A Discussion of Urban Fantasy and Talk of True Blood

What’s in the backpack today: Hester by Paula Reed.

I’ve finally gotten around to watching through the first season of True Blood, which led me to read Charlaine Harris’s Dead until Dark (the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries). I’d been avoiding the show due to its adult nature, and I finally decided to see what all the fuss is about. What I’ve found is a tightly scripted, small-town murder mystery. Oh yeah, and there are vampires, but so far I’m finding them to be somewhat incidental and less interesting than the other goings on.

I’ve come to think that a lot of urban fantasy’s appeal is derived from its ease of access. In epic fantasy we have to weave a world for the reader, and in that weaving we have to work hard to not bore you with exposition while also telling you the rules of how the world works. Urban fantasy gives the reader an immediate access point: you know the world. It’s yours. The writer can then layer in the supernatural aspects. The hook is more immediate and relatable. The urban fantasy writer has other challenges though. They have to take the mundane and more it extraordinary, whereas as the epic writer can work backwards from making the extraordinary relatable. Neither is easier. Writing is never easy, but I think there’s less chance for an urban fantasy writer to get lot in world-building, a problem inherent in epic fantasy.

Comparing genres is much easier than comparing mediums. True Blood, as a show, works largely on the strength of its secondary characters: Tara, Lafayette, and Sam; all of whom have much smaller parts in the first book. The show has to take one book’s murder plot and cut it into multiple scenes and episodes, changing point of view. The book, which as seems to be the standard in urban fantasy, only gives us Sookie’s first person point of view. Both the show and novel benefit from tight scripting. One thing I noticed immediately was that there are no “use its or lose its” in either one. Every element that’s introduced has a purpose. Description in the novel is cut to a minimum and the show is shot without lingering shots on landscape. The show definitely ups the adult nature of things to an almost extreme level. It seems some days to be HBO’s trademark, but even then the sex scenes have a point. They reflect on the plot and tie into the mystery. The vampires, when they come, when they’re described, in many ways aren’t all that interesting. They just add a layer to an already interesting world. The book of course explains things a bit better, and since it is first person, you gain a much stronger understanding of what Sookie goes through being telepathic. (I would normally have just invoked a spoiler alert, but all my sources tell me I’m the last person on the planet to watch the show or read the book).

A quick word about Charlaine Harris. She writes without any slack. Dead until Dark is tightly scripted, tightly wound. Every character has a point, as does every scene. I raced through the book in a satisfying way without any unnecessary stops to a satisfying destination.

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