Narrated by Johanna Parker
Dead Until Dark, is the first book in The Southern Vampire Mystery Series, a modern day classic paranormal vampire romance. Also known as the Sookie Stackhouse series, it spawned the highly successful HBO television series, True Blood, not to mention my love for audiobooks. It is one of my all-time favorite series!
I devoured all thirteen books a while back so I decided to relisten to Dead Until Dark as my contribution to A Month of Romance Audiobooks. What a treat! Interestingly, listening to it again with the knowledge of what’s to come, I got to appreciate many nuances that I no doubt missed the first time.
In setting up this incredibly complex paranormal world full of vampires, shapeshifters, fairies, and all sorts of other supernatural influences (not to mention the humans that are trying to learn how to live side-by-side with these creatures), Charlaine Harris leaves little tiny threads in Dead Until Dark that she picks up in later books to weave together her intricate yarn. All that said, Dead Until Dark, could be read as a stand-alone book, as there is a resolution to the immediate mystery, but if you are looking for a conclusion to the heroine’s love life, you will need to read the entire series.
I had also forgotten what a master narrator Johanna Parker is. I enjoyed the story the first time but now, after having listened to dozens of audiobooks in between, I can say that Ms. Parker’s narration is amongst one of the best I have ever heard! She has a remarkable voice range. From Sookie’s grandmother to the King, Elvis Presley (yes, Ms. Harris is such a pro at intricate plots that she even finds a way for “Bubba” to play a part), Ms. Parker’s rendition is fascinating and her acting ability is top notch. She makes you feel like you are eavesdropping rather than listening to a book, as her ability to translate each character’s emotions is that profound.
Set in modern day Bon Temps, Lousiana, Dead Until Dark gives us a glimpse of small town life in in the deep South. In the world Ms. Harris’ has created, however, there is an additional wrinkle: vampires have “recently come out of the coffin” and are now trying to assimilate into mainstream society. Vampires owe this new possibility to True Blood, a synthetic blood substitute, which allows them to feed without killing. Of course, as has historically been the case with other “minorities” in the South, this attempt to mainstream is met with great suspicion, resistance, and, in some cases, even outright violence.
The main character in the series is Sookie Stackhouse and the books are written from her point of view. In Dead Until Dark, we quickly learn that Sookie, a twenty-five-year-old waitress and long time resident of Bon Temps, straddles the supernatural and natural worlds. You see, Sookie has a “disability” or “gift”, depending on your perspective, that allows her to hear other people’s thoughts. It doesn’t take long for the vampires, and other supernatural beings, to realize that Sookie is special, making her both intriguing and desirable to them and leading Sookie to a whole host of potential suitors and dangerous situations. In Dead Until Dark, the specific danger is a serial killer who appears to be targeting women who have been romantically involved with vampires. Given Sookie’s new found attraction to vampires, she could easily be the next target.
Ms. Parker does an amazing job of portraying Sookie with a southern drawl that perfectly epitomizes the two hallmarks of her character: naivete and strength.
Bill Compton, the first vampire Sookie meets, instantly takes notice of Sookie. He was turned around the time of the Revolutionary War and, as vampire age equates to power, Bill makes a decently powerful vampire. The two meet when Sookie defends Bill from drug dealers who are attempting to drain him of his blood. Vampire blood is a coveted, powerful, addictive, and illegal drug in Sookie’s world. Bill becomes smitten and starts pursuing her. His passion is greatly alluring to Sookie as she has never been able to have a relationship with a man due to her “disability”. Interacting with Bill, like all vampires, however, is blissfully quiet for Sookie as she cannot hear his thoughts – a fact which allows her to experience her own feelings for once. Being naive in the ways of love and vampires, Sookie commences a relationship with Bill.
Ms. Parker’s performance of Bill is equally impressive with her use of a slow, seductive southern voice for his character, one which masterfully brings to life his calculating and passionate nature.
Complicating matters is Sam Merlotte – another one of Sookie’s potential long-term love interests. Sam is the owner of Merlotte’s Bar, where Sookie works, and is less than all-human himself. In Dead Until Dark, we learn exactly how special he is and how special Sookie is to him. While Bill is the old school, passionate suitor, Sam is the modern day, cuddly teddy bear, or shall I say collie, who can love and protect her without all the moral turpitude that Bill represents. Sookie, however, is annoyed that Sam never appeared interested in her until after Bill showed an interest.
Amazingly, Ms. Parker is able to create yet another unique southern voice for her characterization of Sam, one that easily communicates Sam’s special protective and sweet nature.
Yet another potential suitor is Eric Northman, an even older and, therefore, more powerful vampire. While not as prominently featured in Dead Until Dark as Bill or Sam, we do get a glimpse of how Eric could shape Sookie’s future, both romantic and otherwise. As the most powerful vampire in the area, Eric is accustomed to getting what he wants and is not above skirting convention or rules to make it happen making Eric our alpha, bad boy suitor as Sookie has definitely piqued his interest.
The Scandinavian accent that Ms. Harris uses for Eric is perfect. Not only does it do his arrogant, powerful, and seductive persona justice, but it also is the epitome of the Viking vampire he represents.
All in all, Dead Until Dark is an amazing debut which perfectly lays the foundation for the intricate supernatural world that forms the setting for the series. Combined with Ms. Parker’s wonderful narration, Dead Until Dark is an audiobook that should not be missed by any fan of paranormal romance!