Series Review: Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire Mysteries Series by Charlaine Harris
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books. It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole. These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another. Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.
Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in the rural town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, and she has a secret. She’s a telepath, and it’s ostracized her from most of the people in her town. But when vampires come out of the coffin, Sookie discovers that she can’t read their minds. Mind reading made her dating life non-existent, for obvious reasons, but with vampires, Sookie can feel somewhat normal. She soon starts to get pulled into their supernatural world, which contains more than they’re letting on to the mainstream public.
I first want to make it very clear that this series review is talking exclusively about the books and not the tv show inspired by them, True Blood. There will be no spoilers for the show and no comparisons between the books and the show. The show diverged very quickly from the books, so I think it’s fair to keep discussion of the two separate. Moving right along!
This series takes the mystery series whodunit in the vein of Agatha Christie and drenches it in the supernatural and the American south, utilizing it to tell the overarching story of one woman choosing who she wants to be. Perhaps because of the presence of some handsome leading men and the occasional sex scene, some mistake the series for a romance one. But this series is truly not a romance. Sookie’s romantic life (and sex life) is really secondary to the mysteries she solves and her slow discovery of who she is and who she wants to be.
The whodunit plots are generally murder mysteries. The violence is moderate. If you can handle a vampire biting someone or knowing someone is being beheaded without actually getting the gore described to you, you can handle the violence in this series. The whodunit plots start out engaging but gradually become more repetitive and ho-hum, almost as if the author was running out of ideas for situations to place Sookie in. Similarly, Sookie gets kidnapped and has to get saved by her supernatural friends kind of a lot.
The setting of a supernatural American south is well imagined and evoked. Both small town, rural lives and larger southern cities like Dallas and New Orleans are touched upon. The American north is visited once, however, Sookie has a strong aversion to northern women that sours the representation of the north in the book.
The characters can sometimes feel like overwrought caricatures. While some characters are given depth, most are not. This is odd, since Sookie can read minds. one would assume that she, as the first person narrator, would have a very three-dimensional view of those around her. And yet she doesn’t. Sookie likes to say that she’s for equality and seeing the good in everyone but she actually judges people very harshly. For instance, she thinks it’s a shame that women who are not virgins wear white wedding dresses.
Sookie’s character does develop, albeit minimally, over the course of the books. Characters should grow and change, particularly over the course of 13 books, but unfortunately Sookie’s character changes to become less and less likable. This is extra frustrating when the book is told from her perspective. Instead of becoming more powerful and strong (emotionally, mentally) over the course of the series, Sookie becomes less and less able to handle the things going on around her. She also continues to act shocked and appalled at the wars and violence she doesn’t just see, but participates in, in spite of it now being a normal part of her life. Perhaps if she was just repeatedly a victim this mentality would make sense, but Sookie enacts violence on those around her and then acts disgusted at what the vampires/werewolves/etc… do, which comes off as hypocritical. Either own your own actions and validate their necessity or stop doing them. Don’t do certain violent actions then deny your involvement while simultaneously judging others for doing precisely what you just did. The fact that Sookie slowly becomes this hypocritical person makes her less and less likable. Similarly, she starts out the books with a firm belief in social justice and equality for supes but over the course of the series clearly comes to believe that humans are better than supes. I don’t blame her for wanting a quiet life or for wanting to stay human or wanting to have babies but she could have done all of those things without coming to view supes as inferior. It is frustrating for the reader to have a main character in an almost cozy style mystery series gradually change into someone it is difficult to empathize with.
There is a consistent presence of GLBTQ characters, albeit mostly in secondary roles, throughout the series. Homophobia is depicted in an extremely negative light since only the bad guys ever exhibit it. Unfortunately, there is an instance of bi erasure in the book. One of the characters is identified as gay but everyone also acknowledges that he periodically sleeps with women. Even the character himself calls himself gay, so this isn’t just a case of the author writing a realistic amount of the realities of bi erasure into the book.
The sex in the book is not well-written. It is just awkward, cringe-inducing, and laughable most of the time. But the sex scenes aren’t very often, and they do fit in with the rest of the book. Just don’t go to this series looking to get really turned on.
This sounds like a lot of criticism for the series but some of these things, such as the campy, two-dimensional characters, are part of what makes the series enjoyable. It’s kitschy, not to be taken too seriously. It’s a series to come to and read precisely to laugh and roll your eyes. To be utterly bemused at the sheer number of supernatural creatures and the ridiculousness of how they organize themselves. To sigh in frustration at Sookie as she gets kidnapped yet again or is oblivious yet again to who the murderer is. It’s a series that’s candy for those who enjoy camp and not too much violence with a touch of the supernatural in their mysteries.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review
Dead in the Family, review
Dead Reckoning, review
Dead Ever After, review