Southern Vampire Mysteries – Fall From Grace
So, with the final Southern Vampire Mysteries (SVM) book out – Dead Ever After – I’ve taken the time to write about the series I had once been so passionate about.
As you may have guessed by the title, my love affair with the series is coming to an end. The haze is wearing off and I must admit I’m slightly embarrassed to have been such a big fan. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll admit there has been some good; there were some intriguing ideas, I’m still fond of some of the characters (to a degree), and because I wrote fanfiction for the fandom it has awoken my passion and love for writing/story-telling to the point where I’m pursuing my own original goals. I’ve also met some great people in the fandom too.
In this piece I want to look back on what started my, dare to say it, obsession for the series, to where I stand now with it. I feel that my disappointment with the series is reciprocated by other fans and I intend to share my ideas as to why this has come about when it was once so cherished.
Let’s go back to the beginning. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a fan of the supernatural, I don’t believe in any of it, but I’ve always found it fascinating and a good form of fiction. I find the origins and histories of such myths and legends interesting, and learning why we once would have believed such fantastical things as fact. One of my all time favourites is the vampire, yes, I’m a sucker for the blood sucker.
Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is one of my favourite books, along with the vampire genre its self. In fact, in recent times, it has seen a huge revival in popularity. Unfortunately, the vampire genre is also filled with a hell of a lot drivel, which has lead to ridicule of such works, and the fans.
When I first discovered True Blood, it was at a time when I was becoming jaded with vampire stories thanks to the likes of Twilight. I saw an advert for season one of True Blood and I’ll admit, I wasn’t overly impressed, the main reason being I didn’t like the placement of the fangs on the vampires. However, my curiosity to see what it would be like got the better of me. I wasn’t hooked straight away, it took a few episodes for that to happen, but even after seeing the first episode it felt like we had some fresh and interesting ideas in a genre which was becoming stale and predictable.
I became hooked on True Blood and when season one finished I couldn’t wait for season two. After watching the first season I soon learned it was based on the SVM book series, so to feed my hunger until season two of True Blood I brought the boxset of SVM books 1-8 and started reading.
What I liked about SVM/True Blood is that it wasn’t your typical vampire story. It wasn’t a groan inducing love story which has been embarrassing the genre. Even though there was romance in the stories, there was more substance to the plot than just a silly heroine being giddy about her vampire paramour. For instance:
· The books had a mystery/who done it element to their plots as you read along to find out who the culprit was.
· The vampires weren’t your stereotypical vampire. They actually had some interesting personalities, other than brooding about their eternal predicament.
· (Though not an original idea) We had vampires publicly acknowledge by human society. This was interesting as we saw a believable and intriguing way the human race could react if vampires were real. We had hate groups and crimes against the vampires, saw how vampires functioned in human society, saw the effects of vampire blood as a narcotic, and witnessed human fans of vampires and all their wackiness – I also liked it when this was made fun of in the stories.
· We had the political schemes of the vampires and werewolves.
· The possibility of exploring telepathy.
· And finally, we had a female lead character who was likeable, interesting, and seemed to have at least half of a brain.
This series showed so much potential; there were some good ideas I was eager to explore, the first book and first two seasons of the TV show were good, and had one of the best vampire characters to ever be created – Eric Northman. Yes, I’m an Eric fan, he’s fucking brilliant (and probably why I held out for so long in the series even when it had became so bad, Eric was that fucking good).
I think this is why I’m so disheartened. The books and TV shows had great foundations to build some really interesting and good stories, however, it became inundated with so many bad ideas; I like to call it: the Rot. It’s like Charlaine Harris (Author) and Alan Ball (TV producer) became giddily excited and got carried away with themselves, and had no one to tell them “don’t do that, it’s a really lame idea.”
In the books I first noticed the Rot in book two; yes, that early in the series. Book one was a good opener for the series, though not great, it was a good read (best book of the whole series in my opinion) and set the foundations for a series that promised to be rather interesting. When book two starts we learn that Lafayette has been killed, and on a trip to Fangtasia Sookie Stackhouse is attacked by a Maenad who is hinted at as being quite troublesome. Then what happens after Eric brings in Dr. Ludwig to save Sookie’s life after her attack, Sookie is indebted to Eric and to repay him she must visit Dallas and use her telepathy to help find a missing vampire, completely dropping the main plot of the story – who killed Lafayette & what the hell is this Maenad gonna get up to and how do we stop it. We have no mention of the Maenad or Lafayette’s murder until the end of the book when Charlaine Harris seems to remember she left two massive ends untied and quickly tied them up in the most ludicrous of ways.
But the sloppy ending is okay because Sookie and Eric went to a sex party and Eric wore pink spandex *gush gush* – No it’s not Ms. Harris, and don’t think I didn’t notice what you did.
I wouldn’t have minded this change in direction to the story if it wasn’t so abysmally bad! Right from the beginning we knew the Fellowship of the Sun were the culprits who kidnapped the vampire in Dallas. Then there was the plan to rescue the missing vampire, which was so stupid you were shocked by the fact the main characters even went along with it and were then surprised it went horribly wrong. Then we have the moving scene where Sookie has great compassion and sympathy for one of the vampires involved in the kidnapping because he wishes to ‘meet the sun’ (kill himself) all because he is a paedophile. Yes, I shall repeat it: Sookie has compassion for a paedophile vampire because he suffers with his paedophilia. I hope I don’t have to explain why this was so, so, so infuriatingly bad. I was actually offended by this.
Then we have book three, where the main plot consisted of Bill being kidnapped; who took Bill? Why they took Bill? And how they took Bill? Unfortunately, these three questions were answered very early on in the book, despite this, we still had a majority of chapters dedicated to investigating Bill’s disappearance even though we knew who, what, why, and where. The book dragged out to another stupidly concocted plan to rescue Bill which also ends up going horrible wrong…again.
These dodgy plots continue throughout the book series, and even though there are moments of goodness, these are greatly over shadowed by all the badness in the books. But why is that? Well, here is what I think.
Charlaine Harris cannot write mystery. It’s not a good mystery book if I’ve figured out who done it by chapter three, or completely blindsided with a revelation of who done it all because Charlaine Harris had failed to write anything about the supposed mystery for the past 20+ chapters, making the reader completely forget there had ever been a murder to begin with.
Charlaine Harris also loves her bad ideas. The books are filled with them, that it makes them cringe inducing to read. Instead of being interested, the reader spends more time thinking what Charlaine must have been smoking to come up with this shit.
Charlaine Harris is also very good at writing uninteresting characters. I can only think of five, out of all the books, who intrigued me and that I even liked. Two of which, are dead – and I mean properly dead, as in the kind that stay dead.
Another problem, in virtually all of the books, there are massive continuity errors. I often found myself backtracking in the books looking for missing paragraphs, or checking something out which didn’t match with what was previously written. It made you wonder if Charlaine Harris was working with an editor, and if so, what they were doing because they clearly weren’t doing their job to allow such sloppy work going to print.
Charlaine Harris is also guilty of hyping up ideas in her books, only to suddenly drop them.
One example of a hyped up idea is the fairies – even though I hated the idea – it promised some interesting politics and a big bad ass fight. What we got was an anticlimactic fight, and the door closed on all the fairy politics when Sookie’s super-duper great grandfather, prince of the fairies, closed the portal between the two worlds. So what was the point of building this fairy plot if you’re not even going to use it? Personally I was quite glad of this, the fairy plot was corny at best, and none of the fairy characters were likeable. However, Charlaine does seem to like building an idea, making it look like it is going to be quite big and important, only to suddenly drop it for no good or logical reason as she goes off with some other lame idea.
Another example of this is Quinn and Sookie’s budding romantic relationship. As it looked like Sookie was going to date a were-tiger, this was quickly put to an end to by a very selfish and out of character Sookie. During book seven Quinn and Sookie both have the hots for each other like mad and both would like a relationship with each other, even though Quinn has a tragic past with his mentally ill mother and his sister, Sookie is fine with this emotional baggage and looks forward to her potential future with Quinn. In book eight, Sookie’s home is surrounded by Las Vegas vamps demanding to speak with Sookie, it becomes apparent that Quinn had something to do with this, but he was forced into helping them because they had his mother. Further proof of Quinn’s reluctance to help the Las Vegas vampires was the fact he sent his sister to try and warn Sookie. Despite knowing all of this, Sookie breaks up with Quinn as he was never going to choose her first (because we all know Quinn was supposed to let his mother and sister be killed…right?). Yes, the woman who showed compassion for a paedophile vampire (she’s that nice), and was very understanding to Quinn’s plight in the previous book, does a complete u-turn in her character and dumps the guy because she won’t continuously be centre of attention.
The only reason I could think of why Charlaine did this, was at the time the series was only going to consist of ten books, and throughout the series we had the growing romance of Sookie and Eric. I’m guessing Charlaine realised she got carried away with herself buy starting a new romance with Quinn and she wouldn’t have time to have Sookie and Eric finally get together, so she hastily, and badly, ended it. Personally, if I had written such as scene, I would of had Sookie end things with Quinn because she realised the complexities Quinn brings is just going to get her in more supernatural trouble than she’s already in, and even though she really likes him, it’s best to end things now before they get too close and wish him well. At least it would have been in character and made more sense than Sookie acting like a selfish brat throwing a temper tantrum.
Another let down, was Sookie’s telepathic ability. I was really interested in seeing this grow, and it was even mentioned in earlier books that Sookie’s first vampire boyfriend – Bill – was helping her to achieve this. Yet all Sookie ever manages to do is conveniently eavesdrop on people’s thoughts when the conditions are right. Damn, Sookie a crap telepath. Not only that, we never explore much in the idea of psychology other than, people are fake. Really, I never would have guessed. A word of advice Ms. Harris, if a topic is beyond your understanding, don’t write about it.
With all these faults (there are many more which haven’t been mentioned), I wonder how this series has been so successful in gaining a huge following and spawning a TV show. And then it dawned on me, Sookie and Eric’s relationship. People wanted to see what would happen with these two, and were hoping to get a happily ever after ending for the pair. Not all of the fans wanted this, but I would say a majority did, after all, it was the only saving grace of the books. It did also plummet SVM into the same generic vampire romance which is dogging the vampire genre, but what the hell, Eric is pretty cool.
Sookie and Eric were the golden couple. People wanted to see this. Visit the fandom and you will find a majority of fanfictions/fanart dedicated to this pair. And to be honest with you, even I wanted to see this pair succeed, and I’m downright cynical when I want to be. The couple were a good pairing, and over the course of the books we had been reading about their relationship steadily growing stronger despite all the odds. So, in the final book, who does Sookie end up with? That’s right…Sam Merlotte. What?!?!?!
Now I understand this wouldn’t have been a popular decision, especially with diehard Sookie & Eric fans, but the problem isn’t the fact Sookie and Eric didn’t make it in the end. Now I have no problem with characters being killed off, or couples not working out, as long as it makes sense in regards to character and plot development; I may not always like the decision, but as long as it’s logical, fine. The problem with Sookie and Eric failing at the end is not because our golden couple are no longer together, it’s because characters we have been reading about for 13 books were suddenly acting very out of character and for no reasonable conclusion as to why. People’s expectations had been gradually built up over a prolonged period of time, and now they were no longer going to get the hoped for pay off in the end, and nor were they getting a damn good reason as to why.
I suppose you could say we’re ‘nit-picking’ and that ‘anything is possible in fiction’. What I like to say is: ‘anything is possible in bad fiction’. The problem in writing stories with illogical plot holes in them is we’re going to notice this, and we’re going to scrutinise and comment on it. Charlaine Harris has ended her series on an anticlimactic bum note, for what seems to be for the sake of ending it, and she has metaphorically slapped her fans in the face and kicked them where it hurt; all for no good reason. People have paid good money for these books, and spent their time reading them, only to have a dissatisfying ending.
Part of the reason why I think things got so bad at the end, is because Charlaine Harris signed on to do an extra four books to what was originally meant to be ten books – I’m guessing the publishing house, and maybe Charlaine, wanted to milk the series for as much money as possible. The problem I find when a series goes on for too long, is towards the end ideas begin to get stale, characters get stuck in a rut, and things end on a mediocre note. People were starting to notice Charlaine had lost some of her enthusiasm for the series, and from book eleven, people were starting to complain about the actions of the characters.
Charlaine spoke in her defence in regards to the complaints people had about the direction beloved characters were now taking. Charlaine Harris made the point they were her characters, and as she created them she understood them better than anyone, and would write them how she wanted to. I don’t dispute this Charlaine, you should be able to write the story and characters how you intended them to be, and yes, you do know them better than anyone else, hell, you know things about them we fans can only dream of knowing. Just next time you write a book series, please make it clear to the reader your characters have a multiple personality disorder, and will suddenly act very differently to how they have been portrayed to over a number of books for no understandable reason why.
In regards to Sookie finally ending up with Sam, Charlaine likes to point out we should have seen the signs. What signs? In absolutely no romantic interest in each other what-so-ever, the constant reminder they were friends? Oh, you mean the one and only kiss they shared in book one, and you stating you regretted writing the blood bond between Eric and Sookie? Charlaine has also said recently, this was how she originally intended for the books to end. Okay, so why deviate away from your original plan of Sookie and Sam so far, to the point of no return, by force feeding us the golden couple, Sookie & Eric?
Charlaine has also recently said in an interview she intended to kill off Bill Compton, but under suggestion of the publishing house, because of the recently coming TV adaption, it would be detrimental to the franchise to kill off the character. Now I don’t know if or how much pressure Charlaine Harris was under from the publishing house, but she signed on to do an extra four books, and there may have been the possibility the publishing house told Ms. Harris to go with Sookie and Eric because it was selling. What I do know, is Ms. Harris produced a great, big, steaming pile of shit, and I believe Ms. Harris knows it. Whether these excuses are just that, excuses to cover up her shitty writing (and let’s be honest, Charlaine is a shit writer), or, her admittance to producing a different story only to completely abandon it at the end like a petulant brat.
Charlaine Harris has shown herself to be A) an incompetent writer, and B) to not care about the quality of her work. ‘Oh, but it’s her story, she should write it how she wants.’ Yes, yes she should, but, 1) if a book is shoddily written, I shall turn round and say what a pile of shit it is; 2) Charlaine Harris chose to give us Sookie and Eric as the major plot for the series, whether it was her idea or to cash in the popularity of the couple makes no difference, she built up expectations only to trash it at the end for no logical reason why. People feel cheated, and rightly so.
I feel that book ten was the natural ending to the very poor series. Yet Charlaine Harris cashed in on her work, which ultimately compromised the quality and left many disappointed fans in its wake.
~ Roux Roux ~