Welcome back to our reread of the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. This week, we’re reading book 11, Dead Reckoning.
The book begins as Sookie is finally cleaning out the attic, like she’d planned to in the last book. And what does she find? Nothing yet, but she will. The real story begins as Sookie is working at Merlotte’s later that day. She happens to glance up, sees lights outside, and a figure moving fast towards them. She barely has time to yell “Down!” before a fiery bottle is thrown into the bar. Sookie’s apron is briefly on fire before Sam puts it out, and also her hair, as they all scramble to put out all the fires. Shortly after, Eric arrives—he could feel her panic. But he’s almost too angry that Sookie was in danger, and she knows there’s something else bothering him.
By the time Sookie gets home, Eric has someone waiting to cut her burnt hair. Pam is waiting as well. She and Eric are clearly at odds—something that Sookie has never seen before. When Pam comments on the number of men Sookie lives and works with, asking Eric, “What kind of husband are you?” Eric launches himself at her, and they begin what is essentially a bar brawl. According to the hairdresser Immanuel, Pam wants to bring over his sister Miriam, who has leukemia. There’s a vampire rule preventing her from it. So now Sookie knows at least part of the reason behind their fight—which is still going on, until Sookie gets angry and dumps a pitcher of cold water on them. She then kicks them all out. Her day has been hard enough!
In the morning, Sam drives Sookie to Shreveport, so they can speak to the owners of an antique shop about the contents of Sookie’s attic. Sam is also buying a birthday gift for his girlfriend Jannalyn, which Sookie finds annoying. They discuss recent events at the bar, and their theories. Sookie is certain that the thrower was a supernatural, probably a shifter—the bottle was hurled harder than any human could throw it. Sam agrees, but they’re not sure of the motivation behind the attack.
On their way back from the store, Sam and Sookie stop by Claude’s strip club. The door is opened by another fairy, an elf named Bellenos, and they soon realize that everyone else working in the club is fae as well. But Sam quickly gets to the point of their visit, and tells Claude and Dermot, “You need to tell us why Sookie’s feeling more and more fae. In fact, you’re staying with her to make sure she’ll be more fae, right? You’re encouraging that part of her to strengthen.” They don’t deny it, but also don’t give them any answers. They do promise to explain everything that night (though of course they don’t even show up). For now, though, the fae are clearly preparing for an attack.
When Sookie gets home, Eric is waiting for her with a gift-wrapped toaster to replace the one he destroyed in his fight with Pam. As he should. But the evening can only get worse from there—Victor has ordered Eric to make an appearance at his new club, with his wife. Along the way, Eric explains that Victor refuses to allow him to permit Pam to turn Miriam. If Eric goes against Victor, he will be punished. Once again, they agree that Victor needs to die. Pam meets them at the club as Eric had ordered, but Victor’s men do not permit her to enter—they beat her instead. And when they are finally inside, Victor is holding Miriam. He’s clearly reveling in his position of power as regent of Louisiana. In fact, the whole conversation between vampires—and Sookie—is a power play, though it’s not clear who is the winner. But Victor attempts much more than just conversation. As they are being served glasses of wine, a human server named Colton thinks at Sookie, “Fairy blood on the glasses. Don’t let your vamps drink.” He knows about Sookie’s power, and clearly believes it. She’s able to send Eric her feelings about it, and they avoid all of Victor’s traps—with Miriam, with the glasses, with some “dissatisfied” servants of Victor. But on the way back, Pam makes a pointed comment about Sookie being Eric’s “wife.” And Eric loses it once again, grabbing her by the throat As he’s driving. Sookie demands he just tell her what’s going on. But when he refuses, Sookie doesn’t press him.
Sookie wonders where the fairy blood came from, and Dermot and Claude (now back at her house) confirm that they are missing a female fae. With Sookie’s news, they now know that she’s most likely dead. They also finally give Sookie a bit of information on her fae side, as they had earlier promised. Apparently, Niall appeared in Sookie’s life through Eric, who alerted him to her abilities. Not only that, but Niall’s relationship with Sookie essentially precipitated the fairy war. Now that the fairies are gone, Sookie is withering (aka aging). When Claude and Dermot all stay with her, though, it makes their fairy sides stronger. Sookie herself feels younger and stronger. Lastly, Niall leaves a slit between the two worlds, a tiny opening in the portal in Sookie’s back yard, so that they can pass objects through—like letters. Shortly thereafter, the appraisers arrive from the antique shop. They discover a secret compartment in her grandfather’s desk, containing a small velvet bag with a drawstring top, along with old photos and a letter. The letter is in her grandmother’s writing, and Sookie has to hold back tears, just stowing the bag and letter in her bedroom for later perusal.
Back at Merlotte’s, later, Sookie receives a surprise visit from Jack and Lily Leeds, the investigators who had spoken with her about Debbie Pelt’s disappearance. The lawyer executing the Pelt estate is Mr. Cataliades (surprise!), and he sent the Leeds to warn her that Sandra Pelt is out of jail, and still obsessed with Sookie. Mr. Cataliades had ordered the investigators to be present at a specific time, which to Sookie means trouble. She’s right, of course. Four guys enter the bar at that very moment, armed, and high on vampire blood. After a short conversation (giving the good guys a moment to prepare), they attack. It’s over in two minutes, between Sam and Jannalyn, Andy Bellefleur and the Leedses. While Jack is shot, he’ll be okay, and Sookie is able to talk a violence-crazed Jannalyn out of changing. But obviously Sandra will be trying again, so Sookie calls Amelia, and who volunteers to visit and reinforce her wards around the Stackhouse home.
If that wasn’t excitement enough, Sookie finally gets to the hidden package. It contains a wedding photo of her grandmother, and her grandmother’s letter. She tells how Fintan walked out of the woods one day while her husband was away, and she wanted children so badly that she couldn’t resist. Sometimes, she would smell Fintan when it was her husband with her. Though Adele may not have made the connection, Sookie clearly understands that this was Fintan in disguise. But eventually, Fintan told Adele that he couldn’t return, even in disguise, for fear of leading his enemies to her. But a dark-haired friend of Fintan’s visited when both Adele’s children and grandchildren were born, calling himself their “sponsor” (godfather). Sookie recognizes the description as Mr. Cataliades. He told Adele that he gave them “gifts”—but Adele isn’t sure if Sookie’s telepathy was that gift, or not. Then he visited a few years later, and gave her a green object called a cluviel dor. It’s a box, light green, trimmed in gold, but not one that Sookie knows how to open. Just holding it makes her feel happy. Mr. Cataliades had explained that fairies give it to each other when they’re in love, and Fintan had given it to him to bring to Adele, if Fintan died before she did.
Mr. Cataliades had also instructed Adele that the cluviel dor should go to Sookie. So she keeps it, and hides it as a compact in her makeup drawer, then goes to work. Almost as soon as she arrives, Sandra Pelt strolls in, and as Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” plays in the background, screams, “What more do I have to do? I try to burn you up, and fire goes out. I give those jerks free drugs and sex, and send them to grab you, and they bungle it. I try your house, and the magic won’t let me enter. I’ve tried to kill you over and over, and you just won’t die!” Appreciate the full confession, Sandra! Thank goodness Bud Dearborn heard all of this. As she’s about to shoot Sookie, Terry Bellefleur hits her with a baseball bat. Then poor Terry loses it himself, and only lets Sookie near enough to comfort him. She hears him mutter, “I done what he told me, the shining man. I kept track of Sookie and I tried to keep her from harm.” He tells her that the “big blond” and the “shining one” had come to his trailer at night for months, wanting to know about her—clearly Eric and Niall picking one who was easy to persuade. In return for his help, they stopped Terry’s nightmares.
Sookie feels terrible that all this has happened in Sam’s bar, because of her. She wonders if she should go somewhere else, but Sam states as long as she wants to stay, she has a job, and says, “We’re a package deal.” Such a sweet statement that it makes Sookie cry. By contrast, Eric is waiting outside for her, and practically begs her to move in with him for her own protection. So Sookie finally has a much-needed talk with him about his actions—pressuring Terry, marrying her without her knowledge. This important discussion is cut short by the arrival of Amelia and Bob. As Sookie says, ”No matter how long a talk Eric and I had, we never seemed to cover enough ground.”
Later that night, Bill knocks on Sookie’s door—the first time she’s seen him since sending Judith to him. He is completely healed from the silver poisoning, and confesses that the reason he didn’t call Judith himself was because she’s desperately in love with him, and he doesn’t feel the same way. He had hoped, in letting her stay, that he would grow to have genuine love for her, that he could get over Sookie, but that hasn’t happened. In a heartbreaking scene, Judith overhears this whole conversation. She doesn’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want her—she has more respect for herself than that—so she’s leaving. And with a woosh, she goes off to pack her stuff. Shortly after that, Bud Dearborn calls to report that Sandra Pelt escaped from the hospital, so Bill volunteers to watch over Sookie while she sleeps.
In the next scene, Sookie is at Hunter’s kindergarten school for his tour, before starting in the fall. While most of the teachers are nice, there is one who is not. And Sookie breaks her usual rule and interferes, telling her to get help—right now—before she ruins lives, including her own. The teacher is freaked out enough to agree. Sookie also speaks to Remy’s girlfriend about Hunter, encouraging her understanding. It’s a day for good deeds! When Sookie gets home, Amelia and Bob are busy casting spells, so Sookie goes for a walk to see if she can find the fairy portal. She discovers a tiny little clearing, and a slight wavering in the air at the height of Sookie’s knees.
During dinner, Amelia tells her that she has found a way to break the blood bond. Though Sookie has doubts, she agrees to go through with the spell—she has to know if what she feels for Eric is real. When the bond breaks, her sense of Eric is gone. He immediately calls, is clearly furious, and refuses to come over until he’s in control of himself. When Eric arrives, he half-apologizes—he should have spoken with her earlier about breaking the bond. He was afraid that without it she would leave him, or Victor would discover she was vulnerable. At least now they know that they do really love each other, without the bond. Sookie knows then that she was right to break the bond, and is relieved to not know what Eric is feeling, though she worries at the same time that there’s something wrong with her relief.
As they discuss the political situation, Sookie admits that she wishes Eric were just an average vampire, without all these extraordinary vampire problems. Poor Pam—Victor is still blocking her turning Miriam, who is very ill. In a sweet moment, Sookie says, “Come on Eric. You love her. She’s your kid.” He responds, “Yes, I am very fond of Pam. I made a great choice. You were my other great choice.” It’s certainly true, as Sookie has another valuable suggestion—go to Vampire’s Kiss and find the server who tipped her off about vampire blood. They follow the server to his trailer, and his girlfriend Audrina invites them in. Colton explains that he knows Heidi from Reno, and she told him about Sookie’s abilities. Colton is also the brother of a vampire Victor tormented, by torturing and killing his human mother in front of him. They all agree that they need to kill Victor, and plan to meet at Sookie’s house tomorrow to discuss it. This is all very premeditated!
Sookie stays over at Eric’s house that night, and when she gets home in the morning, there is a strange pickup truck in the yard. When she goes inside the house, Alcide is waiting for her…in her bed. He explains “You’ve broken the bond with Eric. I’ve been wrong in my timing on every single occasion we could get together. This time I didn’t want to miss my chance.” By the time Sookie rebuffs his advance, they both end up laughing at the situation. Apparently Jannalynn recommended this course of action—something Sookie believes she suggested simply to make her uncomfortable. The fact that Amelia supported it as well frustrates Sookie much more. Sookie is fairly sure that a large reason Alcide wants her is because they haven’t found a shaman for their pack, yet. It takes a while to get through to Alcide about her feelings on that, and some harsh words—Sookie basically has to tell him that she doesn’t like how he’s changed, doesn’t like how he went about it, and pretty much doesn’t like him. He finally gets it, and leaves.
Mustapha Khan (formerly KeShawn Johnson), Eric’s new daytime man, stops by that morning, along with his friend Warren. It’s a short reprieve for Amelia and Claude, before Sookie confronts them for their part in Alcide’s behavior, and orders them all (Amelia, Bob, Claude, and Dermot) to be out of the house in 45 minutes. They all leave (without doing the dishes), except for Dermot. He apologizes for not stopping Claude, and explains that he feels listless, unconnected because he has no allegiance to any cause or person. But Claude has a purpose, an agenda, one that Dermot won’t share. He just wants to stay, and work on the attic bedroom, so Sookie lets him. She’s fairly sure that the presence of the cluviel dor is what makes him so happy in the house.
When Sookie drives up to the house after running some errands, the back door is open. She knows she didn’t leave it that way, so just to be safe, she reverses to drive back out, when a tree crashes down, blocking the way. A figure runs at her, she hits it with a milk jug, and runs for her life. She runs to Bill’s house to hide, finds the spare key, and since it’s raining, pulls off her clothes before entering, so they can’t track her by rain dripping off her clothes. Though Bill had never told her the location of his hidey-holes, she had figured out where they were, and finds the entrance to one in the pantry. She finds Bill (also naked, apparently to keep his clothes clean?) in the dark, and sits and waits. She hears two men overhead—they have clearly incapacitated Dermot, and are searching the house. When Bill finally wakes, he laughs at the naked situation as Sookie explains. He makes sure the men are gone, then drives Sookie back over to her house, wrapped in a shawl. But when they find Dermot, unconscious and bleeding, Bill almost loses it over the fairy blood. Sookie slaps Bill as hard as possible to snap him out of it, and sends him outside. Bellenos-the-elf comes to help with Dermot’s injury—by breathing into him—since Claude isn’t welcome in Sookie’s house anymore. Dermot confesses that he deconstructed Amelia’s spells, planning to put better fairy ones in their place, but hadn’t gotten to it yet. Before he leaves to hunt the men, he breathes into Sookie as well. Then she crashes, waking only when Eric and Pam arrive for the lets-kill-Victor meeting. They are interrupted by Bellenos and Dermot, back already with the severed heads of the attackers, as a present for Sookie.
To make matters worse, Pam finally gives Sookie enough hints that she realizes what the problem is, why she and Eric are fighting. Pam feels that Sookie should know something important, and Eric doesn’t want to tell her. His maker, Appius, had been in the process of making a match for him before his death. Eric thought he could ignore it, but apparently the agreement is binding, an agreement to marry the Queen of Oklahoma. If he marries her, he’d have to put Sookie aside. Eric has done everything he can to break the agreement, but so far his efforts haven’t been fruitful. Felipe is ignoring him, and the queen is offering him a share in her kingdom if he agrees. Sookie doesn’t have much of a chance to process this before Colton and Audrina arrive. Though Eric, Pam, Colton, and Audrina all put forth plans, in the end, it is Sookie’s that seems the best. Of course. While they’re waiting to put their plan in action, Bill actually supports Eric’s struggle with the marriage, stating that he would have done the same thing. Apparently, the bond with the maker is too strong to ignore. He seems to feel that saying “I love you” will make Sookie feel better about all of this, but as Sookie says, “That’s what you all keep saying. But it doesn’t seem to get me any happier.”
Sookie has the day to prepare for Tara’s baby shower tomorrow, the night to kill Victor, and then the shower the next day. So she cleans in the meantime, and when Dermot gets home they look through old family photos. Dermot recognizes Fintan pretending to be Sookie’s grandfather in about 1/3 of them. Sookie doesn’t appreciate the fairy sense of “fun” that made a lie out of some of her memories. So to make herself feel better, she takes a check to Sam—a loan to get him through the hard times at Merlotte’s. He also tells her that Amelia called, and she should check her email for information on the cluviel dor. She finds an enigmatic email from Mr. Cataliades, confirming that he was her “sponsor,” and implying that he’s a telepath as well. Amelia’s research reveals that there hasn’t been a cluviel dor on earth for hundreds of years, and it takes years to make the fairy love tokens. The cluviel dor gives the person one wish, a personal, individual wish that is so powerful it can change a life in a drastic way.
But Sookie can’t think of that now—it’s time to put plan “kill Victor” into action. She dresses up and goes straight to Fangtasia. Colton and Audrina arrive as well, with Mustafa Khan and Immanuel the hairdresser. His sister Miriam died last night, before Pam was able to turn her, and she is clearly grieving. But Pam is there, along with Eric and Talia, and a bunch of other vampires loyal to Eric. When Victor arrives with his retinue, they exchange pleasantries, and then announce a performance by Bubba (formerly known as Elvis). As Victor watches the performance, Eric’s vamps silently take out some of Victor’s as subtly as possible. Then Eric makes his move, and attempts to stake Victor, but his bodyguard prevents it. That starts the fight, and some pretty horrific violence. Finally, as Victor attacks Pam, she holds him down, and Sookie cuts his head off. While the vampires are wounded, they are still alive, as is Colton. But Audrina is dead. As it ends, Eric stands holding Pam’s hands, and they begin to laugh. “We’re free.” Eric’s unabashedly happy, but Sookie doesn’t feel that way at all. Surrounded by body parts is not her idea of a celebration, but none of the vampires seem to agree. Eric is angry at her reaction, believes she’s being a hypocrite, and makes it hurt when he takes her blood. As Sookie says, “this was a turning point in our relationship.” Sookie is completely disgusted, and Bill takes her home.
The next morning is Tara’s baby shower. Mr. Cataliades just walks up to the house during the party, looking disheveled. He waits until the guests leave before explaining more about his part in Sookie’s history. He explains that as their sponsor, he gave all of them a gift, but not all Fintan’s descendants could accept it. His gift was “that any of his human descendants who possessed the essential spark would be able to read the minds of their fellow humans, as I can.” The essential spark is a sense of openness to the other world. Some humans literally can’t believe there are creatures in another world besides ours. Humans born with the spark are born to experience or perform something wonderful, something amazing. Gran had it, and Sookie had it. Mr. Cataliades thought telepathy would give Fintan’s descendants an edge, and he himself has telepathy, so it seemed a wonderful gift. To transmit this gift to their descendants, Adele and Fintan each drank a thimbleful of his demon blood—Adele unknowingly. While Sookie can’t take away the telepathy with the cluviel door—it would be like wishing a kidney away—she could kill someone with it, if that someone is threatening someone you love. At that, Mr. Cataliades has to continue running from his mysterious pursuers, and jets off.
Soon afterwards, Sam calls—someone has come with a “present” for Sookie. Of course she knows something is wrong. As they drive up, Sookie can see that Sandra Pelt is holding a gun on Sam and Jannalyn. Sookie shoots her, and together the three of them take Sandra down. Jannalyn then finishes her off violently. They throw the body in the fairy portal, and hear snarling, yapping, and general eating sounds from the other side. The story ends as Sookie goes back into her house, and watches Jeopardy.
Whew, let’s dive right in, shall we? The main point of this book, to me, is as a vehicle for Sookie to discover the cluviel dor, and how to use it. That, and to further show the cracks in her relationship with Eric. We see both very clearly. We now know why Sookie has telepathy (demon blood + the essential spark), though we know it cannot be taken away. We know that she can use the cluviel dor for a huge, personal wish (which we will see in the next book), and we see that Eric may put Sookie aside to marry another.
Thoughts on this? Sookie realizes at several moments throughout the book that lack of conversation about ordinary things is one of their problems. They don’t necessarily speak about the little day to day events in their lives, that bring closeness in a relationship. And Eric certainly didn’t tell her about a huge event—his potential marriage. They discuss the fact that they don’t tell each other everything, and Eric says, “And yet, we say we love each other.” Sookie answers, “We say we do. And I do love you, but I’m beginning to see that being in love doesn’t mean sharing as much as I thought we would.” Well, that doesn’t sound good.
They also discuss the possibility of Sookie turning into a vampire. But Sookie clearly doubts Eric—doubts that he would stay after she started looking old, doubts that the vampire life with him would work. Hm, what does this mean for them in the future?
Now let’s talk about Sam. Partway through the book, Sookie encourages Sam in his relationship with Jannalyn—even though she hates her—by saying “She’d be an idiot not to appreciate you. Single, self-supporting, good looking? And you don’t even pick your teeth at the table! What’s not to love?” What a stellar endorsement. But it’s true, and we continue to see their strong friendship, while they are both clearly hiding a hatred of each other’s SOs.
Pam has long been one of my favorite characters, and her friendship with Sookie one of my favorite relationships. In this book, we finally see how true of a friend she is. Though Eric, her maker, refuses to tell Sookie about the marriage agreement, Pam feels loyalty to Sookie. She believes that she should know, and she hints to Sookie until she figures it out, incurring Eric’s wrath. As Eric said, “She’s a better friend to you than you know.” Pam’s friendship is also a statement of Sookie’s strength of character—Pam doesn’t respect humans, never liked being a human herself, yet counts Sookie as a friend. That’s huge!
Alcide…what were you thinking? How embarrassing. But how satisfying for us, to have Sookie finally tell him just what she really thinks of him. He has changed, though perhaps not so much as Sookie thinks—he was always a bit arrogant. And while he was always attracted to Sookie, he also has always wanted to use her power for the pack. So perhaps this isn’t quite unexpected?
Mr. Cataliades’ interference was certainly unexpected. Who knew when we met him earlier in the series, that he played such a role in Sookie’s life? He certainly never acted as if he’d recognized her. This shows the danger of asking for supernatural gifts. Mr. Cataliades gave Sookie what he himself has, but telepathy is not an easy thing for a human child, and he still cannot comprehend the difficulties it caused for her. But my question is, he has telepathy, not precognition…so how did he know exactly when the men would attack in the bar? Any insight, anyone?
This is a book of changes for Sookie, as she learns about her past, as she learns about her potential futre without Eric. As she says, “I’d learned so much in the past few days that I hardly knew who I was anymore.” On top of that, she has now actively planned the murder of Victor. Before this, her reaction to violence was mostly “I survived.” But because this was planned, it feels different, though it is arguably just as much self-defence as when she is personally attacked. It’s survival, but not the sort that is palatable to Sookie. As she says,
Last night wasn’t the real me. But it had been. I knew—even as I thought this—that I wasn’t going to be able to fool myself. I’d changed in order to survive, and I was paying the price of survival. I had to be willing to change myself forever, or everything I’d made myself do was for nothing…I finally understood something about the mayhem of the night before. It wasn’t the individual deaths I found so appalling, but the level of violence, the sheer horror of seeing so much dealt out and received. Just as I found Jannalynn’s execution of Sandra the most disturbing thing about today’s encounter. Unless I was mistaken, Sam did too.”
She and Sam share the same view on violence. Unlike Jannalyn and the vampires, they use violence when necessary, only. And they don’t enjoy it. But they certainly seem to be stuck in in! As Sookie thought when she was hiding in Bill’s hole, “I’ve got to change my way of life…I’d resolved to find a safer way to live.” But will she be able to do so? Guess we’ll see!
Join me next week for the 12th book in the series, Deadlocked.