Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review: Dead In The Family by Charlaine Harris (In which I ramble and piss people off)

After enduring torture and the loss of loved ones during the brief but deadly Faery War, Sookie Stackhouse is hurt and she's angry. Just about the only bright spot in her life is the love she thinks she feels for vampire Eric Northman. But he's under scrutiny by the new Vampire King because of their relationship. And as the political implications of the Shifters coming out are beginning to be felt, Sookie's connection to the Shreveport pack draws her into the debate. Worst of all, though the door to Faery has been closed, there are still some Fae on the human side-and one of them is angry at Sookie. Very, very angry...

Ok, this is the ummmm....10th? book of the series now and the last one was not universally loved so it's going to be a bit difficult to avoid spoilers, ranting, nostalgia and finger wagging in this review. So, you have been warned. Read on at your own peril.

Alright, Sookie number 9 was.....well, it was a disappointment to me, to put it mildly. Crazy ass rant version: SHE PHONED THAT BITCH IN. Ahem, anyhoo, in number 9, Sookie felt like she wasn't herself. She was a shell of herself. The whole book seemed like it was in a fog or on the other side of the looking glass and no one was acting like themselves and VERY little made sense. The violence, which normally doesn't bother me, felt pointless and oddly detached like, "Oh, look I'm having horrible shit happen to me. La de da de da. I wonder if I left the iron on." It was crazy. I didn't feel like it was even supposed to feel like that. You know how sometimes there's a transitional book and it's supposed to feel a bit awkward or sad or uncomfortable or be slightly out of character but it makes sense? Yeah, this lacked sense or even a plot as far as I could tell. I lost a lot of trust in Charlaine Harris in that one....and for some other reasons that I won't drag into this review.

Now, in this review I also wish to address some complaints and criticisms I'm hearing out in the land of readers and bloggers. I want to tell you what I think of this one. What I did and didn't like and also what I think are reasonable and unreasonable demands from the author and the series.

First up let me address something that's been bothering me because I've been hearing it a lot: People are very upset that there may not be a HEA for Sookie. Ok, I do believe she'll end up with someone that's been Charlaine's m.o. in a lot of her books and frankly she's spoken before about "who Sookie'll end up with" and how she won't say who it is. Also, the most important thing for people to remember: This series is categorized as Urban Fantasy and in some stores it's even shelved under Horror. IT IS NOT A PARANORMAL ROMANCE SERIES. So, there was never a guarantee of a romantic and sunshine and roses ending FROM THE GET GO. Yes, her romantic entanglements have shaped her character development and her life from the first book; however, that's kinda like life. Our relationships and experiences shape us, but ultimately the books aren't about her love life and who she ends up with. The books are about her adventures and experiences, good and bad and her development as a person. She started out as a shy, sheltered, virginal and somewhat mentally beat up by her own abilities character that kinda had life happening to her and she is becoming a stronger (mentally and physically), more confident, more bold, more experienced and yes, harder person. You try getting beat to crap by friends, family and enemies over the last couple of years and tell me you wouldn't be tougher and snarkier, too. And I'd call BS.

What I thought of this book: Overall, I liked it. It was much, much better than the last and I honestly felt like we were getting back to a version of the earlier books, but with characters that have walked through fire and come out the other side changed. The book even points this out when Alcide and Sookie have a conversation and they both point out how much they've changed from a year ago. Sam was more prevalent in this one and he felt stronger and more steady. His relationship with Sookie may change in the future, but for now they're stable and strong and that was nice to see. He's been there for her from the get go and it's nice to see him get more face time and better lines, frankly. Alcide is in it, he's less asshole-y than he was in tomes past and he's pretty true to form. He's still a bit of a user but he's not so whiny pain in the ass as before. No Quinn, to which I say THANK GOD. Do you all remember the WTF five minute Quinn show up in the last book? You know, so we didn't forget about him or some shit. God that was terrible and pointless. Thankfully, none of that in this one. Bill, ahhh Bill. I liked when Bill and Sookie were together but I knew it wouldn't last. He wasn't right for her in the long run and I was ok with their break up. Then his character took a nose dive. Now, he was.....nice to see again. It made me nostalgic thinking of when we first met him and the things that I liked about him. It was a nice feeling. Instead of going Who the fuck are these characters, I remembered all the things that led up to where they are now, the good and the bad, but the good mostly. It was a nice feeling.

Eric and Sookie: 'Mkay, I'm gonna open up a hornets' nest but I'm gonna call it like I've always seen it. Eric was, imho, set up to be a romantic interest almost from the beginning. He's been with her through some rough stuff, and they've always had a bond and a kinship. I have never believed that their relationship would last forever and ever amen, but it doesn't have to if it's done well and made to count while it lasts. After the blatant character assassination of Eric in the last book, I was very nervous that after waiting so long for this to come to be Ms. Harris would promptly assassinate the relationship between Sookie and Eric to make Bill or hell, even Quinn look better. I can safely and happily say, that was not so in this book. Was it everything I'd hoped for by book 3 or 4? No. But considering what all they've gone through and the fact that Eric was never going to be easy to be with with his larger than life personality and his entrenchment in vampire politics, it was realistic and pretty good. I really saw in this one that Sookie would make an awesome vampire and I think that's why she never will be one. The events of the previous books have hardened her and although she's still a core good person, she's not putting up with any shit and she's willing to make things happen instead of waiting for them to happen to her. I had this moment where I thought, "Damn! Sookie, Pam and Eric would be a force to be reckoned with if she turned vamp." Of course they kinda are already, which is fabulous. Pam is awesome, as usual and I loved seeing her and Sookie together. Sookie and Eric are actually a lot alike, but they are still fundamentally different and I think that's what is eventually going to drive them apart. Eric truly loves her as best he can and she cares for and loves him and Pam, but she needs to come first with her life partner and with Eric that will never be possible. I hope that even after they go their separate ways that they'll still be friends. The bonds between the three of them are just too great.

I have to say I loved Claude in this one. The bad guy was less awesomely bad than some of the others but the introduction of some of Eric's "family" made up for that fact.

Like Nat at Wicked Little Pixie said in her review, this was a calmer book. There was action and mayhem but there was more character development and interrelationship development and you're not going to hear me complain about that. After the free for all that the last book was, I needed this book to ground things and make sense and I think it did. Do I have complete faith in CH again? No. For one thing, her constant need to pander to the True Blood series which is just basically really bad fan fic, in my opinion, and has very little if anything to do with her series, is a big red flag for me. I don't think she's been as true to this series as she should be and I know she is very busy and works very hard, but phoning in the last book was so unacceptable and I am CAUTIOUSLY optimistic about the series from here on out. She introduced some interesting developments that may refresh the series a bit in this book, but I don't have complete faith in her not to fail to follow through on it.

Now, I could go on with the good and bad of her writing history, but I'm going to stop this from turning into more of a rant than it already is.

My final grade for this is a B. And that makes me happy considering what I was expecting out of this one. It's slow to start but it makes sense. She has a lot of healing to do and once she does, we start seeing the old Sookie, just older, wiser and battle hardened.

And yes, I realize I blatantly abused commas in this review but I had a hard enough time writing this to go back and fix commas now :P

ETA: For those that are unfamiliar with the term "Phone it in" here is the definition as given by Perform an act in a perfunctory, uncommitted fashion, as if it didn't matter.


tori aka ggs_closet said...

Fantastic review! You hit the nail on the head with a lot of things I was feeling after I read it.
Its not so much action per but growth and revelations.
I'm probably one of the few readers who does not see her ending up with Eric. Never felt right to me. I could see her becoming a vamp though. A powerful one. But I don't see Harris doing that.
I do like that Sookie is starting to toughen up and not whining so much about hurt feelings. *can't stand a whiny heroine*
I would be ok with no HEA for her. If done right. In a lot of ways I never expected her to. But I have a feeling that this series will go through a lot of ups and downs before we see the ending.

The Queen B said...

Thanks babe!
Yeah, Harris has said on her forums that Sookie will never be a vamp. Though, authors do occasionally go back on their word, but yeah, I don't see her doing it. You're right, I think there will be many ups and downs, but as long as she doesn't PHONE IN anymore of the books I can deal with that.

Bookie said...

I've yet to read this one yet. I'm not in a rush though because I haven't loved the last couple of books. Harris has said numerous times that she doesn't intend to make Sookie into a vamp so I don't think she will go back on that. I don't see Sookie having a HEA with Eric. I'm not even sure if he will survive the whole series, which would disappoint the mass of Eric fans.

The Queen B said...

Right. And honestly, I'd be ok with a lot if it's done well and makes sense which is something that's been lacking a bit. We'll see. Like I said, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Anonymous said...

Altho I give this book an overall lower rating than you did (but infinitely more than the last one!) I really enjoyed reading your take on it.

My three favorite parts of this review are:
1) RE: Book 9: "Oh, look I'm having horrible shit happen to me. La de da de da. I wonder if I left the iron on."

- That is EXACTLY the shit dialog she would have with herself in book 9 - you called it, that phone was so completely phoned in it was embarrassing. This made me lol.

2)" No Quinn, to which I say THANK GOD. Do you all remember the WTF five minute Quinn show up in the last book? You know, so we didn't forget about him or some shit"

- This made me laugh my ASS of, thank you. Again, his "appearance" in the last book? embarrassing.

3) "For one thing, her constant need to pander to the True Blood series which is just basically really bad fan fic, in my opinion,"

- Yes. Exactly! TB = really bad fan fic!

I really like that you point out that Eric will more than likely not be her forever after. I liked that she explored the idea of becoming a vamp in this book, but I just don't see her taking that plunge either. In honesty I would be disappointed if she did. So where does that leave her and Eric? Seems inevitable that they will have to part ways. And I could not agree with you more about being relieved that Eric's character assassination did not continue on in this book, I had feared that would happen and thankfully, it did not.

I DID like what she did with Bill in this book. She actually managed to make me feel sorry for the guy again! I liked that arc a lot.

I did enjoy watching an older wiser tougher Sookie, and I did like the interaction between Sookie and Alcide acknowledging just how much they have changed.
BUT!!! Alcide is another one that just continues to frustrate me... am I forgetting something? Does he EVER do anything FOR her? He seems to always take and take - "Sookie we need land to run on. kthanks." "Sookie we need a Seer, drink this poison for us. kthanks." and then he's done with her. Very frustrating to still watch her get used that way by him.

I like what she's doing with Claude, as well, and I like the introduction of the former-beaty-queen-turned-ex-con-turned-bartender at Merlot's. She rawks :)

Now we just have another year to find out what happens next.

The Queen B said...

LOL, thank you dahling, I'm glad I could amuse you. And yes, I agree with you so much on all of the above.
As I mentioned in an earlier comment, on her forum CH has stated that Sookie will never become a vamp. I'm ok with that. She would rock as a vamp but I understand why she wouldn't go that route. However, that leaves her and Eric in a pickle. I'm ok with them parting ways, just please, no Quinn type issues with them, 'mkay? Yes, I'm opinionated, lol.

WickedLilPixie said...

Great minds my friend, GREAT minds!

Mandi said...

I've only read up to book 3 *hides*

The Queen B said...

@WickedLilPixie LOL, I know. It's kinda scary, right?

@Mandi LOL, did you enjoy them or does the series just not do it for you?

Anonymous said...

Fantastic review, though I was little more disapointed than you seem to have been. After 12 months of waiting, I expected more. I feel that CH has lost her love for this series, I get the sence that she is doing it because she has to more than she wants to. I hope she regains some of her passion for the characters soon.

draconismoi said...

Meh. I'm feeling pretty much done with Sookie after this book.

As you said, the previous book was horrendous - but this one wasn't good enough to restore my faith in the series. Granted, my introduction to urban fantasy way-back-when (10 or so years!) was Anita Blake. I remember loving the series right on up to a....point. Then the books started sucking the soul out of the series and I had to pretend new ones did not exist. I am feeling that way with Sookie now (albeit for very different reasons, I somehow don't see Sookie turning her life into a non-stop orgy).

Your review is just so much more polite than I would have gone for. Part of me wants Harris to just retire Sookie and move on to a different character in her well-established universe.

The Queen B said...

I understand walking away from a series when it no longer is something you enjoy reading. I do feel Ms. Harris still has a few good story lines in her for Sookie. If she will actually follow through with them remains to be seen.
I like that you don't see Sookie turning her life into a giant orgy. Too many people see more than one love interest in her life and go, "Oh no! Another Anita!" That pisses me off. Anita has a harem. Not a triangle. Not a few exes. A harem, people. There's a difference. LOL.
My review was not polite, it was my honest opinion. When I feel an urge to rant, I do.
Personally, I'm not a huge fan of off shoot series. If the author can sell it to me, I'll bite, but they have an uphill battle with me. But that's my own personal issue.

Unknown said...

"Phoned it in" yep you nailed it on the head. I've been trying to put that feeling into words and haven't come up with something that quite described it, but that works perfectly. It felt off and just sort of half assed.
great review

The Queen B said...

LOL, thanks. It's disappointing when you feel an author didn't put out his or her best on a series that you've faithfully followed and pay hardcover prices on.

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