Well, things are certainly progressing at our weekly re-read of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. Today we are discussing book 10, Dead in the Family, and only have three more in the series! But I’m getting ahead of myself….
Dead in the Family begins as Amelia leaves for New Orleans, unable to stay in Bon Temps after Tray’s death. Sookie herself is still coping with the aftermath of the attack, both physically and mentally. At least she is officially with Eric, though she still isn’t sure how much of their relationship is the blood bond, and how much is actual feeling. A few days after Amelia’s departure, Sookie wakes up to Claude waiting outside on her porch. He asks about Claudine’s death, and Sookie’s capture. After a short conversation, he leaves, and Sookie cries. She had been waiting for him to kill her the whole time. But he didn’t—and she realizes that she actually wants to live. After one of Sookie’s many nightmares, Eric finally explains why he didn’t save her from torture—he was essentially being tortured himself. Victor Madden had chained him with silver, to keep him from taking sides in the Fae War. Eric was able to phone Niall before he was chained, though, to warn him, and he was eventually able to get the king, Felipe, on the phone to order Victor to let Eric go. Which he did, but it was too late for Sookie. Victor claimed he’d “forgotten” their marriage, and was not punished for his actions. Sookie finally believes Eric, and she ends the chapter with the statement “I think we need to kill Victor.”
Sookie visits Bill for the first time after the Fae War. Though she’s dropped off TrueBlood for him, he hasn’t answered the door before. Bill is still very ill, and he has almost lost the will to live. Lorena’s blood would have healed him—too bad Sookie killed her. Lorena does does have another living child, however, but Bill is too embarrassed to ask her for help. Soon after that meeting, Alcide asks to use Sookie’s land for a full-moon run, as there are humans camping on the land they normally use. They weres arrive, including Basim al Saud, Alcide’s new second, and Annabelle, Alcide’s new girlfriend. In the morning, Basim lets Sookie know that both vampires and fairies have been on her property recently, and there’s also a body buried there. Though he doesn’t know it, it is the body of Debbie Pelt. After the weres depart, Claude arrives—with a bag—and asks to stay with Sookie. He’s starving for fairy companionship, and she has enough of their blood in her to satisfy the need. He also has a letter from Niall (written on the skin of one of the water sprites who drowned her parents—eek!). Niall explains that he bribed human officials to leave Sookie alone, and Claudine left Sookie the money in her bank account—what Sookie assumes is a few hundred dollars. Claude confirms that he hasn’t been behind her house, so the smell of fairy would not be his scent, but the last fairy portal to close is back there, and isn’t closed completely.
Pam picks up Sookie and takes her to Eric’s house, and they discuss the current political situation. The government is lobbying for all shifters to register in the same way vampires do. Alcide believes that they are spying on packs, and planning to use any misdoing to support the bill. At the same time, there is a tracker vampire—Heidi—in town checking up on things for Victor Madden, as well as a few other vampire investigators from the king. It’s a dangerous time for Eric or anyone connected with him—if he goes down, all his associates go down with him. And Victor is definitely trying to take him down. According to Pam, the only reason Victor hasn’t abducted Sookie to use against Eric is that Eric married her. Pam also privately tells Sookie that she’s worried about the effect of their relationship on Eric—he’s not practical when it comes to Sookie, and won’t react in the same way as if he were independent.
On their way back from Fangtasia, Victor’s right hand man, Bruno Brazell, flags them from the side of the road, along with another vampire, Corinna. Pam has no choice but to pull over. It’s obviously a set-up by Victor, though, so Pam gives Sookie a silver dagger, which she then uses to kill Bruno as he tries to strangle her. At the same time, Pam kills Corinna, and they hide the car. Eric, meanwhile, is frantic—he can feel Sookie is in danger. But if he rushes to her side, it will be obvious that Pam and Sookie were involved in the deaths of two vampires. So he has to remain at Fangtasia, but he is proud that Sookie killed a vampire herself. Pam actually hugs her and says “You did very well.”At the bar the next day, Sam confesses that he is dating Jannalynn Hopper, one of Alcide’s wolves—a rather violent, mean one. And while we’re talking about relationships, Tanya married Calvin Norris, and Jason is seriously dating Michelle Schubert. Wonder of wonders, they actually seem to have a mature relationship! Jason actually says that he wants to be a better brother, and a better friend.
Later that week, Remy Savoy brings his son Hunter, Sookie’s 5-year-old telepathic nephew for an overnight visit. They’re communicating mentally when the vampire tracker, Heidi, arrives. After investigating Sookie’s yard, Heidi reports that there have been fairies behind the house (not Claude), a vampire (Bill Compton), an old corpse (Debbie Pelt) and a new one (no idea!). But Sookie doesn’t have much time to ponder this mystery, between Hunter, Claude, and then Agent Tom Lattesta dropping by the next day. He’s angry that Niall bought off the investigation, and believes that she is not even a human being—that she’s wrong. Hunter defends her, but as he comments on the man’s bad thoughts, it doesn’t really help. When Lattesta threatens Hunter, Sookie lets him have it, and tells him exactly what he is thinking. And he’s terrified.
After Hunter leaves, Sookie and Eric finally have some alone time. She’s braiding his hair when she begins to act very odd—babbling uncontrollably and just generally freaking out. Her head hurts so much it feels as if it would detach from her spine. Someone of Eric’s blood is coming, and the blond bond between them all is scrambling Sookie’s senses. Appius Livius Ocella, Eric’s maker, has come for an unexpected visit, along with another one of his children, Alexei Romanov (yes, that Romanov). Eric is not thrilled with this visit, partly because he does not want to go back to being Appius’ “companion” as he was for the first few years of his vampire life, and because he definitely does not want to be back under his control. Appius, as his sire, can make Eric do whatever he orders, including kill Sookie. To make things even worse, Jason randomly visits shortly after the vampires arrive. While Alexei apologizes for his maker’s behavior, it’s clear he isn’t well either. How can he be? He was turned at 14 and has been with Appius for 80 years. Appius reveals that Alexei was drinking his blood for his hemophilia, with Rasputin as the middleman. This allowed Appius to track Alexei and save him, though he was too late for the rest of the family. While Appius clearly feels he had been Alexei’s savior, Alexei himself doesn’t seem to agree. At one point, Appius says, “I think your darling would love to come in during the day and sink a stake into our chests. If you think you can do it, young woman, you are welcome to try.” And while Sookie denies it, it’s definitely true, and it makes Eric worried.
Sookie asks if the vampires were the ones who left another body on her land. They weren’t, so Eric asks Alcide to come over to investigate, as it was most likely his people who were involved. Alcide arrives with Annabelle and Jannalynn, and they all troop out to dig up the corpse. They soon discover that the body is the Long Tooth enforcer, Basim al Saud. Annabelle confesses that she was with him the day he died—she was cheating on Alcide. Alcide makes Jannalynn his new second, and will deal with Annabelle later. As the body is on Sookie’s land, Eric insists she and Jason be able to attend the pack meeting, on this matter. But it’s obvious that someone will be coming to find the body, and soon, so Eric flies it across the road for the weres to hide.
Sookie wakes to Claude cooking breakfast, and warning her that he saw Dermot at his club. Great. Then two police cars arrived—they received an anonymous tip about a body. Of course, they find nothing, and for three days all is quiet. Which is theoretically wonderful, but Eric is included in that radio silence. While she has some free time, Sookie sneaks into Bill’s house, steals a CD of his database, and researches his vampire “sister,” Judith Vardamon. She emails her and tells her about Bill’s illness, not necessarily expecting a response. When Sookie returns home the next day, Jason is sitting on her steps. But it’s not Jason, it’s her half-fae great-uncle Dermot. Dermot is clearly confused, but makes no move to attack her. He explains why he sided with Breandan—he was told that Niall killed his brother, Fintan, and he felt that he didn’t fit in with either race. He’s come to believe his actions were wrong, and he gives Sookie a hug. He also warns Sookie that there is still another fairy in this world, one that’s probably dangerous to her, and hangs out in her woods. If that isn’t enough, Dermot confirms that someone put a spell on him, which is why he is so confused. After that, he basically teleports from her property.
Eric asks Sookie to come to Shreveport. There she discovers that Alexei is out-of-control spoiled, and they are all tip-toeing around him, to keep him happy. As Alexei himself explains, “When I was with my human family, I could do anything I wanted. I was so sick, they indulged me.” So now that he is a vampire, he is much the same way, and thinks nothing of snacking on a teenager. But as Sookie says, “No matter how we suffer, we have an obligation to others. We have to be unselfish enough to try to live in the right way, so others can get through their own lives without us fouling them up.” Alexei doesn’t care for her view—he has already killed two teenagers in Shreveport, and will kill more if he isn’t stopped. Appius is considering giving Alexei the final death, but hoped proximity to Eric would save him from this. Alexei’s instability cannot be allowed to affect the vampire standing. Shortly after Sookie arrives home, a vampire rings her doorbell—it’s Judith Vardamon, Bill’s “sister.” Judith tells Sookie the story of her relationship with Bill, and her history with Lorena. Lorena was a prostitute in New Orleans when she was turned by a vampire who loved her human ferocity. She saw Bill with his family through the window, fell in love, and waited for him to walk outside the house before she turned him. When Bill still wasn’t happy with her after 30 years, she turned someone who looked like his wife to be another companion—Judith. When Sookie shares that she killed Lorena, Judith’s opinion of her rises drastically. Judith is thrilled that she can be with Bill now that Lorena is dead—she clearly loves him—and zips off to his house, leaving a very confused Sookie behind. But there’s a bright spot in Sookie’s day—Mr. Cataliades sent the check from Claudine’s will—$150,000.
But the day isn’t going to get any easier—Jason and Sookie have to attend the pack meeting that night. As the weres don’t have a shaman (one with a gift for interpreting and applying magic), and haven’t had one for years, they ask Sookie to fulfill the position. Of course, in order to do so, she has to drink a magic potion that makes her see truth as colors. She can see fear (dark yellow), love and devotion (red, violet, and pink), and disloyalty (green). She easily—and dramatically—discovers that Basim was supposed to kill someone and bury them on Sookie’s land on a fairy’s orders. A packmember, Ham, killed Basim instead, and buried him on Sookie’s land. A were named Patricia helped him because they were lovers, and shared a mutual anger for Alcide. Patricia, because Alcide didn’t choose to bed her, Ham, because Alcide didn’t choose him as his second. The colors show Sookie that Alcide will let the pack convince him to put Ham and Patricia to death, but Annabelle will live.
Sookie and Jason leave before the execution occurs, but after Sookie throws up in the bushes, she realizes something is wrong with Eric. She discovers Eric sitting alone in his home with the bodies of Bobby and Felicia. Alexei snapped and killed them, and Eric couldn’t protect them in time. Sookie takes charge of the situation—asks Jason to push Eric’s ribs back in, then bullies and goads Eric into action. While she’s giving Eric a pep talk, Jason’s girlfriend Michelle calls. Alexei was at Jason’s house looking for him, and she sent them on to Sookie’s. When they arrive at the house, Alexei is circling two fairies, one of whom is Claude, the other of whom turns out to be a fairy named Colman. And Ocella is sprawled on the ground, gravely wounded. Sookie grabs a silver chain, and together she and Eric kill Alexei. While Sookie contemplates killing Appius, she ultimately decides not to, and plans to ask him to kill Victor Madden instead. Unfortunately, Colman attempts to kill her, instead killing Appius. At the same time, Dermot kills Colman to save Sookie. Apparently, Colman was Basim’s mysterious benefactor. He couldn’t bring himself to kill Sookie, but he wanted her put in a human jail for what she’d done. He tried to set her up, but when that failed, he determined to kill her. Thank goodness for Dermot! And Sookie has an idea—to break Dermot of his spell, Sookie and Claude kiss him on the cheek at the same time. And it works! The book ends as Claude and Dermot both ask to sleep in the same bed as Sookie, for comfort. Fairies like close proximity and physical touch, and she’s too tired to argue.
So, what did you think of this book? I have to admit, out of all the books in the series, this one is not my favorite. There are few big events, but lots of explanations of vampire politics and setup for the next book. That said, of course I still enjoyed it immensely. And it does contain one of my favorite scenes in the whole series—Sookie-as-shaman. It’s a hilarious scene, as Sookie reads the colors. She is completely freaky, all-knowing, and dramatic. And Harris is a master at conveying that through Sookie’s perspective, with lines and convey how out of it she really is. As Sookie says, “I felt a lot like Alice in Wonderland after she took a bite of the mushroom.” Classic.
We also see more of Sookie’s ruthlessness. At one point, Sookie even thinks, “It’s not that I approve of murder—but some people just beg to be killed, don’t they? After all I’d been through, I was forced to simply admit to myself that I felt that way.” Sookie goes on to say, “here’s something I didn’t like about myself: I realized I didn’t feel bad when I killed a vampire. Something inside me kept insisting they were dead already, and that the first death had been the one that was most important. When I’d killed a human I’d loathed, my reaction had been much more intense.” This is something we’ve discussed in previous posts—how Sookie feels killing a vampire, versus a human. In this book, Sookie clearly demonstrates that she has no problem contemplating the murder of Victor Madden. But for a human…would Sookie feel as much guilt killing Debbie Pelt now, as she did then? She’s been through so much since then, that I think not. And would Sookie be as well prepared for all this death and destruction, were she not telepathic? The ability to read the darkness in people’s thoughts has prepared her well for the supernatural world, and all she’s encountered there. While she is certainly not left unscathed by torture, she emerged from it much better than anyone else would have, partly because she’s been tortured by horrible thoughts her whole life.
Sookie’s relationship with Eric has hit an interesting point. While things are well between them, Eric is absent for much of the story, dealing with the Victor situation, as well as Appius and Alexei. He’s clearly stressed and worried, and not his usual jaunty self. And how had Sookie not made Eric explain his actions to her before this? It had been weeks before she finally understood the situation. Eric is clearly devastated that he was unable to save her, and he says, “While you were with Neave and Locklan, I suffered with you. I hurt with you. I bled with you—not only because we’re bonded, but because of the love I have for you.” That’s certainly a good line, but what do you think? Do you accept his explanation, or is it unsatisfying to you? I myself have mixed feelings on the matter.
As for Bill, he’s been somewhat pathetic the last few books, always moping after Sookie and declaring his love. He continues in this book, saying that he would kill for her without a qualm—the ultimate declaration of vampire love? And he asks, “Do you love Eric?” When Sookie says yes, and that Eric loves her too, Bill answers, “I wish he would die, some nights.” Come on, Bill. But now that Judith is back in the picture, perhaps Bill will stop moping and become the strong vampire he used to be. We’ll see!
Alexei and Appius…well that’s certainly a dysfunctional relationship. While we are sympathetic with Alexei in the beginning, he is clearly out of control. Sookie says, “Alexei looked so frail it was hard to think of him being as strong as other vampires. I wondered how many people had made that mistake in the past few decades, and how many of those had died at Alexei’s small hands.” Good question, Sookie. Alexei never learnt to control himself, and that carried over to his life as a vampire, along with some madness from all he’d been through. Appius seems to be the classic enabler, allowing his behavior to continue, trying to find other ways to save him. And eventually it cost him his life. While it’s not clear at this point exactly what role Appius plays in furthering the plot of the series, we will find out very soon.
Eric also shares some vampire politics with Sookie, politics that will be important in the next books. When vampires ventured to the new world (they were the first explorers, of course), a group of them met to divide things up for government. They divided the territory vertically, rather than horizontally. The coastal states are part of the Moshup Clan, for the Native American mythical figure, and their symbol is the whale. Their clan—the states that met in Rhodes—is named after Amun, the Egyptian god, and their symbol is the feather. To the west is Zeus, with a thunderbolt for their symbol. The far west coast division is called Narayana, from Hinduism, with the symbol of an eye. And they all have spies everywhere. Eric trusts only Sookie and Pam, but now that she is so much a part of his world, will Sookie really ever be safe?
Sookie contemplates a few other key questions, ones that you would think she would have considered before. First, her own mortality, clearly an issue when dating a vampire. She thinks, Eric “knew he had infinite time ahead of him. I did not. He hadn’t brought that up yet, but sooner or later, he would.” Ah yes, when dating an ageless vampire, each passing birthday would be a bit of torture, wouldn’t it? When looking after Hunter, Sookie also thinks about her desire for children—not something that is possible when dating a vampire—and whether her telepathy would be passed on. She thinks, “If I had a child, would my baby have the same problem Hunter had? I hoped not. Of course, if Eric and I continued in our relationship, I would never have a child unless I was artificially inseminated.” Good to think about these things, Sookie! It’s becoming more clear that we have two possible roads ahead of us—Sookie and Eric break up because of her mortality, or Sookie becomes a vampire. She even contemplates that option here, but vampire couples don’t usually stay together beyond a few years, so she wouldn’t be spending eternity with Eric anyways. These are key questions…what do you think Sookie should do?
Join us next week for Book 11, Dead Reckoning!