From Dead To Worse

Caution: Spoilers ahead, though I’ve tried to keep them light.

I’ve been a long-time reader of the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, and while I consistently enjoy her writing and her world, I have to say that over the past few books (there are 8 currently; the ninth comes out in May) I have been having more and more difficulty believing the world setting. While From Dead to Worse certainly goes in for some of the less-believable elements (there’s a Secret Baby. Seriously), it also compensates by bringing back Sookie’s feisty independence, and giving us the barest hint that maybe, just maybe, Sookie will find her happy ending soon.

I had initially intended to do this review as a liveblog, but it’s a testament to Ms. Harris’s writing that once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down. I read the book in about a day and a half, and every time I needed to put the book down and do something else, I kept telling myself “Just one more page…or chapter…eh, doing [insert important chore] wasn’t that important anyway, it can wait…” Sookie’s wry and occasionally simple views on what’s going on around her add a dash of reality to the often absolutely bizarre events that are going on around her. Ms. Harris manages to describe complex scenes like the werewolf showdown or a murder scene and make them feel real without going into great detail or delving into the world of purple prose. Some of the descriptions made me laugh out loud, literally —

But I was clinging to her like a homicidal monkey. (pg 160)

The air around him got hyper. (pg 164)

And he poofed. (pg 348 )

But as silly as these descriptions sound, they work because they are in line with Sookie’s character. One thing I must say, however, is that it felt as if Ms. Harris is just as tired of writing the crazy stuff Sookie has to go through as Sookie is of going through it. I can’t point out anything in specific that made it feel that way, but an overall sense of exhaustion pervaded the writing. That could be intentional, but I’m not sure.

As for the plot itself, there’s only so much I can say without giving away the whole thing. Suffice it to say that the Secret Family thread shows up more than once. The Weres of Shreveport are having some serious issues, most of which stem from the pack leader contest from a few books back. Debbie Pelt makes her presence felt from beyond the grave (again), which stirs up some trouble in Hotshot. There’s Bob the cat, again, and Amelia’s mentor. Quinn is missing, which causes Sookie no end of hurt, especially when she finds out where he was. And, of course, the vampires have a turf war, which I can’t discuss much about because of mega spoilers.

This much plot is almost too much for the length of the book, but each of the plots couldn’t really fill a book on their own. As it stands, the Secret Family portion shows up in the beginning, and while certain parts are mentioned throughout the book, the Secret Baby part is mostly forgotten until the end. The weres’ war is resolved a little too conveniently for my tastes, wrapping up in the middle of the book. Its conclusion felt a little forced and pat, but it served its purpose. Ditto for the Debbie Pelt sub-plot; it got resolved way too easily, so easily that I kept waiting for the catch. The vampire issue showed up in the beginning, went into hiding, and showed up again in the end. It was somewhat disappointing, but it was the only one of the sub-plots that really felt like it had a realistic conclusion. I got the definite feeling throughout the book, especially with the easily-wrapped-up sub-plots, that Ms. Harris is going about the business of tying up loose ends. As it stands, the only loose ends are the Secret Baby and Who Sookie Ends Up With, with the caveat of How Does She Get Out of This Mess. I have a strong suspicion that the next book will be the last in the series, or at least an acceptable conclusion.

On a side note, there were far fewer instances of Oblivious Sookie than in the last book (come on, even an idiot would be suspicious of suitcases they don’t recognize when there’s terrorists threatening the convention). There were, however, plenty of instances where I wanted to reach in and slap the characters. Somehow, even though not communicating has caused life-or-death problems for the seven books prior, they still haven’t gotten the clue that telling the whole story could save lives.

As far as the romance goes, I have to say I’m pretty happy how this one went. Sookie dumps Quinn for a very valid reason, but her explanation of why is lacking. She tells him that it’s because she wants him to put her on top of his list, and he can’t. Honestly, it seemed to me more like she dumped him because he already betrayed her once because of his mother and sister, and she can’t trust him not to betray her again as long as the mother and sister are around. Given that she’s already been betrayed by Bill and carries some pretty hefty scars from that, I’m a little surprised that the rationalization given didn’t match what I knew of the character. In any case, I’m happy to see Quinn go. I didn’t like him from the get-go — he’s kind of a Gary Stu, what with being the last of his kind and having purple eyes, a tragic past and few or no character flaws. There was no out-and-out romance in this book (which is a bit of a departure from the others in the series) but it was irritating that eligible males kept getting thrust in Sookie’s direction. There’s Marley, the chauffeur for Amelia’s father, who is described as attractive and kind; Amelia’s father, Copley, hints that he’s interested in Sookie; Bill shows interest again (which drove me crazy — we dealt with that angst for several books already); the Fabulous Vegas Vamps think she’s hot to trot; about the only new characters that aren’t at least alluded to being potential love interests are Bob the cat after he’s uncatted, and Niall (although some of the descriptions of him/his actions are mildly squick-inducing). Of course, Sam and Eric are still interested in Sookie, and they’re the primary love interests in this book. The others are more there for the what-if and potential.

As far as Sam and Eric go, I have to say that this book does exceptionally dealing with the complicated nature of their relationships with Sookie. I’m a bit of a Sam/Sookie shipper myself, so this book was full of long-awaited squee. They don’t go all the way, of course, but we get to see Sookie analyzing what she really wants, and realizing who in her life can give her that. She has lost a lot of her initial love for vampires, for one thing, and she realizes she wants kids. But mostly, she wants a bit of peace and quiet. She and Sam end up bonding quite a bit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their relationship takes the front seat in the next book. Of course, Eric is always the obstacle, but he gives Sookie a lot to dislike this time around, from knocking her cellphone out of her hand to refusing to respect her wishes.

While I have my issues with the world setting itself — there seem to be far too many types of magical critters for us humans not to notice — the problems that plague it are pretty common in the genre as a whole. The book itself is well-written, with engaging characters and a plot that keeps you turning the page, wanting to know what happens next. The writing style is humorous and keeps the book from being too dark. For the first time in a few books, it seems like there actually might be a Happily Ever After out there for Sookie, which is a breath of fresh air. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment, and you can bet your butt that I’ll be one of the first to check it out from my local library!