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From Dead to Worse

by Charlaine Harris


After my last visit to the world of Charlaine Harris’ favourite barmaid, Sookie Stackhouse, to say I left her presence with some unease would be an understatement. In All Together Dead (- click here for our review), we took our first journey out of Sookie’s small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, to a vampire convention in the city of “Rhodes” (- I still can’t find it on a map!), where Sookie faced some difficult truths about the bloodsuckers she aligned herself with. This chapter also brought her closer to her current beau, the weretiger, Quinn and allowed Sookie to use her psychic abilities be a hero during a terrorist bombing of the vamps’ hotel.

The book featured odd pacing, very little depth and Sookie’s own character development was perplexing to anyone who had previously enjoyed Sookie’s adventures; I was left wondering who this cynical, needy woman of dubious judgment (- and intellect) was? Sookie, with her always-questionable gung-ho attachment to the undead, spent most of the story denigrating the bloodsuckers whilst continuing to do their bidding and seems shocked by her sudden realisation (- with ample coaching from her beloved tiger-man) that they are indeed not like human beings. Sookie’s confusion about her status as a slightly perishable mortal gives us what is possibly the most ridiculous scene in the series as Sookie refuses to remove herself from the immediate vicinity of a homemade bomb disguised as a Dr. Pepper can. She disregards the pleading of her werebeast boyfriend, a considerably less destructible vampire pal, and the exhortations of the hotel’s security force (- in a rare moment of sanity, the hotel man says, You won’t let anyone take the can, you won’t put it down, and you haven’t blown up yet. So I think I’ll go downstairs to wait for the bomb squad”. I wished I could have joined him instead of witnessing such inexplicable dumbness). All Together Dead also allowed us to play voyeur to Quinn’s utterly unromantic booty call on Sookie (- PS: a sandpaper-like tongue will always equal ouch). In yet another new low, we were introduced to a vamp royal’s alien bodyguards from outer space - like ET, only with karate.

Regardless of the shocking amount of silliness, intentional and otherwise, there was no fun in this book; the down-home, salt-of-the-earth humour that was a hallmark of the prior chapters wasn’t to be found. While previous volumes of Sookie’s story were gripping and exciting page-turners, this time the mood was grim throughout. Decidedly somber in tone, it seemed like Ms. Harris was intent on turning our sweet, kind-natured waitress into something harder and meaner and the mould simply didn’t fit her.

I had noted that I felt the following book would hold the key to Sookie’s direction and make or break the series as fans knew it.

Breathe a sigh of relief and pop the champagne, folks, Sookie’s back! From Dead to Worse puts Sookie back on track in more ways than one. Harris has restored her heroine to the familiar surroundings of her beloved Bon Temps and narrowed down ATD’s cast of thousands to the familiar crew of earlier books with a few new additions.

The story opens with our agreeable Southern Belle allowing herself to suffer the insult of being asked to attend the Bon Temps society wedding of the year, not as a guest, but as bar staff. Further proof that this is the Sookie we recognise (- and want to shake sometimes) comes later in the chapter when one of the brides of the double wedding pleads with Sookie to take a momentary break from setting up drinks and slip into the gown of a bridesmaid who’s fainted. “I was amazed that Halleigh has had the presence of mind to divest Tiffany of the bridesmaid dress before her departure for the hospital. Brides are ruthless.”In the midst of changing from bridesmaid princess back to bartending Cinderella, Sookie’s former beau and first love, The Vampire Bill (- no, really) turns up in the room to tell some truths about his feelings for her. They have a slight history of betrayal, these two, and Sookie’s snarky reaction to his earnest admission put my back up that we might have more of the cynical pod-Sookie from the last book. Happily, in moments she is once again her genial, open-hearted self, even advocating a budding relationship between her boss, bar owner/shapeshifter Sam Merlotte, and a werepanther Sookie is suspicious of, simply because she wants Sam to be happy. Mind you, there has always been a little frisson of something something between Sam and Sookie, so her obliging happy face is even more selfless.

Bonds and family are at the heart of From Dead to Worse, and it’s with great excitement and a little concern that Sookie discovers that she has a family more extended than the thoughtless wereleopard brother she believed to be her only remaining relative. A lot of Sookie’s gifts and associations are explained with the revelation of her kin and some of the more way-out aspects of previous books are better clarified. Sookie’s near adoption of the novice witch Amelia plays a major part here too, along with her transfigured boyfriend Bob, now living life chasing mice and coughing up hairballs after Amelia’s misbegotten spell turned him into a cat. Though Amelia comes from a terrifically wealthy family, Sookie’s somehow made it her responsibility to take in Amelia after her flat, shared by Sookie’s deceased cousin, was destroyed. How Sookie owes her anything, I dunno, but more on that later. Let it never be said that it’s not just as easy to house one witch as two after Sookie decides to open her home to Amelia’s mentor, the powerful elderly witch, Octavia. Octavia’s story is that she was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and lives shabbily in a relative’s house. Once again, Sookie’s big heart makes a roommate out of another stray. I couldn’t help but wonder if Octavia was that powerful; couldn’t she have just conjured a house or made her relatives nicer?

This hearthside warmth notwithstanding, all is not rainbows and sunshine in Sookieland, our girl has been fretting over the lack of any word from her man-tiger, who was injured during the Rhodes bombing and intent on healing at home when they last spoke. Why she should be so disturbed about this when Quinn has never made a point of constant contact with Sookie is beyond me, but I digress. Sookie’s in a bad way over her missing man.

The Pelt family makes yet another appearance, in a story that’s been dragged out way too long. “Dammit. I was sick to death of the issue of Debbie Pelt,” Sookie opines. Back of the line, sister! This time, the younger sibling of shapeshifter Debbie Pelt, Sookie’s psychotic attempted murderer, decides to have a go at wrecking Sookie’s life, but this side story is like a blip on the radar on the scheme of all the things happening in the book and seems more an attempt to further legitimise Amelia’s presence.

There are power struggles galore in both worlds where Sookie plays diplomat. The werewolves are seeing their numbers picked off one by one, leaving momentary Sookie beau, Alcide, in a position of galvanising his remaining followers to defend themselves against an invading pack. Despite my aversion to the fuzzy folk, the werewar is some of the most exciting stuff in the book and indeed the series, and Sookie, caught in the middle (-it must be Tuesday) is lucky enough to have a couple of great bodyguards who are shown to their best effect in this sequence. One rescuer we see in a way never shown before, and the other saviour bellows the war cry that is going on a t-shirt as soon as I figure out how to work my printer; “Bring it on, fur-ass!” whilst in a tank top, pajama bottoms and suffering from bedhead. This, ladies and gentlemen, is worth the price of the hardcover alone.

The other bid for control is the one that was brewing even before the hotel bombing in ATD; the explosion that left Louisiana already weakened by the Katrina disaster, with an invalid, legless vampire queen. Add to that her right hand and closest minion, Andre, having been assassinated in cold (-er) blood by Sookie’s own vampire-hating boyfriend, Quinn, Sophie-Anne is as helpless to defend herself or her queendom as a newborn kitten. When the king of another state decides to move in for the kill, similar tactics to those of the werewolves are employed and various vampires are turned to dust in the process. This does not bode well for Eric Northman, sheriff of Area 5 under Sophie-Anne’s regime and onetime Sookie paramour (- though the witches spell he was under at the time caused a little cloudiness in his recollection of the event, to Sookie’s alternating relief and dismay). As one of the most powerful vampires in the state, Eric is a big ol’ target, and by association of their blood bond, so is Sookie. The Vegas vampires are suspiciously aware of the comings and goings of the Louisiana crew and many things are brought to light once the showdown takes place at the Stackhouse home.

The last piece of the puzzle is revealed as Sookie discovers where exactly Quinn has been for the most of the story. Egads, it’s hard for me not to give it away, but I will confine myself to wondering if Ms. Harris got a hold of my review of her last book. I am so gonna revisit this review after the book’s been out for a bit. I will reveal that, yes; he does call her “Babe.” {… Pins and needles, needles and pins….}

With the abundant (- and merciful) lack of Quinn in these pages, Sookie’s witch roommate, Amelia breezed right into his place as the book irritant. Again, her place with Sookie makes no sense. Sookie even admits some annoyance with having her there and Amelia’s personality is simply grating, smarting off to nearly everyone at some point or other. As a roommate, besides being obsessively clean - in one tense instance, even tidying Sookie’s room, a no-go zone - she forgets to give Sookie crucial phone messages at every turn. Hmm… We meet Amelia’s shady, vulgarly rich father and there seems to be no reason why she simply doesn’t move back wherever she came from or into another flat, her father seems more than willing to help. Outside of a replay of an imaging trick used in a prior book {Definitely Dead}, the mojo used to confund the Pelt attaché and these “wards” alleged to keep Sookie’s house from vamp invasions (-but don’t vampires have to be invited into a home to enter?) the reasoning behind keeping this abrasive character in such close quarters is paper-thin, then adding Octavia as yet another houseguest just seems ridiculous and a bit plot device-y. End rant.

There is scant mention of the deadly anti-vampire terrorists, the Fellowship of the Sun outside of an instance where a couple of yahoos inside Merlotte’s veer dangerously close to picking on the wrong pastel twinset-wearing vampire. I must mention the sadness in my heart at the lack of presence of a certain addle-pated vampire from Memphis who bears a striking resemblance to a rather famous deceased musician. Also, there is good news and bad news for the increase in Sam’s face time in the book. Sam has always been a safe haven for Sookie, but here he’s an out and out Jiminy Cricket and too close to Quinn’s endless harangue of “The vampires are sooo eeevulzz.” He harps against them too much under the aegis of his concern for Sookie, but it smacks of interference. Is this possibly another cliffhanger as to what might occur between the two in the next chapter?

The pacing of From Dead to Worse is far better than its predecessor with well-placed scenes of thrilling, vivid action breaking into the simplicity of Sookie’s small town country life. Many times, either through her compassionate nature or perhaps a yearning for adventure, Sookie does indeed sign up for a lot of the trouble she gets into. The key to Sookie’s charm is in watching this decent, down-to-earth woman face those challenges and situations so far out of her (- or anybody’s) ken with only the common sense and compassion that makes Sookie the person she is. Sookie’s endearing appeal is in the way she maintains her sweetness and good heart despite all the horrors she is increasingly exposed to, and seeing her turn suddenly cold and cynical in ATD was like watching the start of her becoming a person I didn’t want to know.

Ms. Harris has given Sookie back to her readers while at the same time allowing her the opportunity to grow and make changes in her world. What changes will come after the momentous ones in From Dead to Worse, we’ll just have to wait for the next book to find out.

Well done, Ms. Harris.


~ Mighty Ganesha

May 4th, 2008





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Charlaine Harris  


photo © 2005 Caroline Greyshock. All book art courtesy of Berkley Publishing





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