Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dead in the Family

Dead in the Family, by Charlaine Harris
(Book #10 in the Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire series)

Hm.  Well, I knew before starting these last two or three novels in the (still on-going) series that they'd received lower ratings than the earlier books, so I can't say I'm surprised to find this one lacking.  It suffers from the same shortcomings as earlier installments, but it's also just less interesting and engaging than those were.  Since this is part of a series, I can deal with it being a weak "chapter" in the story-- but if this were a stand-alone novel, it would be unacceptable.  At least the title is appropriate, as the theme of family pops up repeatedly (and not just in Sookie's storyline). 

Warning: Spoilers to follow! 

So, here is a list of random observations and reactions:
  • Is it just me, or is this series getting too bogged down in "supe" politics / delineation of hierarchies?  Yawn.  I get enough politics from the real world, thanks.  Don't want it cropping up in my escapist fiction, too.  The history lesson about vampire territories was pointless.
  • The two vampire assassins (or whatever they were) waiting by the side of the interstate (or whatever it was)?  Weird.  It seemed even weirder when Pam decided to just stop by the side of the road to fight them.  That whole episode felt odd and unnecessary.  
  • Sookie's immediate recognition of Alexei Romanov as a member of the last Russian royal family struck me as unrealistic.  I know we're reminded from time to time that she loves to read, is no dummy, blah blah blah, but... I'm skeptical.  (Her intelligence and book-smarts usually seem to pop up at only the most convenient times.  Isn't that always the way it works in books?)
  • On a related note, Sookie's ability to kill big, bad vampires (and other supernatural creatures) is stunning.  I don't see why she ever worries about them.  ;o)  Ok, I guess you don't want the heroine to always be in need of rescue.  A little taking care of herself is good... but it needs to be believable.  (In a novel full of vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, fairies, and more.  Yeah, believability is key.)
  • Alcide & the other Weres were irritating and boring, as usual.  I don't like the werewolves in this series, and as for Alcide, it seems the only time he ever contacts Sookie is when he needs her to do him a favor.  Why can't she just say no?  
  • Personally, I was fine with what's-his-name's (oh, right, Quinn's) continued absence.  He can just stay gone, as far as I'm concerned.  
  • Bill.  I started to like / feel sorry for Bill in this installation... but the family Bible episode seemed fairly pointless... (I did like the bit about the recipe for the chocolate cake, though.)  I guess the deathbed visit got Sookie thinking about her mortality and Bill's continued sickness, so maybe it did have a point.  ~shrug~  I thought the sudden revelation of Bill's wife's doppelganger-- Judith-- was, well, very abrupt.  I'll be curious to see whether she hangs around for long. 
  • One thing I really dislike about this series is how it treats age.  (It's something I find especially surprising, considering that Ms. Harris herself is no spring chicken.)  It just feels like there's a very limited range of age (in the series) during which a character can be considered attractive, interesting, and unique-- and once you're past that age, you're a stereotype.  (Or if not, it's something along the lines of, "Though she had just celebrated her 37th birthday *gasp*, she managed to keep a trim figure.  When she smiled, she shed a decade and was almost pretty.  She had of course had four children by the time she was thirty, because no-one past that age could ever possibly hope to have children.  She might as well just pick out her casket and park her butt in the rocker to await death."  Um... Maybe I got a little carried away, back there.  Cut it off after the first two sentences for something a smidgen closer to truth.)  It almost seems that once you've hit thirty (again, in this series), you're no longer "young" by any stretch of the imagination, and 35 is the end of your prime (so enjoy it while it lasts!).  Then again, maybe I'm just being overly sensitive, since I'm over the age of thirty. (g)  We get testier with age, right?  (I don't know how anyone's going to stand me by the time I'm forty...)
  • The fairy spell was broken with a kiss?  Seriously?  (On a related note, the portal to Fairy Land can please stay sealed.  Two of them still hanging around is more than enough.)  
  • Speaking of the fairies... the fact that Claudine's bequeathal turns out to be a large sum of money was such a shocker.  Come on, who didn't see that coming?  It was obvious right from the start, but the way Sookie kept thinking about it (in passing, of course) in that "a little extra cushion from crushing poverty", humble way... It was painfully obvious that it was going to be more than a couple thousand dollars.  Actually, by the time we finally learn the exact sum, it's almost a let-down!  (g)  "Aw, shoot.  A measly $150,000?  Is that all?  I expected more..."  (That wouldn't work, though.  We can't have Sookie too wealthy, because then she won't be able to worry about / comment on her precarious financial situation.)
  • The nature of the previous "relationship" between Erik and Ocella is just... ew.  Gross.  I don't like thinking about the hero (or one of multiple heroes?) of a romantic novel having had that kind of... experience.  It's a turn-off, Ms. Harris.  Seriously, please stop mentioning it. 
  • At this point, I've kind of given up on having long, sustained, compelling conversations between the romantic leads.  I recognize that there will be minimal chit-chat before things get physical.  Well, fine, but in this book, I think there was precious little talk between them at all, beyond political, problem-solving (or more often, not solving, just problem-dwelling-upon, problem-wallowing) topics.  And all too often, Sookie seemed to be thinking, "I need to talk to so-and-so about such-and-such, but now's not the time."  Agh!  Girl, just open your mouth and speak!  There is no good time for half the stuff you need to talk about.  ...Ahem. ;o)
...And all that said, I'm still planning to continue reading the series.  Don't start these books expecting great writing or tight plotting.  They're an odd conglomerate of mystery, comedy, fantasy, romance, and soap opera-- but that mix was entertaining in the earlier entries in the series, and I hope that the ones to come will improve.  Even if the rest turn out to be inferior (like this one was), I'm curious enough about "what happens next" to keep reading.