From the icy landscapes of December's reading, I stumbled straight into the steamy heat of Louisiana. I picked up the first of the Southern Vampire novels by Charlaine Harris after watching the TV series, True Blood but the books proved far more addictive. Within three weeks, I'd devoured all 9 novels Harris has published to date. What really sustained me through this vampire marathon was the wry, sassy voice of Harris' heroine, Sookie Stackhouse. A young waitress, she's somewhat naive at the outset but quickly wises up. Holding hands with her new date, Quinn, she thinks to herself:
'His own hand was warm and hard. He could crack my bones with it The average woman would not be pondering how fast her date could kill her, but I'll never be an average woman.'
This is because Sookie is a telepath with a thing for Supes - men with a supernatural twist - vampires, werewolves or in this case, a Were-tiger. I read somewhere recently that Sookie is one of a new brand of feisty, modern heroines - women like Bella Swann, Katniss Everdeen or Lyra Belacqua emerging out of the fantasy genre. Or Paranormal Romance as the bookshelves have it. But though Sookie is hard-working, independent and resourceful, she'll never meet the day without paying attention to her make-up, no matter how beaten-up she is. Her clothes too are always described in lingering detail - so appearance really matters to this girl.
Sookie gets plenty of action, in all senses of the word, but I do like that Harris portrays the bone-crunching awfulness of the violence she encounters and Sookie's distaste for it. She makes a New Year resolution in one book to stop getting hurt but loyalty and determination to help others in crisis draw her inevitably back to danger. Would you head for a Vampire conference when you know someone/something is trying to assassinate you? By this stage, Sookie is so embroiled in the labrynthine politics of the overlapping fiefdoms of Vampires, Witches and Weres that detachment is proably as deadly as engagement.
And this is a big plus of the 9-book series. Harris' fictive world is so vivid, so detailed, so interlocking - that I did feel as if I lived in it for weeks on end - a virtual reality. And I am still missing my Sookie fix. I read on Harris' website that she is a great fan of Jane Austen and it figures. She draws out a great deal of humour from portraying the etiquette of Vampire manners and Were rituals, the culture clashes and petty squabbles. It is as finely observed a social hierarchy as Austen's. The latest word on her website is that the next Sookie book is out in May. For now, it's still in the blood and I'm gulping down other stories to assuage The Hunger ...