Dead in the Family

I feel like it's been ages since I've last sunk my teeth into a Sookie Stackhouse book, which is perhaps why I felt like Dead in the Family was a little bit of a letdown. True, I did binge on the series and then a year passed before a new installment could be written and published, and yes, after all the drama from Dead and Gone, there would have to be a book where everyone took a deep breath... but still, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. Sookie needs time to heal after being tortured during the fairy war, needs time to figure out what kind of relationship she wants from Eric (since they're now married in vampire custom), and needs time to regain some normalcy to her life (relatively speaking). She has a lot to deal with and is doing remarkably well, all things considered. The world is still reeling from the revelation that not only are there vampires, but there are shifters, too -- and unsurprisingly, not everyone is pleased. At least things have gotten a little simpler and the fairies are all gone, right? Well, it turns out a few remained behind after Niall closed the portal to the fairy world, including Claude (Sookie's cousin and the brother of Claudine, who died in the fairy war) and possibly a few others who might not be so friendly. Top it off with some werewolf drama, vampire politics, and a bit of jealousy over one's ex... and, well, it's a pretty standard Sookie Stackhouse book, with fewer fireworks and dramatic confrontations.

If the title didn't clue you in, then be prepared for lots of family ties to pop up in this book. Sookie agrees to babysit Hunter, her dead cousin Hadley's son who is also a mind-reader. Despite the fact that Sookie's helping the kid deal with growing up a mind-reader, this is perhaps the most normal we've ever seen Sookie as she takes Hunter to the park and makes him dinner. As a young boy, he is quite intelligent and well-behaved, but he still needs to learn that most people don't want to know someone can hear what they're thinking. Top it off, Sookie realizes that she still doesn't want people to know about Hunter's abilities for fear that they might put him in danger, but she only realizes this while she's introducing the poor kid to FBI agents, vampires, and fairies. As for the fay, after Claude shows up on Sookie's porch after losing his sister, Sookie's not sure what to expect -- but when he asks if he can move in for a while, she's certainly surprised. Evidently, even the little bit of fairy blood that Sookie has is enough to make Claude feel a kinship and fairies easily come to miss their own kind. Since the portal to the fairy world was locked up, with Claude choosing to stay in this world, it means that he's willing to try being polite if he can be near his part-fairy cousin. There are other fairies on this side, too, including Sookie's crazy great-uncle, Dermot, who looks just like Jason, aside from being certifiable and potentially dangerous. And Jason? Well, he seems to be doing surprisingly well this book -- he's getting over the death of his estranged wife and is currently dating Michele, who seems to be one of his more sane girlfriends. He's also making an effort to stay in touch with Sookie and his presence comes in handy a few times in the course of the book, particularly when Sookie has to attend a werewolf hearing that regards a body found on her land and Sookie winds up taking some kind of drug that allows her to determine the guilty parties. Clearly, the werewolves have their own issues and while these concern Sookie, she stays largely on the fringe of this.

As per usual, though, Sookie is still all wrapped up in vampire dealings. Bill is still suffering from being bitten with silver during the war and normally, exchanging blood with the vampire's sire would help that vampire become well, but Sookie killed Bill's sire several books ago. As a result, Sookie steals Bill's vampire directory and gets in touch with another vampire sired by Lorena to see if a "sibling" would have a similar effect. Speaking of vampire sires -- Eric's maker is in town. The Ancient Roman vampire has his latest creation with him, too -- Alexi Romanov, the last Romanov tsaravich who was believed killed along with the rest of his family. The vampire savior description is terribly far-fetched, but then, we're talking about vampires so your best bet in any Harris book is to just roll with it. Despite the fact that he didn't die, he did see his family killed and the kid is seriously twisted, quite possibly more dangerous than your average vamp. Eric is not doing well with his family in town -- Sookie has never seen him like this and realizes that because of the sire-get bond, if his sire requests anything of Eric, Eric will be forced to comply. Sex, money, murdering Sookie... it's all a possibility and Eric does not deal well with being under anyone's power, particularly at a time when he's fighting his own power battles with Victor, the envoy of the King of Louisiana. Pam, Eric's lieutenant and a growing fan of Sookie, believes that Victor might be itching to "settle down" and take over Eric's territory for his own -- better to rule in hell than serve in heaven. Given that Victor was also responsible for keeping Eric from flying to Sookie's aid as she was tortured by fairies, Victor is not on Sookie's good list, and even less so after Victor sends his own lieutenants to try and kill Sookie and Pam.

Without giving major things away (and I know this sounds silly, given the large amounts of summary I just went into), I feel like very little was actually accomplished as a result of this book, beyond getting rid of some characters that were only just introduced anyway, so whatever. On the topic of all that summarizing, I'll admit that when I started reading Dead in the Family, I was a bit concerned that I might have forgotten some important details or character names, thus requiring a bit of a refresher and limiting my enjoyment of the book. But less than twenty pages in, I realized that it was incredibly easy to slip back into the rhythm and world of Charlaine Harris. It helps that it's not exactly Tolkien and Middle Earth. There was even a moment I noticed where the writing itself tripped over the discussion of a character, launching forward without explanation, and I felt the familiar feeling of wishing that Harris had taken a bit more time to polish her work. This is very much a stepping stone book -- Harris is gearing up for new developments and clearly the foundation is being laid for that. This is a book for true fans to scan for hints and what is to come as opposed to spending a lot of time discussing events that happen within.

As far as the long-term storylines go, things seem to be plateauing a bit. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the Sookie-Eric relationship anymore. I liked it when it was passionate and fueled by the fact that Bill was in the background, seething with rage; now that it's more of a relationship, it's less interesting. They have a pattern, Eric actually feels like he needs to explain things to Sookie the way a real partner does. The Eric we first were introduced to didn't seem like he would be okay explaining himself to anyone; he wasn't a long-haul kind of vampire as far as human relationships were concerned. He's too wrapped up in his work to really be the kind of partner that Sookie needs and to be honest, he's lost his edge with Sookie around. I still chuckled each time he calls Sookie "my lover," but I'm ready for something else in this soap opera. The introduction of a potential love interest for Bill at least brings him back into play for Sookie in future, as the love-sick, moping vampire was never going to win her back, but a complicated relationship with his vampire sibling... sounds a little sick, but does at least inspire Sookie's jealousy. And as for Sam? Well, Sam's dating a Were but clearly it's mismatched. We're all still waiting for poor Sam to either get a woman who's equal to him or to make a new play for Sookie.

Bottom line, fans will be mildly amused. It's book ten, clearly we're going to read whatever she puts out until it all gets too terrible to pay for. This certainly isn't that but if I have to wait another year for the next installment, it needs to be better than this one for me to keep up the three-star ratings.

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