Today I finished reading Charlaine Harris‘s Dead Until Dark, the novel on which the HBO series True Blood is based. I love the series, so I thought that I would read the book. It turns out that I love the book too!

My experience with reading vampire fiction is rather limited. I think I’ve only read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a few Anne Rice novels, and Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories. I’ve been wanting to read some didn’t know what to start with. I’d also like to find some good gay vampire fiction, but I’m worried that it all just be too cheesy. What I like best about Dead Until Dark is that it’s dark, sexy, and fun without being cheesy (or at least when it is a little cheesy, it admits it!).

Dead Until Dark introduces us to Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in a small Louisiana town who happens to be able to hear other people’s thoughts. When a vampire named Bill walks into the bar in which she works, Sookie is immediately fascinated by him. In the world of Dead Until Dark, vampires have “come out of the coffin” and mingle openly among humans. This has been made possible by a Japanese drink of synthetic blood that keeps vampires alive without the need for human blood.

When Sookie saves Bill from being drained by two local dealers (vampire blood is  an aphrodisiac and stimulant for humans), she and Bill embark on an unusual and sometimes difficult relationship. Making this relationship all the more complicated is the suspicion that Bill may be involved in the brutal murders of local women, each of whom have had sex with a vampire recently.

I should note up front that the HBO series departs from the novel in a few important ways (though I’ll try not to give away any important plot points). Perhaps most importantly, the series augments the role of Jason Stackhouse, Sookie’s sexpot brother. In the series, Jason is a major character. In the book, he only appears infrequently. One result is that the book is a little less sexually focused than the series.

The series also creates the character of Tara, Sookie’s spunky African American best friend. I love her feisty one-liners in the series, so I was surprised that she isn’t in the book. Tara’s out and proud cousin Lafayette is also barely a character in the novel. As a result of these characters’ absence or minimal appearance, the novel’s plot is a little more streamlined than the series too.

Without these characters, the novel focuses entirely on Sookie. Indeed, we never see anything that Sookie doesn’t witness firsthand. What this means is that we share Sookie’s point of view. I found her to be a very likable character, so I liked being inside her head. I especially like that this gives us a better perspective on her relationship with Bill. In the series, her hesitation to be with him seems somewhat arbitrary and inconsistent. Knowing her thoughts more fully helps us understand her hesitations and (seemingly) constant irritations.

I can’t go into too much of the plot without giving away key elements. So, I’ll only say that the murder mystery seemed easy to figure out. I had the murderer pegged almost from the first time we meet him/her. While that might have been disappointing in another book, for me Dead Until Dark is really all about Sookie’s discovery that the world is actually a far more complicated place than she had ever imagined.

I also like the way in which Harris describes Sookie’s relationship with Bill and allows it to unfold. I’ll just say that parts of the relationship are very sexy and Harris is really good at writing these sections.

Of course, it’s now impossible for me to read this novel without having the HBO actors in my head, but I did manage to get away from just seeing Anna Paquin as Sookie, Stephen Moyer as Bill, and the other actors as their characters. I thought that Harris’s world came alive for me even without the series’s images in my head. It stands on its own.

Overall, I really enjoyed Dead Until Dark. I intend to find a copy of the next book in the series this coming weekend. I definitely want to know what happens next to Bill, Sookie, Jason, and the rest. I recommend Dead Until Dark to anyone who enjoys vampire fiction or just a good, fun read.