Sunday, November 09, 2008

Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Books
Beat Handeland's Werewolf Nightcreatures

Lori Handeland has my respect as author; anyone who can make a living turning out novel after novel deserves accolades. This isn’t about trashing a penwoman. Rather, it’s an investigation into why I find one fictional world compelling and the other boring.

I am so enthralled by the world Harris creates in her Sookie Stackhouse novels (source of the HBO Trueblood series) that I became concerned about polishing off the eight novels too quickly. I can tear through a typical airport novel in a day. Handeland’s werewolf series earned many complimentary reviews on I purchased the Nightcreature novels as a set on ebay.

I have finished the first four novels in each series. Here’s five reasons why I love the world Harris has created.

Harris creates interesting, appealing multi-dimensional characters.

Heroine Sookie Stackhouse is so unique that 150-year-old vampire Bill Compton asks her several times, “What are you?” Sookie is a small-town waitress, psychic, and brave, but she has off-days like anyone else. I may be 35 years older than Sookie, but I can relate to her concerns, such as how to afford gravel for the driveway or a new coat to replace one splattered with the brains of a shapeshifter who tried to kill her.

The vampires are a mix of evil and good, like humans. I can move almost seamlessly from my world into the one Harris has creates for Sookie and her herd. Each Handeland heroine, on the other hand, has two interests: killing werewolves and having great sex with the guy in her life. Handeland also created a writing conundrum for herself by writing in the voice of a new heroine in each book. Handeland gets around the similarity in voice of the first two protagonists by playing it up. They become best friends. The third book was so by-the-numbers that I finished it in three hours while standing in line to vote, skipping over anything that made me yawn.

The Southern vampire stories are lightened with humor.

Sookie Stackhouse is a kind-hearted misfit. She tends to think charitably of those around her, living, dead, or supernatural. Her humor is more often self-deprecating than unkind to others. Handeland’s gals are tough, alienated, and often bitter. The humor often denigrates others and, most of the time, I don’t find what I am told are humorous asides particularly funny.

The Southern vampire plots are full of surprises.

In the course of four novels, Sookie has (not necessarily in this order) single-handedly foiled vampire drainers, exposed a vampire embezzler, broken up an evangelical group that burns vampires, traveled to Mississippi with a werewolf, hidden a vampire sheriff who has lost his memory from evil witches, participated in several bloodbaths, rescued her lover vampire Bill from being tortured, and become a valued friend of a pack of werewolves and a family of shapeshifter panthers.

Handeland’s heroines have killed werewolves and had sex. Once a Handeland heroine has a good lay, she is hooked forever on the guy. It does not matter if he’s a werewolf or the devil himself, she is in l-o-v-e.

Sookie Stackhouse is not ruled by sexual desire.

It’s tempting to dismiss the sexual obsession of Handeland’s heroines as the follies and hormones of youth. Sookie is young, too, and she is not ruled by her glands. Sookie rescues vampire Bill from his former lover, but she does not return to his arms. Sookie has something going on above the waist.

Sookie’s unexpected affair with vampire Eric, when he loses his memory and becomes uncharacteristically sweet, was inspired. Sookie quickly reject continuing the liaison when Eric returns to being his arrogant, confident, demanding self.

Handeland novels have the typical romance-novel plot: hunky hero, an obstacle that makes the heroine doubt him but not so much that she does not continue to fall into bed with him every time she's near him.

Harris treats sex scenes with a light touch.

Romance novels that started out with purple prose in the 70s have evolved to soft-core pornography. Aching loins. Swollen throbbing manhood. Got it. I don’t need five or six pages of details, thanks anyway Lori. I prefer my porn hard core. By the time I got to Crescent Moon, fourth Nightcreatures novel, the characters and sex was so predictable that I skipped the center, turned to the denouement, and wrapped up the novel in under an hour.

In summary, my unread Charlaine Harris Southern vampire novels are tucked away, a special treat to be anticipated and savored. Appealing characters, original plots, a touch of humor and tasteful sex make this series a winning combination.

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