Harris, Charlaine: Sookie Stackhouse series; Amelia Teagarden series

I’m on vacation and have resolved to post one booklog backlog entry a day. I’ll start with clearing nearly twenty books out of the queue in one fell swoop: Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse and Amelia Teagarden series.

I read most of these in the middle of the night, back in November and December when I was sitting up with a sick SteelyKid. So under those conditions, the most reliable thing I can say about them generally is that they’re entertaining and readable but I’m not actually sure if they’re good.

Well, no, I can say more than that. The Sookie Stackhouse books (starting with Dead Until Dark) are of course contemporary fantasy; if they were only set in a city, they’d be urban fantasy, being set in our world with supernatural creatures and otherwise limited magic, and involving an extended cast of family and friends, with a good dollop of romance. Sookie is a waitress in a rural Louisana town who is thrilled when she meets her first vampire (they came out a few years ago when synthetic blood came on the market): she’s a telepath, but hears only blessed silence from the vampire.

Things I liked about this book were its humor; that it’s a real pain to be a telepath—not exactly news to anyone, I know, but Harris does a good job showing its effects on Sookie; that it’s genuinely creepy to be dating someone who is, as the title says, dead until dark; and the small-town atmosphere and relationships. And that it’s very readable at 3 a.m. when you’re sick and you’ve got a sick toddler in your arms.

The world keeps opening up as the series progresses, with more supernatural creatures and wider political implications. This is starting to be somewhat of a problem, actually; the most recent book, Dead in the Family, takes a really long time to settle down into a plot because, I think, it’s got a lot of setup to do for the overall series.

Because of the way I read the rest of these, it’s hard for me to remember which books divided where, but I think some of the others had this kind of transitional, multi-threaded nature. The plots do tend to reflect Harris’s roots as a mystery writer, but I mostly don’t read them for the plots (which at least once is rather poor; I spent the one where they all go to a big vampire gathering in a fancy hotel, umm, All Together Dead (this is the problem with theme titles), yelling at the characters to put the pieces together, already.) I read them because I like the characters and I’m interested in what Harris does with the worldbuilding. They strike me as more aware of class than a lot of books I read; not particularly good about race (but in fairly small amounts, at least); and middling on sexual orientation. They are not for people with low tolerance for what Chad calls the “my awesome werewolf boyfriend/girlfriend” aspect of most urban fantasy, because there is a fair amount of romance and romantic angst.

That bit, at least, Harris doesn’t seem to have picked up from the genre, because her Aurora Teagarden mystery series has it too, well, without the werewolves. Somewhat more people seem to be attracted to Aurora than I quite understand (one book even turns on it), but I mostly forgive that for Harris’s putting some serious ups and downs into her life; one of those twists took major guts. (Sookie’s life, too.)

These are small-town mysteries, nosy civilian variety, but I don’t think it’s useful to call them cozies. The first one, Real Murders, kept me reading because it really made me feel how terrifying and miserable it would be to know that someone you knew, someone in a small group of acquaintances, was a serial killer. I also particularly liked The Julius House, in which Aurora moves into a house from which an entire family disappeared, six years ago. (I suspect it also qualifies as a Gothic, or at least working with Gothic tropes, for those who like that kind of thing.) Harris says on her website that she’s unlikely to write any more of these with her other commitments, but they leave Aurora in a reasonable place.

Harris has two other series, one mystery and one fantasy, that are vaguely on my list.

5 Comments

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  1. The Bard mysteries start from a grimmer place than the Teagardens, but are much the same kind of thing. Again, the interesting protagonist really drives the stories. The Grave fantasies involve much more violence, sometimes involving children; I don’t know if that’s an issue; it might make them less pleasant as sick-baby time reads.
    I agree the Sookies are getting top-heavy. In one of the recent books there was some mass clearing out, which was a bit of a relief. I think she’d better finish it up fairly soon.

  2. beth, thanks for the information!

  3. I’ve only read the first Aurora Teagarden, and it didn’t really grab me, but the Lily Bard books, starting with Shakespeare’s Lanlord, while starting out a bit grim are really terrific. Liliy Bard is a great character.

  4. Make that Shakespeare’s Landlord.

  5. Thanks, I’ve been in the mood for more Harris so am about a chapter into that.

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