I haven’t done a series review of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, probably because they aren’t technically romance (but rather mystery or urban fantasy with strong romantic elements). Romance always has a happy ending, and Harris has made no bones about the fact that this is not her goal for the characters in this excellent paranormal series.
Even people who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this series have probably heard of the HBO companion series TrueBlood, which diverges from the books but keeps the spirit of Harris’ original work alive according to fans. The name of the series is clever considering that the entire premise of Harris’ world is built on the idea that, after Japanese researchers develop a synthetic blood substitute (one brand of which is named TrueBlood), vampires come “out of the coffin” and reveal themselves to humans so they can live alongside them. Major repercussions ensue from this announcement, particularly for small-town Louisiana barmaid and telepath, Sookie Stackhouse, who finds the stillness of vampire minds to be almost intoxicating.
Sookie, or rather the supernatural creatures drawn to her, attracts trouble like it’s going out of style and the thirteen full-length novels in this series chronicle her growth and romantic difficulties as she works alongside vampires, werecreatures, and fairies, often reluctantly. In addition to these stories, Harris has penned at least thirteen short stories and companion novellas, practically all of which star Sookie (and some of which you MUST read in order to understand the next full-length novel which follows it in the series).
The other day I discovered a novella I hadn’t read in the series and immediately set about rectifying my faux pas, only to discover that I had missed the best companion story out of all of them! Dancers in the Dark, published in the anthology Night’s Edge, stars Sean and Layla, the briefly glimpsed professional ballroom dancers seen in All Together Dead, the novel in which Sookie accompanies the Queen of Louisiana to the vampire summit so she can ferret out the undercurrents from the human minds standing alongside their vampire companions. Sookie along with everyone else is impressed and mesmerized by the two vampire dancers Sean and Layla who perform during the ball and I definitely felt that there was something extremely powerful about these two minor characters. When I heard that the novella I’d missed was the one fleshing out their story, it was a no brainer to snap it up.
Layla, currently using the name Rue, is busy disguising herself in Rhome, Illinois, while she takes classes and desperately tries to find work as a dancer. When she sees the ad for Blue Moon, a known dance troupe specializing in vampire occasions, she heads off to audition. There she meets her new partner, the handsome, red-haired Irish vampire Sean. She not only admires his outstanding dancing but the fact that his almost expressionless demeanor offers her a safe, professional distance.
Rue/Layla knows that a few people see through her disguise, recognizing her as the Southern beauty queen raped and beaten almost to death by a favored son of her town, but most days she can fly under the radar and attempt to create a life for herself. At first she’s frightened when she realizes that Sean is secretly following her home each night after their nighttime practices and performances, but when she realizes there is no menace in his actions, she begins to relax and let a friendship develop. Soon there’s more than just a friendship at stake (no pun intended), but Layla has no idea if she’s capable of any relationship, particularly one which such a powerful creature.
Sean is intrigued by his stunning dance partner but he’s fallen in love a few times before in his long existence and it’s always ended badly. Yet he’s feeling things for Layla he’s never felt before and when he discovers on his own the hair-raising circumstances of not only her attack but her family’s callous treatment afterward, he knows his goal is to keep her safe and find her attacker, now released from the mental institution he talked his way into.
Unlike the Sookie Stackhouse novels which are written solely from Sookie’s perspective (common for urban fantasy), this novella thankfully switches between Layla and Sean’s POV, offering us insight into both wonderful characters. There is no way you can’t feel for Layla and find yourself gently falling in love with the stoic Sean as he coaxes her into trusting him by being so solid and dependable. I honestly found myself incredibly disappointed that Harris didn’t decide to make this a spin-off series since the dance troupe has so many fascinating characters (vampire and human) that it would be wonderful to develop each of their stories (romances preferred, naturally). Since the world is already well-established, I’m going to have to surf the web and see if any fan fiction exists (or maybe write it myself)!