Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin

Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin star in "True Blood," which begins its third season Sunday on HBO.

Forget lions and tigers and bears. Sookie Stackhouse and her human friends must contend with vampires and werewolves and fairies as season three of "True Blood" premieres Sunday, June 13, on HBO.

Adapted from Charlaine Harris' 2003 best-seller "Club Dead," the first episode picks up just seconds after season two ended, with telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) frantically searching for her vampire beau, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), who abruptly vanished from a restaurant just minutes after proposing to her.

Elsewhere, Sookie's brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), and Detective Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer) try to get their stories straight about the killing of Egg, whose death has left Sookie's best friend, Tara (Rutina Wesley), wild with grief, while shape-shifting bar owner Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) continues on the road in search of his birth parents.

"We definitely have used the plot from the book as a starting point, but we have done a lot differently as well," says Alan Ball, the show's Oscar- and Emmy-winning creator and executive producer. "For people who read the book, they'll be surprised who kidnapped Bill. There's a lot of new stuff happening, a lot more about vampire politics and the introduction of werewolves into our world. And there's stuff going on in Bon Temps as well. Without giving too much away, everybody's got their hands full, and everybody is being extremely tested by the circumstances of their lives."

Series star Paquin, who avidly pursued the role of Sookie and says the show actually has surpassed her wildest dreams so far, says the new season -- in which she gets a new romantic interest in the form of hot werewolf Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello) and meets her very own fairy godmother (Lara Pulver) -- is perhaps a little darker than seasons one and two.

"But it's still just as funny, in its weird and twisted way, as our show usually is," she adds, laughing. "You see a lot of pretty heavy stuff from many of our main characters that comes up throughout the season. It's going to surprise some people. And some people are going to be shocked."

Many of the show's fans, however, are most deeply invested in new cast member Manganiello. Alcide is a major new character, and "True Blood" groupies started clamoring for the actor to get the role long before season three was even being cast.

"A friend shot me an e-mail with a link to a blog site where fans of the books were posting pictures and speculating as to who should play Alcide when he shows up," Manganiello explains. "This was going on a couple of years before this season. And some of the bloggers were putting up pictures of me and recommending that I play the part. ... So I've been completely overwhelmed by the response from fans already, when I haven't even showed up on the show yet. I'm really excited about it."