Dead in the Family
Dead in the Family – Charlaine Harris
After enduring torture and the loss of loved ones during the brief but deadly Faery War, Sookie Stackhouse is hurt and she’s angry. Just about the only bright spot in her life is the love she thinks she feels for vampire Eric Northman. But he’s under scrutiny by the new Vampire King because of their relationship. And as the political implications of the Shifters coming out are beginning to be felt, Sookie’s connection to the Shreveport pack draws her into the debate. Worst of all, though the door to Faery has been closed, there are still some Fae on the human side-and one of them is angry at Sookie. Very, very angry…
I finished reading Charlaine Harris’ Dead in the Family yesterday afternoon. And it didn’t suck. I have to state this up front because the couple of early reviews that I read basically claimed that the story was slow-moving, boring and only worth reading for the bits with Eric in them. I believe that both reviews gave the book a rating of 2/5. Well, I disagree.
I also feel the need to state up front that Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire/Sookie Stackhouse book series is NOT Alan Ball’s True Blood television series. Even though True Blood is inspired by Charlaine’s characters and book series, the two are very different entities. If you are a huge fan of the HBO True Blood program this may not necessarily translate to Charlaine’s novels and vice versa.
It is worth pointing out as well that we all have genres that we enjoy reading more than others. Although Charlaine’s novels feature vampires, were-animals and other supernatural creatures as some of the main characters I doubt very much that a true horror aficionado would enjoy the series. The same can be said for a reader who prefers to read paranormal romance. The series may feature paranormal/supernatural elements but that doesn’t make it Horror or Romance. The Sookie novels are paranormal Mysteries and if you don’t like mysteries you will not like the series.
I have read the entire Sookie Stackhouse series to-date but the last book was read back in October 2009, when A Touch of Dead: Sookie Stackhouse, The Complete Short Stories was released. Having a more than six month break in between books (and a full year in between complete novels) was a bit of an impediment for me when I started reading Dead in the Family. It took me a couple of chapters to bring myself back up to speed and remember the events of the last novel, Dead and Gone (May 2009).
The other slight hitch that I had to overcome was the fact that I haven’t read a single mystery novel or story since A Touch of Dead. There was a time when mystery, horror and true crime novels were my vice. Not any more however. I’m a solid paranormal romance reader now and have been for quite some time. Once I reminded myself that I was reading a paranormal mystery vs. a paranormal romance I was able to get into the groove and into Dead in the Family.
One of the things about DiF that really stood out to me is the noticeable character development of three of Sookie-verse’s main players – Sookie herself, Eric and Bill, although it is also evident in minor characters Jason, Alcide and Claude as well. If you have read the series from the beginning the development is definitely notable. Sookie is no longer the self-conscious, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth girl that she once was. She has had several extraordinary, even gruesome, experiences since she first met Bill Compton and was awakened to the supernatural elements in the world. The Sookie that we see now is confident, tough and jaded. While still kind, she is an older, wiser woman who has learned the hard way to put herself first and her concern for others second.
In contrast, Eric is no longer the cocky, arrogant, mysterious vampire that he once was. His continued interactions and eventual relationship with Sookie have softened his hard edges, returning some of his long lost humanity to him. His relationships with various other characters have deepened and we can now see his vulnerabilities. Bill has similarly lost his vampire edge. Events have weakened him and he now suffers in very human ways.
Also transformed by events is Sookie’s brother, Jason. Once brash and self-absorbed, he has had most of his swagger knocked out of him. He has matured considerably and is finally a brother that Sookie can rely on and be proud of. For his part Alcide is no longer the charming, kind, would-be suitor that Sookie once knew. Hardened by his father’s death and his subsequent leadership role of the local werewolf pack, he is a much darker character than the man that we first met.
And this brings us to Sookie’s cousin, Claude. The events of the recent Fae War have altered him from being a fairy version of the old Jason. Having elected to remain in the human realm when Faery was locked down, he is making a sincere effort to embrace humanity and has stepped up as Sookie’s friend and protector to fill the void left by his sister Claudine’s death and his grandfather’s self-imposed exile. As so many other characters are lost, the remaining players in Sookie’s life are drawing closer and are developing into what can only be considered a family-of-choice unit and surely this will be a good thing for Sookie as the series continues.
Other than the character development, I was happy to note moments of humour in DiF that were absent in previous books, some of which can be contributed to Sookie’s new found cynicism. For example, when thinking about her new co-worker, Kennedy, who served time for manslaughter, Sookie reflects how she herself has no problem with the woman, even though some others are uncomfortable around her. Sookie explains, “It’s not that I approve of murder – but some people just beg to be killed, don’t they?” and she is most sincere about this sentiment.
Other lighter moments occur when Sookie is taking care of her five year old cousin, Hunter, who is telepathic like Sookie. As only children of that age do, Hunter delivers some cute lines such as “I’m the king of the ducks, Aunt Sookie” and “What about your ass, Aunt Sookie?” He also develops an easy friendship with their fae cousin Claude and I enjoyed the scene in which Hunter cheerfully informed Claude over breakfast, “There’s a vampire in the closet. He can’t come out in the daytime.” The delivery is so matter-of-fact that the reader can’t help but smile at Hunter’s sincerity and innocence.
Other favourite lines are delivered by Pam, Eric’s second in command, who is never one to mince words – “Fuck a zombie!” and “You’re my favourite breather.” I also enjoyed it when Sookie’s fae uncle told her “Dead things love you.”
So, in summary, I enjoyed Dead in the Family. It was a nice, quick read. There were no major surprises or jaw dropping moments but it wasn’t boring either, despite the lack of a cliff hanger ending. Sookie’s problems seem to be wrapped up, with the exception that she, Eric and Pam would like to see Eric’s immediate boss be taken out of the picture, preferably permanently, as he is a thorn in Eric’s side. It seems reasonable to expect this relatively minor conflict to escalate in future books and I anticipate some action to evolve as the Were community continues to pursue a legal status similar to the one currently enjoyed by the vampire community. I give Dead in the Family a rating of 3 Bites out of 5.