Book Review: Dead Reckoning (The Sookie Stackhouse Novels #11) by Charlaine Harris

SPOILER ALERT: This review will contain heavy spoilers so if you haven’t read this book or any of the previous books in the series and don’t wish to be spoiled, now would be a good time to look away. There may also be some spoilers about HBO’s True Blood which the books are the inspiration for.

If you’ve trawled through some of the articles on this site from waaay back, you’ll see that I am somewhat ambivalent about The Sookie Stackhouse Novels, a modern fantasy book series of eleven novels with two more planned about a telepathic waitress named Sookie Stackhouse who navigates her way through a supernatural world, interacting and often coming into conflict with vampires, shapeshifters, wereanimals, witches and the fae. The series was the inspiration for HBO’s hugely successful True Blood series and I always felt that the television series often proved more intriguing than their source material, which to me often read like cheesy Murder, She Wrote episodes with the supernatural mixed in.

However, with the underwhelming third season of True Blood, my attitude towards the books is much more favourable and I can say that Dead Reckoning, although flawed, is a satisfactory entry in the series that begins to tie up some loose ends for the inevitable finale in the thirteenth book and sees some nice character development for our favourite chirpy waitress, Sookie.

I began to truly enjoy these books around the end of the seventh book when the stakes were raised. The eighth and ninth books kept up the more intense ending to Book Seven (Dead to the World) and Books Ten and Eleven take some time to quiet things down and delve into narrator Sookie’s character. Where Book Ten (Dead in the Family) started off promising and finished things off in a very ham-fisted manner, Dead Reckoning has much better pacing.

I LOVE Sookie Stackhouse. Sure, she’s a little too perfect but aren’t most fictional heroes? Reading about Sookie’s proactiveness, ballsiness and general kindness is really a joy to read in this book and while I would normally be bored by Sookie’s daily activities such as going to an antique shop with shapeshifting boss Sam or cleaning out her attic with her fairy cousins, Claude and Dermot, these moments provided some light relief amongst the more chaotic moments that the telepathic waitress finds herself in. It was also great to read a Sookie who is rational, tough but fair, helpful, non-screechy and someone who doesn’t let her life revolve around her man. I’m looking at you, irritating Season 3 True Blood Sookie!

So it’s all good saying how much you like the main character but what interesting plot details surround her? Well for one thing – we finally discover the origins behind Sookie’s telepathy…which is a pretty big thing for the fans. Unlike the TV show which seems to imply that Sookie received her powers due to her fairy heritage, in the book we learn that crafty demon lawyer – Mr. Cataliades – is the one who bestowed the telepathic gift on Sookie due to her having some essential “spark”. What’s more Cataliades is being chased by some speedy (and most likely sadistic fae) which is a nice lead in to the next book.

Sookie also discovers a letter from her deceased grandmother with an explanation about why she cheated on her husband (Sookie’s grandfather) with a fairy named Fintan and leaves Sookie a fairy trinket known as the cluviel dor which grants Sookie just one wish. I honestly rolled my eyes at this at first but I’ve come around to the idea as the cluviel dor isn’t capable of bringing people back to life or removing telepathy or vampirism so I’ll begrudgingly go with what Harris is doing here. The cluviel dor still feels like a blatant deux es machina and a plot contrivance but there’s an extra added element of danger as Sookie fears that the only reason her fairy cousins are spending so much time at her home is because they want to get their hands on the rare item. The nastier side of the fae was of course shown in Book Nine – Dead and Gone – and the untrustworthiness of the fae is nicely foreshadowed in the sneak peak clip of True Blood Season Four.

The ending of the book was a little ridiculous – Victor Madden – a vampire built up to be extremely ruthless and intelligent is reduced to bloody tears on seeing Bubba (that’s a vampire Elvis) perform as a distraction – before Sookie’s vampire lover Eric’s fanged buddies kill him and his entourage. That plot felt clumsily put together and just so unbelievably campy! But I did like Sookie’s reaction to murdering a big group of vampires and the horror she felt at her vampire cohorts celebrations over their victory to be quite moving and well written. Sookie’s had similar dilemnas before but this one has her questioning her time spent with Eric and how she has become a colder, less Christian woman than she was before.

These themes lead into a subplot with Sandra Pelt, the psychotic younger sister of Debbie, who Sookie bumped off in the fourth book and had a major bitch fight with in the third season of True Blood. I think Harris was trying to show Sandra as a foil for Sookie – if Sookie thinks she’s justified in killing Victor for making her life bad, then why isn’t Sandra justified in killing Sookie? Whatever. This part of the story felt tacked on.

I was also not so impressed when Sookie’s three major suitors – vampires Bill and Eric, and werewolf Alcide – came into the picture. Eric seems out of character in this novel; overly brooding, possessive and secretive which doesn’t really match up with his character in previous books. Apparently, Eric’s maker Ocella (not Godric as seen in the TV show) had him in an arranged engagement with the vampire queen of Oklahoma and Eric is obliged to marry for some contrived reason. I felt this plot development was used as yet another contrived obstacle to Sookie and Eric’s romance and a contrived reason to possibly break them up before the finale. This is more evident by Bill who has suddenly turned into Mr. Supportive Nice Guy, after being pretty much a stuffy old block off wood in the previous books. And then’s there’s a sensless scene where Alcide strips off and climbs into Sookie’s bed even though he doesn’t want to have sex with Sookie for some reason…basically because Amelia (Sookie’s witchy former roomate) told him to! And then Amelia seems to be mightily against Sookie’s relationship with Eric – when in previous books – she didn’t seem to have a problem with as far as I recall. But then maybe Amelia has an ulterior motive? And Bob too? And maybe even Sam? Personally, I never trusted that shifty shifter who was always too mysterious for someone who’s supposed to be Sookie’s close pal! I wish Harris would stop pandering to the shippers by including that Alcide scene and Sookie somehow deciding it was a good idea to take off her clothes and climb into Bill’s hidey hole where a naked Bill sleeps.

Oh and just before I finish up this review – Eric’s progeny Pam is still awesome and has quite a moving subplot where her lover Miriam battles cancer but Pam is unable to turn her into an immortal, disease free vampire because Victor prevents her from doing so. It showed a softer side to Pam.

Overall, Dead Reckoning is a worthy entry into The Sookie Stackhouse Series. It’s not without its faults but it plants some subtle clues towards an ending for the series and manages to effectively progress Sookie Stackhouse of now from the virginal waitress we first met back in Dead Until Dark. Although the books are fairly standalone novels, I would recommend non-fans go back and read the aforementioned first book. The thing that drew me to these books was its premise and it wasn’t until the seventh book when the tone became darker and the characters became more developed that I realised what a nifty little series this is.

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