From the BLURB:
If you think your family relationships are complicated, think again: you haven't seen anything like the ones in Bon Temps, Louisiana. Sookie Stackhouse is dealing with a whole host of family problems, ranging from herown kin (a non-human fairy and a telepathic second cousin) demanding a placein her life, to her lover Eric's vampire sire, an ancient being who arriveswith Eric's 'brother' in tow at a most inopportune moment. And Sookie'stracking down a distant relation of her ailing neighbour (and ex), VampireBill Compton. In addition to the multitude of family issues complicating herlife, the werewolf pack of Shreveport has asked Sookie for a special favour,and since Sookie is an obliging young woman, she agrees. But this favour forthe wolves has dire results for Sookie, who is still recovering from thetrauma of her abduction during the Fairy War.
So, this is another review where my thoughts were so scattered in the wake of reading that I had to use sub-headings. The following review is pretty spoiler-free if you haven't yet read 'Dead in the Family' - but there are **SPOILERS** if you haven't read books 1 - 9.
Sookie VS. Fan Expectation
I love Charlaine Harris, and I especially love her ‘Southern Vampire; Sookie Stackhouse’ series. I discovered these books around the same time that I read the first ‘Twilight’. After reading ‘Dead Until Dark’, the ‘Sookie’ series became one of my all-time favourites and I have remained a loyal fan for five years now.
I do love these books, but I wasn’t overly impressed with book #8 ‘From Dead to Worse’ or book #9 ‘Dead and Gone’. My lack-lustre response wasn’t to do with Ms. Harris’s writing so much as my own expectations. It’s an unfortunate by-product of fan-bases that when so many people love your work, those people think they have the right to predict and dictate the trajectory of that work.
Charlaine Harris commented on such fall-out when ‘Dead and Gone’ came out last year – when she realized that a lot of fan criticism of her ninth book was less to do with the story, and more to do with unmet expectations.
I completely agree with Charlaine Harris that her work is her own and fans can certainly state their opinions, but to feel that they are ‘entitled’ to certain outcomes is outlandish and insulting. But I am one of those fans who go into the ‘Sookie’ books with a sort of ‘wish-list’ and can’t help but be somewhat miffed when my anticipations aren’t met.
But I really tried to reverse that logic when I started ‘Dead in the Family’. I firmly believe my dislike of ‘Dead and Gone’ was my own fault, so I went into this tenth book with no expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised.
I was a really big Sookie/Eric fan, pretty much from Eric’s first appearance in ‘Dead Until Dark’. My obsession reached fever pitch in ‘Dead to the World’ (and *that* shower scene) but 10 books in my love affair with their love affair is cooling… and I have a few theories why.
Sookie and Eric have always had great chemistry and sexual tension out the wazoo. But since cementing their relationship in ‘Dead and Gone’ and now playing vampiric husband and wife in ‘Dead in the Family’… its become obvious to me that part of the reason they worked so well was that tension, the ‘chase’, so to speak. Sookie always tried so hard to deny her feelings for Eric. Meanwhile, Eric worked hard to get into Sookie’s pants while trying to decipher his unprecedented interest in her. The ‘will they or won’t they’ aspect leant a lot of heat to their romance. And I find myself missing that in ‘Dead in the Family’.
But I’m a bit shame-faced because I griped and grumbled about the lack of Sookie/Eric goodness in ‘Dead and Gone’. Now I’m griping and grumbling about the Sookie/Eric goodness in ‘Dead in the Family’. My bad – I’m a fickle fan.
I firmly believe that while Sookie and Eric are the fan favourite couple, Eric is not who Sookie will ultimately end up with. Call them the Dawson & Joey of Bon Temps (though I was always more of a Pacey fan myself). I found Sookie and Eric’s relationship to be quite odd in ‘Dead in the Family’. There’s a lot of emphasis on both Sookie and Eric saying ‘I love you’ to each other – and Sookie admits that she doesn’t say it to Eric very often, but she can’t quite figure out why. Eric, for his part, says those three little words but without really knowing what they mean. He clarifies by saying that he loves having sex with Sookie, and he thinks about her all the time etc, etc – but his inhumanity bars him from really, truly grasping the concept. For me, Sookie and Eric feel a little hollow. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy their loved up scenes;
“Jump,” Eric said, holding out his hands and smiling. I laughed. I took a running start, and leaped. Eric caught me, his hands clamped around my waist. He lifted me up until my head touched the ceiling. Then he lowered me for a kiss. I wrapped my legs around his torso, my arms around his neck. We were lost in each other for a long moment
Pam said, “Back to earth, monkey girl. Time is passing.”
Right now it just feels like Eric is Sookie’s ‘transitional’ man. Eric seems to be the one before ‘the one’, so to speak. And while there’s a big fan-girl part of me that relishes their scenes together, there’s another part that is anxious to see who Sookie’s HEA will be…
For a while now I’ve had an inkling that Sam is going to be Sookie’s HEA.
With that in my mind, I was kind of sad to read that Sam has a girlfriend in ‘Dead in the Family’. And his girlfriend is annoying - young and annoying. As despondent as I was to read of a new woman in Sam’s life, I was secretly chuffed when Sookie took an avid interest in comparing her physical appearance to that of Sam’s new honey… maybe it’s because I’ve come to like the idea of Sookie/Sam, but I read a lot into Sookie’s comparative studies and I interpreted jealous undertones where maybe there weren’t any?
I do like Sam for Sookie. As the series progresses and the violence in her life heightens, Sookie has become a lot more introspective and she’s recently started to question what she wants out of life. Realistically, Sookie doesn’t want to be a vampire – yet both her ex-boyfriends, Eric and Bill, will remain youthful and unchanged while she grows arthritic and sagging. In ‘Dead in the Family’ two of Sookie’s close girl friends are pregnant – which gives Sookie pause for thought about the theoretical family she’ll never have if she stays in relationships with dead men. I love Sookie, above all else in this series. She’s a wonderful heroine and readers have been on a real journey with her. At this point, 10 books deep, I’m starting to hope that Sookie will get all what she wants out of life… and I think that’s Sam.
I do wish Sam had a bigger role in ‘Dead in the Family’. In this book Sookie and Sam are really just touching base with each other, as opposed to having full-blown scenes.
Ever since book #7, ‘All Together Dead’, I’ve been wondering about a certain FBI storyline Ms. Harris has not revisited…. In book #7 Sookie showed off her telepathic prowess in front of police and rescue workers, inadvertently drawing the attention of the FBI. Charlaine Harris did touch on this topic in recent books, (‘Dead and Gone’? From memory?) so for a while now I’ve been hoping that this storyline would grow and expand. I think it could be interesting if Sookie was headhunted by the US Government. Clearly that plot arc would take the series in a completely new direction… but I at least wanted Ms. Harris to plausibly wrap up such an arc, or give some finality to it. In ‘Dead in the Family’ she kind of does that – but with plenty of room to manoeuvre. She gets the FBI off Sookie’s back for the mean time, but she also has Sookie discovering that she has been monitored by the Feds for some time now…
I’m quite happy about this – it’s like Ms. Harris is tucking this plot line away for a rainy day. On the surface it seems like the issues are resolved, but there are still plenty of loose ends and I for one would love it if the series skewed with this plotline.
In ‘From Dead to Worse’ Sookie came face-to-face with her second cousin, Hunter. Hunter is Hadley’s son and telepathic. This storyline was all but forgotten in ‘Dead and Gone’, but Ms. Harris devotes a few chapters to it in ‘Dead in the Family’. I loved the scenes with Hunter – mostly because his presence made Sookie once again examine all that she wants out of life (family). But also because I think Charlaine Harris is gearing up for a big story-arc concerning Hunter. In ‘Dead in the Family’ she’s really only laying the foundation for future books… but she definitely whet my appetite for a more Hunter-focused storyline. Bring it on!
BLAST FROM THE PAST: Bill & Alcide
These are two characters who have been relegated to the sidelines since Sookie made it clear she had no romantic inclinations towards them. Bill had a big character arc in ‘Dead and Gone’, but his role is minimal in ‘Dead in the Family’. Still, I appreciated that Ms. Harris went back to the series’ roots and gave us some Bill scenes. Same goes for Alcide. I loved the werewolf packmaster in ‘Club Dead’… but over the course of the series Alcide has become a bit of a douche-bag and his character had deflated a bit for me.
I still don’t like Alcide, but I always love the werewolf storyline and was happy to read about the pack in ‘Dead in the Family’.
I really hated the fae story-arc of recent books. I didn’t like Claudine. Niall was creepy. Sookie’s family tree was confusing and nothing fae-related worked for me. I was so pleased that Ms. Harris all but put that arc to rest in ‘Dead and Gone’. In ‘Dead in the Family’ Sookie’s fae cousin, Claude, becomes her roommate. There are also two mysterious fairies hanging around the Stackhouse property. Claude’s scenes are small, and the fairy plot is a sideline.
‘TRUE BLOOD’ influence
One thing I loved about ‘Dead in the Family’ was Charlaine Harris tipping her hat to the HBO adaptation of her books, ‘True Blood’. For one, she slips in this fantastically subtle reference that made my fan-girl day:
“There,” said Sam. I had to strain to hear him. Someone had put Jace Everett’s ‘Bad Things’ on, and just about everyone in the bar was singing along.
But in ‘Dead in the Family’, Harris also discounts a few of the ‘True Blood’ creative license storylines.
For one thing, Harris gives us the *real* back-story to Bill & Lorena, and it’s nothing like the HBO show depicted… It’s actually a lot more tragic than anything Alan Ball could come up with.
Then there’s Eric’s maker. ‘True Blood’ had Godric as Eric’s ‘father’ but in ‘Dead in the Family’ we meet Eric’s master for the first time – and he’s deliciously creepy. His name is Appius Livius Ocella and he brings a brother for Eric to meet. I loved this storyline – mostly because Charlaine Harris throws in a juicy bit of history that I’m actually quite familiar with. I won’t spoil, but it has to do with the Russian Revolution… I never thought all my history studies would pay off so much! I loved the twisted-history of one particular character, and the bizarre way their vampire history made sense in the Sookie-universe. Very clever, very creepy. I loved it!
I loved this book. Sookie has really changed so much from book #1 – never more so than in the wake of her torture in ‘Dead and Gone’. I think that ‘Dead in the Family’ is quite a transitional Sookie book – and I have a feeling she will undergo even more life changes in book #11.
Charlaine Harris managed to juggle quite a few loose-end storylines and whet reader’s appetites for future books. These future plots are more like ‘sneak peeks’ and ‘what if’s?’ at this point, but there’s so much potential and juiciness you just know that when Harris decides to write them, it’ll be a doozy!