The inspiration for True Blood lives up to the franchise's reputation of vampires for grown-ups - albeit sensible ones. Juliette Hughes reviews the final Sookie Stackhouse book.
Dead Ever After, Charlaine Harris Hachette, $29.99
Sex between humans and superhumans is rarely going to turn out well: even New Scientist said so 30 years ago in an article about the physical incompatibility of Superman and Lois Lane. Think about it: if the Man of Steel can punch holes in concrete bunkers with one finger, his ejaculation would presumably have the force of a speeding bullet.
But the problems raised by such relationships go far beyond simple physics. The moral and spiritual implications of fantasy human-supernatural liaisons are a major part of the frisson, but most fans are cheated. There is an avalanche of vampire-romance schlock out there with dire prose and wafer-thin plotting. Mostly the books are high-school Buffy-style ripoffs or noirish police procedurals with a touch of extra blood. Reading them is the equivalent of having your lifeblood (and money) sucked away by something self-serving and ultimately worthless; thus the reader becomes a vampire-victim.
This is where Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Mysteries offer a complex and believable universe and a modicum of down-home common sense. Dead Ever After is the 13th and last in the series that loosely inspired the TV series True Blood. Viewers are divided: they're either put off by its sex and violence (if you don't like Game of Thrones, step away from True Blood) or won over by its wit, sexiness and inventiveness.
What are the options for a human who loves a vampire? After all, vampires are ageless, whereas humans have a brief decade or so of blooming attractiveness that must fade. The beautiful human will one day look like her mother, then her grandmother, then die and leave her partner bereft. That is, if he still loves her, for this must test the devotion of the vampire, who is by definition supremely selfish.
Stephenie Meyer's earnest, humourless Twilight books offer the simplistic swoon-solution: Bella wants to become a vampire to stop her getting older than Edward, but not before she has suffered/enjoyed the perils of sex with him, waking up with bruises the morning after. It's a queasy quasi-Superman/Lois coupling that Twilight fans adored.
The issue of one lover having to exercise restraint in order not to kill the beloved is the creative engine driving most vampire romances. Indeed, the urge to eat, kill and have sex all in one unbridled explosion is at the heart of the vampire-human drama, and Harris does not flinch from the implications.
What I like about Harris is she writes for readers who are not masochists. And though her whole Southern Vampire Mystery series abounds in supernatural beings (vamps, shape-shifters, weres, demons, fairies and even a maenad), the world as we know it is reassuringly present: the plots are all grounded in a small Louisiana town and imbued with knowledgeable references to politics, religion and popular culture.
It is narrated in the prosaic voice of Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic waitress who is part-fairy and wholly a sun-loving human with a conscience. Over the 13 books Sookie is loved by two vampires, a werewolf, a weretiger and a shape-shifter. Which one will she settle for? Unlike Bella, she values her humanity and is haunted by the conundrum of love for a monster: an innocent falls in love with a powerful predator and for a while occupies a privileged but precarious position, protected by the same dangerous force that lusts to destroy and corrupt her.
Before publishing Dead Ever After (all the titles feature the word "Dead"), Harris announced that she was going to tie up loose ends, warning fans not to expect white picket-fence solutions for Sookie and the main heart-throb, Viking vampire Eric. Twilight fans may find Harris too prosaic, too sensible and ultimately too honest for their tastes. Harris fans will concur, happily.
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