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Monday, May 7, 2012

'Deadlocked' Sookie Stackhouse #12 by Charlaine Harris


From the BLURB:


Sookie has a murder investigation on her hands. A young girl has died at a vampire party - and it looks as though her lover, Eric, might be responsible. Eric swears he didn't do it, the police don't believe him, and even Sookie isn't so sure. Nor is she inclined to take his word for it, not having caught him enjoying the victim's blood minutes before she was killed. But something strange is going on. Why had Sookie been asked to come to the fateful party a few minutes early - just to catch Eric in the act? And why had the victim spiked her blood before approaching Eric? Was it simply because she wanted to be irresistible, or was it something more sinister? Sookie will have to find out . . . but it's the worst moment to investigate, as her Fae family are having troubles of their own and Sookie is, inevitably, drawn in. And there is one last complication. The cluviel dor her grandmother left her. It will grant her one wish, which could fulfil Sookie's heart's desire. The only problem is, she still doesn't know what - or who - her heart truly desires . . .


** Warning - this review contains spoilers of all previous 'Sookie Stackhouse' books, especially 'Dead Reckoning' ** 



Wherever Sookie Stackhouse is, trouble is sure to follow. And that old adage is still holding true. . .


Felipe de Castro, Vampire King of Louisiana, is in town investigating the disappearance of his second-in-command, Victor. Little does he know that Sookie, Eric, Pam and Bill are all too well aware that Victor is dead, by their own hands, and they could all face a harsh rebuke for their actions.


Still, Eric must put on a cordial face and expects his wife and various employees to do the same. Things are doubly complicated since Eric’s arranged marriage to Vampire Queen, Freyda, is still on the cards and in Felipe’s hands. But while Eric is entertaining Felipe and some out-of-town vampires, Sookie walks in on him giving special entertainment to a half and half werewolf girl who stinks of fae and has a mind full of money. Suspecting foul play, Sookie rallies her emotions, but is doubly-shocked when the same girl is found dead and the police are called.


Meanwhile, Sookie’s great-grandfather Niall has returned and is curious as to why Sookie’s  cousin Claude and great-uncle Dermot are living under her roof. Something is happening in faery, and Niall takes Claude to the realm to investigate. . . leaving Sookie with a mess of problems at home, one of which is the ‘gift’ of a cluviel dor, a present from Fintan that will grant Sookie one wish.


‘Deadlocked’ is the twelfth book in Charlaine Harris’s best-selling ‘Sookie Stackhouse: Southern Vampire’ paranormal mystery series.


I’m pretty patient with the ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ series. I first started reading it in 2007 and since then I have really enjoyed Harris’s supernatural rollercoaster. In that time, I have also read Harris’s (completed) series; ‘Aurora Teagarden’, ‘Lily Bard’ and ‘Harper Connelly’ – gaining great reading satisfaction from those serial books that all came to conclusion. But I've got to admit, twelve books into Sookie’s story and Harris’s longest running series is starting to show some wear and tear . . .  none more so than ‘Deadlocked’.


I’m reading ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ with Harris’s other books in mind. ‘Aurora Teagarden’, ‘Lily Bard’ and ‘Harper Connelly’ all had definite time lines and conclusions, and are all finished now. So I have some idea, based on the trajectory of those series’s and their endings, how Harris wraps things up (nothing conclusive, of course, just a general writer theme, I suppose). And in all those books, the heroine’s love predicament has been a focus – though none have had such a rollercoaster ride as Ms Stackhouse (between Bill Compton, Alcide Herveaux, Quinn the blink-and-you’ll-miss-his-disappearance-tiger to the once beloved Eric Northman). Sookie has definitely been through the emotional ringer. So much so, I think, that it’s getting to the point where fans want to see her settled and with a sliver of contentment in her romantic life. Fans may have rejoiced when she finally took the big, blonde Viking for her own, but then Charlaine Harris went and threw Freyda into the works . . . 


Quite a lot happened in the eleventh instalment, ‘Dead Reckoning’ – and the biggest revelation of that book was that Eric Northman’s maker, Appius Livius Ocella, was in the process of negotiating Eric as consort to a Vampire Queen called Freyda before he died . . .  an arrangement which is still ‘in the works’, despite Appius’s demise. Curious then, that when ‘Deadlocked’ begins it takes a good, long time for anyone to really mention where Eric stands on the marriage front (and even longer for Freyda to make an appearance). There are hints, when Sookie constantly laments her neither here nor there relationship status with Eric (who still calls her “his wife”, but hasn’t been around lately).


I feel like the stakes (har-har) concerning Eric and Sookie were meant to be high in this book – a real will-he-or-won’t-he? Will Eric go against his very vampiric, scheming, power-hungry nature and choose plain old human Sookie over the all-powerful Vampire Queen, Freyda? Or will Eric pull the old ‘frog and the scorpion’ and claim it’s just “in his nature” and choose the path of consort? Once upon a time, I think fans would have been dutifully invested and nail-bitten about that very conundrum – back when there was still a heady sense of destiny and sexiness surrounding Sookie and Eric. Now? Not so much.


It’s safe to say that Eric and Sookie getting together was built up more in fan’s minds than what has come across on the page. There was far more satisfaction in the chase, and once Sookie declared her love for Eric (and Eric kept up his stoic, robotic “I love you”) I think a lot of fans flagged. Gone was the snarky repertoire and Eric’s lascivious pursuing of the young Ms Stackhouse . . . in its place is a strange vampire marriage of no real consequence and in the case of ‘Deadlocked’ absolutely no happy-nudey-shenanigans (that’s right folks, it’s just like a real marriage! – Eric and Sookie don’t have sex in ‘Deadlocked’. At all. Zilch. Nada. Nothing). Sookie thinks a lot about whether or not Eric will choose Freyda – but isn’t really all that sad, it seems. She’s actually kind of resolute that Eric will most likely choose the path of more power. And if her mind ever veers towards a ‘woe is me, Eric won’t choose me’ thinking, she quickly squashes the thought. And for that reason, fans aren’t made to be terribly sad at the prospect of no more Sookie and Eric. Actually, while reading ‘Deadlocked’ I was kind of hoping that Charlaine would just put a bullet in them and end the protracted misery.


I remember in one of the Sookie books, at a rare point when Sookie was unattached, hadn’t yet met Quinn but still felt the sting of Bill’s betrayal; she just sunk down onto her kitchen floor one day and cried. And I thought that was the *best* scene Charlaine could have written. Because it was *exactly* what I was vicariously feeling – I just thought ‘if it were me, I'd have a bit of a cry’ and then Sookie did exactly that and I applauded her that moment of weakness. In ‘Deadlocked’, Sookie is kind of on emotional autopilot about the whole Eric situation . . .  and as a result, Sookie’s disconnection to the situation anesthetises readers too. I just didn’t care that much, to be honest.


And that pretty much sums up the entirety of ‘Deadlocked’ for me. It was very much a book going through the motions, to the point where there’s even a tongue-in-cheek scene depicting what everyone’s thinking;

“We came to wish you a happy day,” Eric said. “And I suppose, as usual, Bill will want to express his undying love that surpasses my love, as he’ll tell you – Pam will want to say something sarcastic and nearly painful, while reminding you that she loves you, too.”


Pretty much.


It’s not even that Sookie doesn’t seem to care so much about where she and Eric are heading. It’s also that Eric is . . . not what he used to be. All fans know that Eric was set up as the ultimate anti-hero. He’s the bad boy, with flashes of sincerity and honesty and glimmers of reform. In ‘Deadlocked’, he’s just kind of a douche. And I honestly can’t figure out of it’s a deliberate character assassination on Harris’s part, trying to bring Northman down a peg or two in fan’s minds? Aside from the fact that there are no sexy times (often in these scenes Eric would reveal his softer side, and they provided some of the most memorable Team Eric moments) but it was general demeanour throughout ‘Deadlocked’. At one stage Sookie shows her jealous side, and Eric is astonished, proclaiming “I have never fucked another woman since I took you to wife” – to which Sookie rightfully wonders what little sexual indiscretions that glosses over? At another point Sookie has just gone through another near-miss scare, only to come home and find Bill and Eric waiting for her. She tells them both to leave so she can have a moment to herself, and Eric replies, with a pout; “I want to stay with you and make love to you at length.” I really have a sneaking suspicion that Harris is trying to wean fans off the Eric bandwagon, to counteract fans previous expectations of him with this more flawed (and far less sexy) transformation.


And then there’s a scene, line or exchange of dialogue that lets me know it’s not so much Charlaine Harris who is weakening as writer, but the ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ series that is losing its lustre. Sometimes Harris’s writing just bowls me over, and I remember that ‘oh, yeah, this is why I read everything she writes!’ Like this juicy morsel; an exchange between police officer, Kenya, about her sister India, who works at Merlotte’s with Sookie;

“Half sister. Yeah, our mother would get out the map when we were born,” Kenya said, kind of daring me to find that amusing. “She named us after places she wanted to go. My big brother’s name is Spain. I got a younger one named Cairo.”
“She didn’t stick to countries.”
“No, she threw in a few cities for good measure. She thought the word ‘Egypt’ was ‘too chewy.’ That’s a direct quote.”


An exchange like that has me hungering for Ms Harris to deviate from Sookie Stackhouse – to start a brand new series, preferably a non-supernatural one (‘Lily Bard’ is still her best, in my opinion).


Don’t even get me started on the fairy storyline . . .  just when I thought Naill & Co were dead and gone, Harris insists on resurrecting them. Again. It’s like she keeps writing the fairy storyline hoping for better, more interesting results – but it ain’t gonna happen. The fae in the ‘Sookie Stackhoue’ world are dull, dull, dull. Nobody likes them (they even suck in ‘True Blood’! Not even Alan Ball could make them cool!). Here’s hoping that ‘Deadlocked’ is their once-and-for-all death.


I was really happy back in 2009 when Charlaine Harris announced that she was contracted for three more ‘Sookie’ books, taking the series to 13. I don’t know if this contract still stands – since Harris’s website now has a fairly cryptic response regarding how many books she is contracted for (“I am not finished with the series. I don’t know how many more books I will write about Sookie.”) I'd hate to think that Harris would just keep writing so long as the cheques keep coming – because ‘Deadlocked’, for me, clearly highlights that this series has to be on its last legs. Fans cannot keep being strung along Sookie’s tumultuous, never-ending, no-happiness-in-sight love life. Sookie turns 28 in this book, and I can’t fathom fans holding on to reading about Sookie dating vampires when she starts creeping closer and closer to her ticking biological clock . . .  which leads to another annoyance in ‘Deadlocked’.


Everyone in this book, and I mean EVERYONE (secondary characters you can’t even remember from previous books!) is having babies and getting married in ‘Deadlocked’. Everyone, except Sookie. Way to hit fans over the head with an anvil, Ms Harris. And this, again, makes Sookie’s situation with Eric that little bit less heartfelt. Because Sookie (and fans, courtesy Harris’s anvil of subtlety) knows that Sookie is starting to notice all the things she won’t be able to have if she keeps dating vampires. So, is the idea of her and Eric breaking up really so bad when she’s noticing the babies she’s not having, not to mention a life devoid of violence? Sookie says it herself;


I was tired of crises, tired of deceit, tired of life-or-death situations. I felt like a stone skipped across a pond, longing only to sink to the anonymous bottom.


Yet another hint, I think, that Eric and Sookie are not meant to be and Harris is (slowly, painfully, dully) writing their wrap-up. Of course, that leaves the big question of who is Sookie’s HEA (happily ever after). After ‘Deadlocked’, I’m even wondering if Harris is going to go all girl-power and not give Sookie a HEA in the form of a man. That’d be okay, I guess, if Harris did it well . . .  but I'd still want some sort of resolution about Sookie’s yearning for a family of her own. I have, for the last few books now, suspected Sam Merlotte would be who Sookie ends up with. But after reading them in ‘Deadlocked’, I’m edging towards the theory that if they do end up together, it would be for convenience rather than romance. And that would just be plain sad for Ms Stackhouse.


As this series starts winding up, I find myself hoping for a new character to enter Sookie’s life. I actually wouldn’t mind having a curveball HEA come in and shake things up. Either way, I just want this series to have an end in sight now. Not because I don’t love it, but because I love it so much that I don’t want to start resenting the long, drawn out, lack-lustre limping along that so many other writers insists on (I’m looking at you, Laurell K Hamilton!). ‘Deadlocked’ highlighted for me how far we’ve come with Sookie, but also that the end needs to be in sight if everything that has come before is to have any kind of meaning or substance.


2/5



15 comments:

  1. I've loved this series but I have to admit my enthusiasm is waning. I've actually seen this 3 times in shops and haven't bought it yet...and that's basically unheard of! Your review addresses some of the concerns I've had after reading Dead Reckoning and it seems like things aren't looking up in the Sookie Universe. I will probably end up buying this at some stage so that I can own the entire series but...I'm really hoping there aren't too many more books left. It's sounding like it's run its course.

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    1. Maybe borrow it from the library? lol, it's really not very good. I wasn't surprised to see it hold a 3-star rating on Amazon (very generous, IMO). I think there is a collective fan opinion now that the Sookie series needs to end, like, 2 books ago...

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  2. Absolutely fantastic review! I think last couple of books I've borrowed from the library because I know this series lost its drive, and I just want to finish it, so I'll definitely read Deadlocked, but I'll wait until my local library gets it first :))) I just want it all over. Even in the previous book the whole Sookie-Eric scenario was pretty tiring, so I'm not looking forward to this one...

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    1. Aw, thanks!

      I *wish* I'd borrowed from the library! Drats :)

      I actually enjoyed the previous book, I was still invested because I truly believed that Ms Harris had her end-game in sight... with 'Deadlocked' it feels like she's gearing up to finish the series with Sookie all on her lonesome, surrounded by friends and family who are married with a gazillion babies. I don't want that for Sookie! I have been with her for 12 books now, an I'd like her to have some semblance of happiness! Just, reading 'Deadlocked', I could not comprehend how it would all end in #13. No idea. None.

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  3. I just don't know anymore. I bought Deadlocked but I'm so blah about even rereading Dead Reckoning that I don't know when I'll get to it. I love Harris's Teagarden books - probably a bit more than Bard I think - but somewhere along the lines I've fallen out of love with this series.

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    1. YES! Some love for 'Teagarden'! Woo-Hoo!
      Sorry, I get really excited when I find someone else who knows hat Charlaine Harris had a career before Sookie & True Blood. And, really, as the 'Sookie' books progress I find that all Harris's other series' are WAAAAAAAY better. I am now flogging them to people who tell me they don't like 'Sookie' any more. I loves me some Teagarden (even though the romance in that had me bawling my eyes out!) 'Lily Bard' is def my favourite, but I've also got a lot of love for 'Harper Connelly' (desperate to see that made into a TV series, actually!)

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    2. Agreed! I don't know how people aren't aware of Harris's incredible mysteries but seriously, Teagarden. Like you I laughed, I cried (Martin), I reread books that made me cry (Martin again), and was still happy with how the series ended. I'm a little worried about the TV series for Harper though because they rarely live up to my expectations.

      I ended up reading Deadlocked yesterday and it wasn't as 'blah' as I was expecting (thankfully). It felt like a serious 'filler book', where stuff kind of happens (but not really) and everything's being prepared for what's next. It's definitely time for this series to end though; even with a HEA out of the woods I think it's time to say goodbye.

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    3. 'Filler' book, indeed! Glad you liked it (probably helped if you went in with lowered expectations). I will still keep an open mind regarding the final book - if only because I want the best for Sookie (hey, you get attached to character when you've been with them for 12 books!)

      Yay for Teagarden! Urgh - Martin broke my heart. Such a huge jaw-dropping twist in the series, marvelously executed by Harris (and partly why I won't be too torn up if Eric isn't Sookie's HEA... because I know Harris can pull a great, romantic switcheroo!)

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  4. I was really disappointed in this book, I think this series has slowly been going under since book 8 - the past few seem to be fillers and nothing is happening :(

    I read on a review recently that Ms Harris had mentioned we hadn't met the person Sookie would end up with (that was after book 11).

    I rated it a 2 as well and I will be picking up the last book in the hopes of finding out whether Sookie gets her HEA.

    A wonderful review.

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    1. "I read on a review recently that Ms Harris had mentioned we hadn't met the person Sookie would end up with (that was after book 11)." - I read that too, but nobody believed me when I suggested Eric wouldn't be her HEA!! So glad somebody else doesn't think I'm crazy!

      'Filler' is an apt description for this book, especially.

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  5. Between True Blood going off the rails, the disjointed video game and the books that have nose dived since Dead to the World I have had enough of all things Harris.

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    1. I haven't had enough of Harris... but I have had enough of 'Sookie'. The 'Harper Connelly' series was proof-positive that Harris still has some wonderful ideas up her sleeve - but 'Sookie' is tired now, needs to wrap up.

      P.S. - Agreed about 'True Blood'. Season 4 was atrocious - amnesiac Eric was like an overgrown toddler. Wish they'd stick closer to the books in some regards (while throwing out the fairy storyline entirely!).

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  6. I am a long-time fan of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, I bought the first 8 books in the box set and read each of them at least 3 times 5 times each. (I know, obsessive) I watch True Blood each season (even though the TV show is only LOOSLY based on the books). I have bought each successive book, and I will admit that the last 2-3 books have been a bit under-whelming. However, I absolutely love Sookie Stackhouse, she is the girl next door, but she does have "extras." Sookie is a telepath, she is a tiny part fairy, and she dates supernaturals, mostly vampires. In Deadlocked, Sookie's relationship with Eric is on-the-rocks, big time. Eric is a vampire with major political struggles going on. His king is in town, investigating the death of a vampire Eric killed and a Vampire Queen is in town trying to snag Eric away from Sookie for good. Meanwhile, the were's and fairies are causing trouble for Sookie as well. Sookie is surrounded by supernatural problems and getting tired of dealing with the supes all the time.

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