Dead in the Family – A Tome

May 11, 2010 in Dead in the Family - Book 10

DISCLAIMER: I’ve only read DITF through once, and I’m in the middle of a slower paced reread at the moment. The following started out as a review, and ended up being infiltrated with random bits of analysis and god knows what else. I conclude from this that I am too opinionated to write wanky book reviews, and also completely incapable of shutting myself up. So for better or worse, here’s what I’m thinking after my first read.

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The very first thing I need to say about Dead in the Family is that I liked it – alot. It was certainly a change of pace from the last few books, as we were told it would be. It was also a “transitional” book, but in saying that I don’t mean to call it series filler. Harris has finally decided to start addressing some long lingering issues that have become distracting. And she has also started to lay – very subtly – some groundwork for the ending of Sookie’s story. I cannot tell you how relieved I am about that.

Dead in the Family is very much a character driven book. Not since Dead to the World has this series seen an instalment focused so heavily on character development, and at this point in the story a closer examination of the characters was certainly due. By her own admission, Harris is much better at drawing characters than she is at keeping track of her numerous plot lines and after the upheaval of the last two books, I really didn’t mind that this one meandered plot wise a little more than usual.

SPOILERS AHEAD AND YOU MIGHT WANT TO GO PEE FIRST.

SOOKIE

For the last three books, Sookie and I have been at odds. Her refusal to learn from her experiences and her total emotional stasis was frustrating in the extreme. One of my dearest hopes for book ten was that we might see a Sookie who is more realistic about her circumstances; a Sookie who is a little harder and a little smarter after the traumas of Dead and Gone. While there were a few classic Sookie moments that had me screeching and reaching for the nearest blunt object (“I’m not going to call him, he can call me!” and her disinterest in Eric’s politics lesson come to mind), I was really glad to see the beginnings of a definite and pronounced change in her outlook. Sookie’s transformation was never going to happen in one book – but I feel like she moved a few paces forward this time around. The naivete that always made her so endearing is still there, but her trust is no longer blind and she is more careful about where she places it now. She’s also thinking about her life on a deeper level, and that bodes well. Although she’s still making mistakes, at least they are considered ones. After her mind-numbing stupidity and emotional paralysis in Dead and Gone, I will take what I can get. Sookie still has a long way to go, but she made a lot of progress in book ten. That’s all we can expect of her, right?

I was pleased to see numerous small clues that Sookie is not only hardening, but maturing as well. Her relationship with Eric seems by far the most adult relationship she has experienced, to date. Although things aren’t perfect, for the first time we see her thinking about the implications of being with a vampire long term – namely her mortality and her prospects for raising children. Sookie is still thinking about these issues on a fairly shallow level – wondering how she could wait tables at Merlotte’s as a vampire and her assumption that Eric would veto artificial insemination without discussing it with him were painful demonstrations of just how bat shit crazy Sookie’s thought processes can be. Nonetheless, we’ve never seen her seriously consider previous relationships as long term prospects. I mentioned in the opening that I felt Harris is starting to plant the tiniest of seeds for her ending, and with hindsight I think we will see Sookie’s beginning to reflect upon these big picture issues as one of those seeds.

Sookie’s definition of family really seemed to broaden in this book; she now has more family than she can poke a stick at. They’re certainly not of the variety she thought they’d be, but she is finding comfort and connection with them all the same. Eric, Claude, Hunter, Pam, Dermot…and finally Jason were all brought into her fold. For the first time, I felt a tangible sense that she may be outgrowing her white picket fence ideal and understanding that family is what you make it. Sookie is finally shedding some of her idealism, and starting to view the world through the eyes of an adult. It’s about time.

Sookie and me are friends again, and I have to say that I’m pretty damn happy about that.

I have a lot to say about Sookie and Eric together but I’ll leave the majority of that for another post, except to mention a few things briefly in relation to Eric’s character development below. Eric and Sookie in this book are an essay all on their own.

ERIC

My beautiful Viking, where do I begin? In the last week I’ve come to one firm conclusion about this book – we are going to spend a lot of time over the next year looking at this character through the completely new lens Harris has given us. And most likely, we will be arguing until we’re blue in the face about whether or not Harris has turned Eric into a soft-cock.

We seem to be in two camps at the moment – some of us elated that we finally have irrefutable, on the page proof that we were correct in our assertion that Eric is not an emotional cripple with no ability to change. Others are mourning what they see as the death of their cheeky, horny, take-charge vampire – and his replacement with an emasculated, pussy whipped stranger.

This backlash has really caught me off guard, to be honest.

A deeper side to Eric has been in the post for at least two books now, and of course it was foreshadowed all the way back in Book 4. I wouldn’t even call DTTW foreshadowing – I’d call it the equivalent of Harris putting her intentions for this character on a 50ft banner and hanging it in Times Square. Amnesia Eric was not a fluke or a “pretend” personality, a “damaged” Eric or a fraud. He was simply a glimpse of the real man buried beneath a millennia of defence mechanisms and survival strategy. Dead to the World and the curse it contained really was that simple. I can’t get my head around why some readers are so shocked by the Eric we saw in this book. This is not some whimped-out version of the Viking. This is a multi-dimensional and fleshed out Eric, and one that was perfectly timed. We were always going to see him like this, and it felt to me like a completely logical progression in his character arc. Flirty, sexy Eric remains - “I think you know very well what I will give you. I think you love me to give it to you.” – that line alone is quintessential Viking, and could have come straight from book two or three. Only now he resides within a much more rounded character, one who has finally surrendered after books of conflict and struggle (“I think you know how I feel… Do you love me?”, ”I love you”, “Wife of mine”.) The demonstrative and open way in which he has finally given in to his feelings was completely unsurprising. This is the Eric that Harris has been carefully revealing since the early books, and it felt like a gift.

Eric’s reaction to Appius was quite confronting but again, making Eric vulnerable in this way was a necessary step for his character and one that I’m glad Harris has taken. For Sookie and Eric to have a real relationship, she needed to let go of “Eric the Vampire Sheriff” and see him for real. She needed to understand on more than an intellectual level that even the big bad sheriff can be weakened and controlled. She needed to actually see that happen. Harris made a start on this process in DAG, when for the first time Eric couldn’t help her when her life was threatened. Sookie makes an interesting observation about this incident at the beginning of DITF – thinking to herself that Eric is not a superhero. This was both a nod from Harris that Sookie’s view of him has previously been quite myopic, and also a hint that they were both about to get a major attitude adjustment. Sookie’s perception of Eric continued to be transformed and made more realistic in this book, with the presence of his sire and his brother rendering him vulnerable, indecisive, and passive. This was a major slap in the face for Sookie, and one that was utterly necessary if they are to move forward successfully from here.

If Eric really is going to be the HEA, he needed to be brought to a place where the majority of readers in every camp could plainly see that his love for Sookie is real, and that he is capable of a sustained emotional connection. Huge inroads were made in that direction with this book. While cheeky, twisty, flirty Eric is fun – without any emotional depth, readers would never really believe that he could be capable of the kind of intimacy Harris obviously feels Sookie needs and deserves. The author’s decision to lay it all out there with Eric – for the second time – is just one more positive sign that these two are the end game.

THE BLOOD BOND

This aspect of DITF was very satisfying. The blood bond between Sookie and Eric has been the source of much confusion and angst since it was forged in All Together Dead, and Harris seemed extremely keen to provide some long overdue clarification. We now know for certain that the bond is simply an emotional conduit; not something that generates feelings that don’t exist. It’s now clear that Eric can’t control Sookie’s mind, that he can’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, or basically use it for any of the nefarious purposes he has been accused of in the past. We saw numerous clear examples of Sookie’s ability to identify her own feelings apart from Eric’s, and also of her learning to use the bond to read him – and finding that what was coming out his mouth and the feelings flowing from him were one and the same. I cannot tell you how gratifying it was to see Sookie learning how this thing works, and also recognising that it gives her an insight into Eric’s feelings that actually deepens their connection. While she is still struggling with it, her resentment seems to be lessening as her understanding grows.

The bond is definitely having an unexpected effect on Sookie and Eric’s individual temperaments – Eric seems to be feeling more like a human, and Sookie seems to be thinking more like a vampire. Pam is worried about Eric’s (and by extension, her own) political position being compromised, and probably rightly so. Eric’s judgement has been off since FDTW, and that has never been more evident than in this book. Will this be the catalyst for breaking the bond or an eventual relationship break up? Who knows. Sookie stalking around wanting to kill everyone who pissed her off, and Eric crying and baring his soul certainly gave each of them the opportunity to walk a mile in the other’s shoes. And I don’t think that’s necessarily all bad.

SAM

My conspiracy theories about Sam’s involvement in the supe world continue to thrive – he is “one shrewd guesser” now, according to Sookie. Oh really Sookie? This was another Smack Sookie in the Head Moment, though it does seem she might be feeling that something’s off with the dog these days. It did not escape my attention that Sam’s “halo” hair – which a quick search of my ebooks reveals has been mentioned no less than six times in the last three books – has now been hacked off.

Just sayin’.

Sam certainly got an increase in his page time this time around, but if the intention was push him to the forefront as a love interest – it failed. I still don’t consider him a viable partner for Sookie because he is just NOT being written that way. Eric love or not, I want to see a damn lot more from Sam than the ability to impregnate and go out in the sun. Sam is still the friend, the confidante, and the guy Sookie occasionally tries hard to light a fire for but can barely manage a spark. And he can’t even pay for her freaking meal at the Crawdad Diner! I’m sorry Mr Merlotte, but if you want to be taken seriously here you would at least buy a girl a meal. And while I’m at it, you need to stop dating psycho bitches. What the hell is going on with that??!! Your list of bitchy weirdo conquests grows ever-longer.

All of the page time for Sam felt like he was being shoved forward as a place marker in the love triangle, while the original place marker explored a HEA of his own. Which brings us to…

BILL

I say this all the time, and I’m saying it again. Bill has never been, is not now, and will never be Sookie’s HEA. Bill’s scenes in this book gave me an overwhelming feeling that his story will be soon be drawing to a close. When Sookie visits a convalescing Bill at home, their conversation confirmed what was evident to anyone paying attention at the end of DAG – namely that Sookie has finally worked out where Bill belongs in her life. She will always love him for what he was to her, but there’s too much history to go back now even if she wanted to. And she made it quite clear that she wants nothing of the sort.

It wouldn’t be a Sookie book without at least one “Bill acts like a manipulative douche” moment, and Harris didn’t disappoint. Bill completely outdoes his previous douche-baggery by trying for one last pity fuck with all the subtlety of a brick to the head, and then wishing Eric dead. To her face. EPIC FAIL, BILL. Oh, he also offered to kill for her. This was right after Sookie had an “oh shit moment” in which she finally understood that running the other way would have been an appropriate response when Bill killed her fiddly uncle all those years ago. Bill, once again you’ve proven conclusively that you just don’t “get” her. And you never have.

Bill’s story with the Bellefleur’s moved me in a way I really didn’t expect after all this time. Dead in the Family left me with the very strong sense that Harris was tying up Bill’s loose ends and bringing him full circle – casting all the way back to Dead Until Dark for the family bible, and Sookie’s long overdue realisation about Bill’s unsuitability for her based on events in that book. Bill finally found a measure of acceptance from his living relatives, and a potential love interest who understands him in a way Sookie can’t because of their shared connection through Lorena. I would not be surprised at all to see Bill leave Bon Temps with Judith in the next instalment, and that would feel like an authentic ending for his character.

If you can’t kill them off literally…writing them off is almost as gratifying.

APPIUS AND ALEXEI

This was a bit of a let-down, Appius felt so very anti-climatic. For a year we’ve been speculating about this guy; dying of curiosity about his motives and scared to death of what he might be capable of.

As it turned out, Appius was a fairly neutral character – and a plot device used to weaken Eric, and show us how much Sookie has learned from her experience with Bill and Lorena. What Sookie has learned is that makers are trouble and they need to die, no matter what. Eric having a maker running around who could return at any time to upset her apple cart was always going to be a problem for Sookie, given her history with Lorena. Eric’s political options would also be limited, since it’s starting to look as though the maker must be kaput to become a king or queen. In a way, it felt like Appius showed up just so he could die and be out of the way. One less bomb under Sookie and Eric’s HEA, and that’s just fine with me.

There are hints that Appius came to Shreveport for reasons other than hoping Eric could control his crazy child, but there really wasn’t enough here to do much more than speculate. Most likely this involves Victor in some way.

Alexei had potential to be so much more. A haemophiliac vampire? I thought this was fucking genius when I read the spoiler, and then she really didn’t do much with it. I’m kind of bummed about that. Maybe I’m missing something.

ALCIDE

I am royally sick of the were’s and I am absolutely sick to death of Alcide. I used to be neutral towards the were’s. My neutrality progressed to complete creep out over the last few books, but this book kicked me clean over the line. Their pack mentality, their creepy rituals, their brutality and their brawling… I am just completely disinterested in their drama at this point. Alcide has gone from rugged, sexy and only slightly flawed when we met him in book 3, to devious, power grubbing and manipulative over the course of this series. His rise to pack leader has done nothing for his character except magnify his worst traits. I am not even going to discuss the scene with him involving the drug except to say it was classic Alcide, magnified by about a million. He makes my skin crawl.

Moving on.

THE FAE

While Claude certainly raised himself in my estimation with his amazing personality transplant, I’m not entirely sure he’s on the up and up yet. The stark – and it was stark, no matter how likeable – change in his demeanour, his eagerness to get close to Sookie and his interest in the attic all make me a bit fidgety.

We finally met Dermot, Sookie’s nutty half fae great-uncle and were surprised to discover that rather than being a homicidal maniac as Sookie has been led to believe, he is actually just slightly fruity thanks to a spell cast many years ago, by persons unknown.

Shout out to Niall Brigant – I’m keeping my eye on you. As well as being a master manipulator, you now appear to be a liar as well.

PAM AND JASON

These two played the role of Sookie and Eric’s “seconds” to the hilt…right down to Jason giving Pam a blood donation at the end. Pam had all the best lines, hands down – “Fuck a zombie!” and her snarky exchange with Sookie whilst crawling injured along the floor was comedy gold. Pam and Jason both had their chance to shine this time; Pam showing a nouse and ruthlessness that was just brutal even for her, and Jason finally stepping up as Sookie’s brother and bending over backwards to show her just how genuine he is in his efforts to accept the people she deems important in her life. Pam and Sookie have finally cemented a close friendship (“You’re my favourite breather”) and Sookie and Jason have reached an understanding that feels deep and permanent. Yet another seed is sewn for the ending.

VICTOR AND FELIPE

This is my favourite sub plot and there is lots to pick over here, even though Victor and Felipe didn’t appear in person in this book. I’ll save the autopsy for another post, but I will say that I was literally screeching at getting substantial, straightforward information on the vampire hierarchy that didn’t require piecing together hints, seemingly random bits of dialogue and liberal amounts of guess work. THANK YOU ERIC.

Charlaine practically stuck a neon sign atop this passage, with Sookie fantasising about jumping the Gracious Plenty while Eric becomes increasingly annoyed at her disinterest in a politics lesson he repeatedly tells her is extremely important. Listen up peeps – the Viking says this is important and I’m taking his word for it. This information is groundwork for the downfall of Victor, and Eric becoming King of Louisiana. Oh yes, I’m on the King theory again. This is not conspiracy theory anymore so ya’ll can stop scoffing at me now. The hints were everywhere – from the politics speech, to Pam saying Victor wanted to oust Eric outright, to Bruno saying Eric was accumulating too much power, and Appius’ expedient demise. This theory has some weight behind it now and you can bet I’m gonna grab it with it both hands and run.

THE BAD BITS

So you’re probably wondering by now if there was anything I didn’t like about Dead in the Family. Well actually there was, but it’s mostly inconsequential.

I didn’t like the numerous True Blood references. There is nodding to the show, and there is causing your readers to wonder if you’re nodding or just becoming confused. Some were so obvious as to be definite nods (or digs!) – Lorena Ball, and the Bad Things song for example. Others were so subtle they left me wondering whether she realised they were in there at all – the offhand mention of the pod coffins at Eric’s house, and Appius’ comments about Jesus, so eerily reminiscent of Godric – are firmly in this category. There was at least one episode title, and a TB Eric line thrown into the mix as well.

There are so many True Blood-isms in this book that I got halfway through and started a list for future reference. One or two? I would be down with that. But there are so many that it just looks blatant. True Blood contains nods to the books as well, but certainly not this many in one episode. It just wasn’t necessary.

My other complaint was the sex. What there was, I liked. By definition, it was the Eric/Sookie nookie we have come to expect – playful, intimate, and mutually satisfying. But rather than pages long scenes in which we are privy to every detail and long and revealing conversations, the sex scenes were short and left us standing at the bedroom door. It’s a fact that Harris seems to think a vast proportion of Eric’s fanbase are obsessed with his sex abilities and little else, and I suspect that the deliberate toning down in this book was to get us focusing on the emotional shift between them. I’m cool with that, really I am. But I wanted dirty Viking too. Just a little bit. So shoot me.

I was also slightly irritated by the ending. It felt like coming to a dead stop against a brick wall, it was so abrupt and out of nowhere. However, I tend to view these books as instalments in one big story so I don’t get too hung up on the endings of individual books. As the series progresses each part seems to find its place in the big picture and as long as the final ending makes sense, I will be happy.

THE VERDICT

Aside from some minor gripes, I was really happy with Dead in the Family. It feels like the decks have been cleared, and the characters are now poised to ease into the final few books and the conclusion of their journey.

To this end, I am pleased to see what could well be some preliminary steps towards an ending to Sookie’s story. Though Harris claims to have not yet decided if she will write more than the thirteen books she is currently contracted for, DITF felt like she has already made a decision to end things soon. I hope so.

To the readers who are disappointed that not much was resolved plot wise, I would say two things. Firstly, this is a series and that means that some story arcs will start and end in a single instalment, others will develop over multiple books. Eric and Sookie are in this category. Victor and Felipe are also in this category. Something BIG is clearly brewing on both fronts, so don’t sweat it – the wait will be worth it. Progress was made, even if resolution wasn’t forthcoming. Most of us are used to that by now. Secondly, another action book with multiple intertwined plots, Sookie getting bashed every three chapters, and Eric flirting, scheming and sexing just would not fly any more. The characters are changing through their experiences – that is real life, and that is life in Sookieverse, too. I hope those readers disappointed in this book will be able to make better sense of it when the series is complete. Dead in the Family was the logical next step after Dead and Gone, and I don’t think Harris could have taken her characters anywhere else.

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