Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris
Deadlocked is the latest in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, also known as the Sookie Stackhouse books. The HBO series True Blood is based on these books, and that’s how I first got interested in them. I started watching the show, then picked up the books and played catch-up. There are many differences between the show and the books, of course, and I mostly favor the show. Since the people at HBO chose to adapt each novel into a full season of TV, there is a lot of extra space for extra scenes and character development. The side characters have become more well-rounded and complex because of moving from a first-person narrative to TV’s more objective perspective. I especially like the way Tara, Jason, and Lafayette have developed.
My favorite thing by far about the series, book and show, is just the character of Sookie. She’s sweet and optimistic, with Southern charm and manners, a well-formed but pragmatic conscience, and a heart of gold. At the same time, she’s tough, down-to-earth, resilient, and refuses to pity herself for longer than five minutes. She’s resourceful and intelligent enough that she’s a power broker in a complex community of supernatural beings much more powerful than she is. She’s an everywoman: she’s described in the book as a bit plump, though she’s not portrayed that way on TV of course, and she’s a waitress who’s never been to college–one of very few working-class heroines in pop culture. Her capacity for forgiveness, for bouncing back, for just going with the flow, is just as supernatural as her telepathy. Her inner monologues are by far the best part of the books. Watching her talk herself into feeling ok after trauma, and into making moral decisions when she doesn’t feel like doing the right thing, is a delight, and it almost makes me feel like I could be a better person by following her example.
The series has many weaknesses though. Like most series that go on and on, a book a year (or more), without a specific end in mind from the beginning, the plot has become sort of like a soap opera. Sookie kind of has to make her rounds and spend some time as each major male character’s girlfriend, just to give her something to do, because if she’s too happy for too long, that’s boring. New supernatural creatures have to be added to the world to make things happen. The cast of characters grows until readers can’t remember them all, and recaps are needed to remind them who these people are. Previously established rules have to bend to allow new plots to develop. Plot machinations become increasingly complex and character motivation becomes murky. I see these things happening to the Sookie books starting in Dead as a Doornail, the fifth book, which in the one that True Blood is supposed to adapt next. I’ve heard the show is moving away from the books somewhat this season, and that’s probably a good thing at this point.
The weaknesses in Deadlocked are just specific iterations of, or necessary results of, the flaw in the series I described above. Faerie was supposed to be closed after Dead and Gone, but it’s open in this book, until it closes for realz at the end. There were so many side characters I had lost track of: Mustapha, Warren, Jannalynn, Jason’s new fiance. The explanation for why the baddies did what they did didn’t make much sense, or at least was pretty farfetched.
Sookie’s relationship with Eric seems to be ending, which I’m ok with, as hot as it was. She seems to be moving toward dating Sam now, a guy who she insists has always been just a friend. This seems convenient, since every woman she knows is pregnant and she’s feeling a bit of baby fever. The vampires certainly won’t make her a mother, but Sam could. If I were going to make a prediction about the next book, that would be it.
For me, all of the series’ bad points are outweighed by the amazing heroine that is Sookie Stackhouse. I think I’m going to keep reading these books and watching this show no matter how ridiculous they get just because I care about Sookie. And that’s the mark of a great character: they make you willing to endure anything just to spend some time in their head.