I discovered The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (back when it was called the Southern Vampire Mysteries and before it was HBO’s True Blood) entirely on accident. I picked up the paperback on a whim while standing in line to buy Anna Karenina at The Dusty Bookshelf. The title caught my eye, and though I thought the cover art was a bit silly, the blurb on the back sounded fun and I thought it might balance out the serious and sad classic of Russian lit I’d already selected.
I remember feeling bold in my choice. As new college graduate, I reveled in the freedom to read anything I wanted after years of being inundated by journal articles and dense academic texts. Since it was more comfortable to read the lightweight paperback than the thick copy of Anna Karenina, I started the first chapter of Dead Until Dark as I sipped my smoothie on my lunch break. I quickly became so absorbed in the story I was late going back to work. The next day I frantically sought out the sequels, and each May for the past 6 years I’ve arranged my schedule in order to be able to read the latest release in one sitting (though I still haven’t gotten around to reading Tolstoy).
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of the series, it follows the life of twenty-something telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse as she is drawn into the supernatural world. She meets her first vampire and discovers she can’t read his thoughts, which is a major plus for someone who has to endure unlimited access to the thoughts of fellow citizens of small-town Bon Temps in Northern Louisiana for her entire life. Over the course of 12 books, Sookie solved supernatural mysteries involving vampires, werewolves, shifters, and fairies, had her heart broken, and learned why she possesses her unique ability. She’s been shot, staked, and tortured, but still manages to great each day with a smile.
Along the way she acquired many enemies and allies, and in the final installment, cheekily titled Dead Ever After, not only must she deal with being framed for a murder, she must also decide whether there is any future for her with Viking vampire Eric Northman. Their on-again, off-again relationship is what drew so many rabid fans to the series, and Harris has been surprised by reader’s devotion to the often terse, sometimes violent, but always sexy vampire. Though she remains friends with her first vampire boyfriend Bill, has been pursued by werewolf Alcide, briefly dated the weretiger Quinn, and keeps longtime friend and boss-turned-partner Sam on the back burner, in the eyes of most fans, she’s always meant to end up with Eric.
While many readers gave up on the series a couple of books ago, I’ve remained a dedicated fan. Though the ending was leaked online in the weeks prior to the release, I steadfastly avoided spoilers, intending to experience the finale on my own without outside influence. My disappointment in Dead Ever After had little to do with the resolution of the romantic subplot; I took issue with the departure from the style of the past twelve books. Interjecting chapters in third person perspective detracted from Sookie’s first person narration. Sookie’s unique voice and perspective made the series so delightfully fun, and this new format disrupted the flow of the story.
I would also have preferred the focus remain on the vampire politics that have been the basis for the plots of the last few books. But instead of further exploring the vampire hierarchy and how the supernatural community is adjusting to living out in the open, Harris brings back minor characters from earlier in the series to get in on some last minute action. It’s the (mostly) human enemies that are threatening her, and their motives seem dubious at best. Though I wasn’t surprised by the flat-out ridiculous mystery—these have always been a bit silly—ultimately, the plot fell rather flat.
In the end, I’m glad I committed to finishing the series, if only because I’ll always love Sookie. The plucky blonde waitress is a complicated and nuanced character. Despite the dark moments in Dead Ever After, readers are still treated to those times where Sookie is so funny, you can’t help but chuckle. Sookie is resilient. She adapts. She exists in a moral grey area while still staying true to her core beliefs. This is the series that showed me that reading could be just for fun and didn’t have to serve a great purpose, and for that, I’ll always be grateful. Harris manages to blend elements from urban fantasy, mystery, and paranormal romance with an added dash of humor to produce a unique story that will always have a special place in my heart.