Sex, Violence, and Family Politics: Dead In The Family

A review of Charlaine Harris’ latest book in the Sookie Stackhouse series Dead In The Family coming up after the jump. All the the blood and sex you could ever want, and more wasted characters, bad dialogue, and pointless subplots than you could ever need. Thar be spoilers…nothing life or death, but you’ve been warned.

Boy and howdy.  A lot has happened to poor Sookie Stackhouse in the last two years of her life. Vampires came out of the coffin. She got a boyfriend. She got laid. A lot. She broke up with one vampire boyfriend only to get another and spent the intervening months teasing and flirting with shapeshifters and weres like there was no tomorrow. She got laid some more. A lot more. Then something about fairies and familial vengeance and *yawn* vampire politics and *yawn* were/shifter politics and Sam dealt with family problems and two more telepaths showed up. And then she got laid again. A lot. 

Let me state for the record that I do not, nor will I ever, care about a dull four year old with telepathic powers. Or a fairy that doesn’t do anything but make coffee and pretend to be nice. Or preggo Tara and her village idiot hubby. And I certainly don’t need half a book dedicated to them. Nor do I need every single plot from every single previous book rehashed and reiterated. I get it. I was there. Can there also be a moratorium on undead celebrities? Especially when we already have dozens upon dozens of occasionally mentioned characters built up over ten books that could certainly, with a few tweaks, handle the plot duties just as well. Elvis was bad enough, but Tsarevich Alexei is jumping the shark.

Really, the worst part about Dead In The Family wasn’t the shaky writing or the meaningless trips down Tangent Lane to Boringtown. It was that none of the subplots have anything to do with each other. Here are four promising story lines—renegade weres killing each other for power, renegade vamps killing each other for power, renegade fairies seeking revenge, and a renegade teenage vampire prince killing people for no apparent reason—and all of them but the last peter out in a few pages. Or, in the case of the power-mad vamps, simply disappear from the story all together. All of those arcs make for exciting fodder, but jumbling them together in a 311 page book (in the kind of font that exists just to make the Lorax cry) sucks the energy and tension right out of them.

All that being said, I also really enjoyed this book. No, seriously. Through her previous books I’ve become at least moderately invested in most of these characters (except Tara who should just go away and be quiet). So when Sam shows up out of the blue—as if Harris’ editor left her a note reminding her to use him—and talks about the chaos left in the wake of the two-natured Great Reveal, I smile. And even though Bill acts like death warmed over for the whole two seconds he shows up in the book (the rest of his time is spent skulking in Sookie’s woods and rekindling what must be the most awkward vampire relationship ever) I was willing to forget how utterly boring he was when he was dating Sookie.

Harris has never been a skilled writer, but she has created such an interesting world and peopled it with characters that are generally sexier than they are obnoxious, that I’d rather block out the bad and keep plowing through. But it seems even she is getting tired of these people. Family is the first of the Sookie books to really end, if unsatisfactorily. There are just enough minor loose ends to start book 11, but the big things are sutured off and breathing sighs of relief. This definitely isn’t the end of Sookie, Bill, and Eric, as she’s already working on book 1, but if we have to spend all of the next book arguing vampire versus “twoey” politics and watching Hunter develop his skills then color me bored (which I’m assuming is grayish?).

Hopefully Harris will scrounge up enough mojo to either end the series on a high note or do something creatively interesting with her characters. Something other than sex and murder I mean.

Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare…


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