  "There have been theories as long as there have been vampires.  Maybe that one is true."  Then he looked as if he was sorry he'd said that. "if what makes a vampire is a virus," he went on in a more offhand manner, "it's a selective one."
 On the way back to Sookie's house she offers to help Bill find workmen and contractors who can be trusted to do the repairs on his house, which she learns is just across the cemetery from her and Gran.  Once home again they share their first kiss.
"I felt him shudder. He turned his head so his lips touched mine.  After a moment, I reach to circle his neck with my arms.  His kiss deepened, and I parted my lips. I'd never been kissed like this. It went on and on until I thought the whole world was involved in this kiss in the vampire's mouth on mine."
 The next morning, Sam calls and asks Sookie to come into work to cover for another waitress, Dawn, who hasn't shown up.  Sookie agrees, but once there she finds herself distracted and accidentally reads Arlene's mind and finds out that Arlene is afraid she might be pregnant again.  Arlene snaps at her to stay out of her head, and Sookie goes to the ladies room where Sam finds her.  Sookie has never told Sam about her telepathy, but he's heard the rumors and has figured out the truth, and when Sookie expresses how much work it takes to keep her guard up all the time, and how relaxing it is to be around Bill, Sam invites her to try to read his mind and see if she can hear him.  She declines, but secretly decides to try sometime when he isn't expecting it.

After her shift is done that evening she stops by Bill's house on the way home to deliver the contractor information, and finds a strange car in his driveway.  When she knocks at the door a female vampire answers the door, and inside the house Sookie finds that Bill has guests - three vampires and two humans who are basically sex and blood slaves.  Bill seems almost cowed by these strange vampires, who are trying to convince Bill to drink from the male human Jerry, and Sookie "hears" that the human man is infected with the one blood virus that is harmful to vampires and is trying to take out as many vamps as he can before he dies.  Sookie warns Bill just in time, and Jerry attacks Sookie, trying to strangle her for warning the vampire of his condition.  Bill breaks Jerry's wrist and drags him off of her, the others all leave to take their revenge on Jerry, leaving Sookie and Bill alone in the house.
"The minute I heard the car start up outside, I fainted."
 When she awakens, Bill explains that when vampires live together in "nests," they become less and less human, and far more cruel.  She gathers herself together, still terrified, and gives Bill the list of contractors she brought, telling him they can all be trusted and don't mind working for a vampire.  As she leaves he asks if he can kiss her again, but she refuses.
"He reached past me to open the door, but I thought he was reaching for me, and I flinched. I spun on my heel and almost ran to my car, tears blurring my vision again. I was glad the drive home was so short."

So, there's several interesting points here.  Apparently there is a "party line" that the vampires have been feeding to the humans which states that it is a virus that makes them a vampire.  Bill sounds as if he doesn't believe that, but then realizes that he might be spilling beans that shouldn't be spilled, and tries to cover his ass by claiming that it is one theory among many, and that the virus is apparently very selective.  I'm not buying it, Mr. Bill the Vampire - I think you're hiding something.

The second interesting point, I think, is that while most blood conditions (viruses, disease, HIV, AIDS, etc) don't affect vampires, the author left a little hole in their armor.  If they drink from someone who has something called the "Sino-AIDS virus" it can seriously harm or even kill the vampire in question, which is why poor Jerry is trying to spread the virus to as many vampires as possible before he begins to look sick.

Also, for the first time Sookie seems to suddenly realize that dating a vampire isn't just all moonlit walks and brainy-silence - and not all vampires are nice.  Some are icky and depraved and perverted, mean and cruel and scary.  I think it's good for her to realize that Bill - in his attempt to "mainstream" - is the exception, not the rule.  I am curious as to why Bill doesn't seem willing to stand up to the Psycho Three until they threaten Sookie - are they older than Bill?  Stronger?  The story doesn't really say (at least not at this point), but I'm fairly sure they will show up again, as they did in True Blood.

I think it's fairly obvious that Sam Merlotte carries a torch for Sookie, and I think she knows it but isn't willing to go there with a boss, since good jobs are hard to find.  But I hope that she tries to listen to his thoughts soon, to see if she can "hear" him.

Oddly enough, I'm finding that generally speaking, I don't like Bill the Vampire.  Is that weird? Hopefully that will change soon.  He's not as likeable as Bill in True Blood is.

Differences Between the Book and True Blood:

So far there aren't very many differences between the two, at least as far as the story line goes.  The main differences I've noticed so far, are:
  • No Tara.  This is very very sad, y'all - very sad indeed!
  • No one says "y'all."  What's up with that, y'all??
  • Hardly any Lafayette, who is one of my favorite characters in True Blood.  And since he usually has the best one-liners, AND the best eye-liner, I'm kinda missing him...
  • Apparently Sookie already suspects that Sam is not completely human - but I don't think she knows just what he is.  Yet.
  • In True Blood, Rene Lenier is basically an outsider from somewhere else, and is dating / engaged to Arlene.  But in the book, Rene grew up in Bon Temps, went to High School with Jason, and was already married to Arlene and then divorced, and now they are sort of dating again.
  • Speaking of Jason, in the book he doesn't seem to be the prime murder suspect in Maudette's death that he was in the show.

So that wraps up the first entry in our very first Read & React!  I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you will come back again next week (I'm planning for Monday) for the next installment, where we'll cover Chapters 3 and 4 of Dead Until Dark.

So what did y'all think?  Do y'all like Bill the Vampire?  Is Sookie biting off more than she can chew, or will she be all right?  Should she be dating Sam instead?  Why is Jason such a man-whore?  Please leave YOUR commentary below, but y'all remember, if you've read ahead, don't spoil things for those of us who haven't!  Thanks for joining, and y'all come back next time for the next edition of...DEAD UNTIL DARK!


  1. Wow that is a very thorough React! Much more than my own, I tried to jot a couple of thoughts down in between the pairs of chapters.

    1. I love Sookie! Such a spunky and tough girl.
    2. Why was she so excited to meet a vampire? And why didn't she go to the next town over if she knew they were there?
    3. Gran is the coolest lady there is! Jason, though he is kind of a jerk to the ladies at least he does seem to care about Sookie.
    4. Sam? Hmmmm? A lot of questions there, maybe he is a werewolf?
    5. Bill seems like kind of a wimp, but still very likeable.

    All in all I am loving the book and having a really hard time pacing myself!

  2. @~Ang Hiya! So glad you made it back! You're right, Jason is kind of a jerk, isn't he? Maybe he'll grow out of it, in time...

  3. I had a wondering moment about Bill's apparent lack of savvy too - and you’ll find as you read the rest of the series that Bill is very savvy...

    You might be upset about Lafayette though, and Tara too - neither of them play major roles in the books and were fleshed out significantly for the TV show, which was definitely a good idea, in my opinion, although they are two areas where the TV show deviated quite wildly from the books...

    Hope you continue to enjoy reading - you've got some GREAT stuff ahead!

  4. Hopefully Jason does get better *crosses fingers*

    I really want to like Bill but its just not happening yet.

    I really think I need to figure out how to get the old seasons of True Blood!