Dead Ever After
Published 2013 338 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
Sookie Stackhouse finds it easy to turn down the request of former barmaid Arlene when she wants her job back at Merlotte’s. After all, Arlene tried to have Sookie killed. But her relationship with Eric Northman is not so clearcut. He and his vampires are keeping their distance… and a cold silence. And when Sookie learns the reason why, she is devastated.
Then a shocking murder rocks Bon Temps, and Sookie is arrested for the crime.
But the evidence against Sookie is weak, and she makes bail. Investigating the killing, she’ll learn that what passes for truth in Bon Temps is only a convenient lie. What passes for justice is more spilled blood. And what passes for love is never enough…
The Editor’s Review
Oh dear. Oh dear. Where to start and what to say? I always try to keep the reviews spoiler free but I think you’d have to have firmly stuck your head in the sand, or been exiled to a desert island with no internet access, not to have already heard the spoilers for this book. I don’t think it’s possible to write a full and coherent review without giving the series ending away – so look away now if you don’t want to know!
Dead Ever After is the thirteenth, and final, series instalment in Charlaine Harris’ bestselling Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood urban fantasy novels. I’ve been a huge fan of this series since I first read Dead Until Dark all those years ago. Since I’ve invested twelve years (a not insignificant portion of my life) to these books (and a further 7 years or so writing 500+ fantasy fiction book reviews) I feel qualified to criticise. Why do I feel the need to justify my criticism? Well, the world is full of bat-shit crazy people and a number of them have had a big hate on for this book, and its author, solely based on the fact that Sookie’s HEA didn’t include the series’ favourite vampire character Eric. Death threats were issued. Seriously? I mean it’s just a book, not a particularly good one I’ll admit, but still… it’s not the Bible or the Qur’an. This hardly calls for a fatwa.
I feel that in the face of such extreme and irrational prejudice against a book that most people hadn’t even read at that time, it’s important to write a balanced review. So here goes…
First things first: Sookie’s love-life. The Sookie Stackhouse books have always been a part of the UF (urban fantasy) genre. This genre is often closely linked with paranormal romance (PR), and frequently muddled up with PR due to publishers often swapping the covers and book blurbs about if they think it will sell more copies as a PR than when marketed as UF or vice-versa, but it has different “rules”. Urban fantasy always features protagonists with complicated love lives. Unlike romance novels there is not a compulsory happy ever after for the lead characters. The Sookie Stackhouse books have never been written or marketed as romances so I wasn’t expecting Sookie to fall into the arms of her one true love and live happily ever after at the end of this book. Personally, I’d like to have seen Sookie strong in her conviction that she had grown into a confident and highly capable woman, who didn’t need to define herself by whether she had a serous boyfriend, or by the opinions of others.
That said, these books have always featured Sookie’s intimate relationships as a vehicle to develop the personalities of the series characters and plotlines, so readers have a fair expectation that there will be some meaningful relationship development within this book. This is where Dead Ever After seriously lets readers down. Sookie gets a vampire-divorce from Eric with little real emotional bother on either side, and then looks at Sam and thinks, “Wow, I’ll do my best friend instead”. I’m paraphrasing here – that’s not a quote from the book – but that’s what this plotline feels like. And it’s not very realistic and it is in no way coherently developed. It’s just plonked into the plotline with no build up. Based on the level of relationship development we’ve seen in previous novels this is well below the author’s usual writing abilities.
Since I don’t particularly read the Sookie books for the romance what do I read them for? Well actually I like the mysteries. I like that Sookie gets to play detective, usually ending up with her, or her dearest friends in peril. The whodunnit in this story is for Sookie to find out who framed her for the murder of Arlene. It starts off well enough yet it too manages to fall flat and short of expectation. For some reason after 12 novels all written solely in Sookie’s first person POV the author decides to add in passages written in third person with cryptic descriptions, such as “the tall man” said, and “the medium man” replied, or “the red-headed woman” asked. It’s a bizarre and unnecessary addition at this stage of the series. One that detracts, rather than adds, to the reading experience. It certainly doesn’t mask the below-par mystery plotline which feels more like a convenient hook for the series end than a fully developed murder-mystery plot.
Finally we get to the characters. The great strength of this series has always been the author’s ability to flesh out her small-town supernatural world with characters that have real human traits (even if they are not human.) The personalities range from delightfully quirky to mean-spirited and petty. Along the way we’ve had villains that range from human serial killers to evil vampires and murderous fairies. All wonderfully believable and mostly hugely likeable. Until now. What happened?
Over the last couple of books there have been occasions when Sookie’s voice and personality has slipped from “spunky” to irritatingly “prissy”. It was much worse in this book and by the end of reading Dead Ever After I didn’t even like her anymore, she just wasn’t someone I’d want to be friends with. Her superior attitude towards her friend Amelia was strangely grating. Her know-it-all response towards remarks that her godfather Mr Cataliades (a part demon) made about the nature of demon bargains leaving no access to redemption (but Sookie knows better because she believes in God – even though He and His agents are the one supernatural force never featured in Sookie’s mythical world) just highlight what a narrow-minded bigot she’s become.
It’s not just Sookie who gets a personality transplant. I’ve always like Sam. He was written to be the down-to-earth, dependable good guy of the series. However, Sam’s remarks to Sookie about his previous girlfriends (the latest one not yet even cold in the grave) just left me cold. The way a man talks about his ex(s) says a lot about his character, after all there’s a fair chance that one day you’ll be his ex and that’s the way he’ll talk about you. At that point I didn’t want to know Sam anymore either…
And now for Eric. How can we leave this series without talking about Eric? Apparently quite easily since the author didn’t think that his character needed much input in this last series instalment. For the record I’ll admit Eric is one of my all time favourite vampire characters. Why? Because Charlaine Harris just wrote him that way. If she expected readers to suddenly forget about Eric she needed to write it that way too. But she didn’t. So what we end up with is an ultimately confusing mess of a story where one of the major series characters just slinks away quietly into the night without a goodbye or even a whimper. It goes against everything else the author built up Eric’s character to be. And again just illustrates how sloppy and lazy the writing for Dead Ever After is.
Charlaine Harris has a lifetime of writing experience behind her and for this reason I expected better of her. An experienced writer should know her craft. I’m not writing this review as a series fan who thinks they’re entitled to dictate how an author’s work progresses because frankly I hate it when people do that. I’m writing this review as a long time reader of this author (including the Harper Connelly books and yes, even the cosy mysteries that she wrote before this series) a reader who can recognise a below average effort when she sees one. This book was disappointing on many levels but the staggering loss to the quality of her writing in Dead Ever After is truly surprising. That this book is the final Sookie Stackhouse story is sad because it is hardly a grand finale to this stellar series. Then again, if the author’s intention was to finish this series in a definitive manner then she’s achieved her aim. I certainly don’t want to read any more Sookie Stackhouse books like this. Dead Ever After is a series killer for me.
Dead Ever After? This below average effort would be more accurately described if it was titled “Dead In The Water”.
Reviewed by Amanda who rated this book at 2 stars out of 5.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers!
Yesterday I received my copy for Dead Ever After and as you can imagine I set out to read it without pause. When I finished reading the book, my first thought was “much ado about nothing”. Honestly, it wasn’t a bad book; it was easy to read, agreeable to a certain extent. Nevertheless, it was easier to forget it. It was neither extraordinary nor did it leave a lasting impression. It was just an average book in the Sookie Series, nothing more nothing less, despite the fact that it had the elements to become something special.
You see, as far as I am concerned, when you bring the proceedings to an end, you have to do it with a bang. Think of a concert, where the band leaves the most beloved songs for the end, think of a good dinner, where dessert brings a pleasant closure to a fine evening. Ending a popular series as this one should have been spectacular, but it wasn’t.
There wasn’t any drama. The fall out between Sookie and Eric provided the background for dramatic relief, but seriously, if you read the book and didn’t have any feedback on their relationship status, you would have thought that those two hooked up sometime along the way, had a good time, but nothing important and well circumstances made then come apart, no big deal. Still it wasn’t that, right? I mean there are 12 books to suggest thus, and yet you have a lukewarm break-up to a tumultuous affair. If that’s not a paradox, what is? (Thus far I can sympathize with the fans that got angry with the author, though in no way do I endorse such silliness and aggression in their critics – after all it is just a book).
Furthermore, there wasn’t any suspense. When you set out to write a mystery, it has to be thrilling, chilling to the bone, it has to keep you wondering and guessing and being alert the whole time. Think of the lamest Agatha Christie book (yes there are some) and you have more suspense and restlessness than this one. And it did have the ingredients to be a very thrilling mystery. You have a murder investigation, you have a suspect, you have a frame-up and you have likely candidates for that, or not? A good mystery always needs more than one suspect, it needs sleuths and happenings to keep the reader interested and involved. So what did we get in DEA? There was a prime suspect, but not really. There were sleuths, but actually the common saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” came often to mind. Amelia, Bob, Barry and Quinn never did anything constructive, but actually were more of a hindrance than help. The only ones who did actually good work where Mr. Cataliades and Diantha. The first three were there only for being kept under Mr. C’s careful watch and not risking having them being used to harm Sookie. Quinn’s presence was superfluous. Then the frame-up. Oh my God! An average daytime soap-opera has more intrigue than this one. I mean, it was something like a bunch of spoilt brats trying to bully the kid, but the kid had enough friends and support to thwart them without much effort. What can I say? Luckily I watched “The Borgias” afterwards and had a good taste of intrigue.
Moreover the characters were in many aspects the shadow of themselves, always speaking in comparison to the previous books. Where to begin? Eric had Sam promise not to tell Sookie that it was Sam who asked his help to bail her out. Okay, this could have provided some drama, but in the end it was a ludicrous affair. Sam overreacting in a perplexing way, Sookie not giving a damn, and Bill gloating like a three-year-old while telling her the “big” secret. Now the well-composed Sam wouldn’t have reacted that way, Sookie would have had more misgivings about Eric’s help everything considered, and Bill wouldn’t have gloated. Yes, he would have told her, just to spike Eric, but not that way. So why on earth did Charlaine Harris make them behave in a way that was out of character? I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. Then all these people there to help Sookie. The mere thought of it gave me a headache; and as aforementioned they didn’t provide any help at all. It was tiresome to read about them and the whole plot was dull. That’s really sad, because the book started out in a promising way, but then flat-lined.
Finally, the whole thing about religion came out weird. I have always considered that aside from entertainment, romance and adventure, this series was an excellent advocate on tolerance, on accepting the difference between people and on trying always to do the best according to your strength. Furthermore, it was ok to have flaws because in reality nobody was perfect. Religion, tradition, certain patterns of behaviour was part of everyday life and added colour and excitement to the story. But somehow all that agony about being a good Christian or not in this book came out wrong. It felt out of character with the whole thematic of the books, so to speak, and that too left me wondering.
After announcing that DEA was going to be the last book in the series, Charlaine Harris often said in interviews that Sookie’s story had come to an end and that she had become tired writing about her. She couldn’t have been more right. This book is proof that she was tired, that inside her everything had come to an end. I still remember reading that originally the series were planned out to be written in 10 books, and that CH had agreed to extend them to 3 more. I am of the opinion that she shouldn’t have caved in. I think that she did herself, her work and the time that she invested in them an injustice. Even now, I cannot shake the feeling that the writing was average. If this was a book somewhere in the middle of the series, I wouldn’t have minded so much, but it was the last one and I will forget about it sooner than I thought I should.
Reviewed by Georgia who rated this book at 2 stars out of 5.
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You can read the first chapter of Charlaine Harris’s new Sookie Stackhouse book at her website. Visit Charlaine’s site.