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REVIEW: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Dead in the Family  Charlaine Harris Dear Ms. Harris:

The first time I read Dead in the Family I felt almost hypnotized by the emotional aftermath of the horror Sookie faced in the last book, Dead and Gone. Enthralled by the effects of her trauma and the painfully slow steps she was making toward recovery, I could barely summon my critical faculties to the task of reviewing the book. It took two reads for me to reflect, analyze, and evaluate the book beyond an inchoate awe at what registered to me at the time as a perfectly rendered narrative. My second time through provided some necessary distance, but it did not dim my appreciation of Dead in the Family as one of the most powerful and thematically coherent novels in the series.

First a warning: this review will contain spoilers from Dead and Gone and perhaps some mild spoilers for Dead in the Family. I will do my best to minimize their appearance, but I cannot discuss the current book without revisiting some of the momentous events of the last.

Now that the Fae War is over, the door between realms apparently shut and locked tight, and Sookie's recently discovered fairy great grandfather Niall reigning on the other side, Sookie is just barely beginning to heal from the wounds she suffered at the hands of the insane, tortuous fae couple, Neave and Lochlan. She marks as progress the fact that the parts of her body that were chewed out are now covered over completely with fresh skin, thanks in large part to the substantial amount of vampire blood she has been receiving from Eric, who remains, at least for now, her "husband" according to vampire law. Whether Sookie will ever recognize their relationship in that way is part of her struggle in this book, as she tries to sort out her feelings for him and copes with the reality that Eric did not (could not, he claims) come to rescue her, even as she called and called and called for him during her horrific experience.

Eric, in the meantime, is facing his own challenges, namely with Victor, the new vampire king's eyes and ears in Louisiana, who appears to want more than mere oversight of the territory as Felipe's right hand vamp. Eric, being the most powerful sheriff of the most important territory, is now a target of Victor's simmering ambition. And if that situation was not unsettling enough, he must accommodate an unannounced – and unwanted – visit from a very influential figure from his past.

As the title implies, family is the prominent theme of this book. A clever echo of death in the family, the small change makes a big difference here. Superficially, both Sookie and Jason have suffered from several family deaths over the past few books. The Fae War impacted numerous members of Sookie's circle, both human and supe. But this is a book that also deals with whether and how the dead live on in a family, as vampires, as memories, as legacies, as burdens, etc. And it considers, on many levels, how families are comprised, connected, experienced, remembered, avenged, and honored.

When we first met Sookie Stackhouse, we knew her as she knew herself: a human woman with an extraordinary ability who felt more alone than embraced by her lifelong home of Bon Temps. Her parents were long dead, her grandmother a death she suffered in our first months of acquaintance with her, and her brother a somewhat estranged, unreliable presence. She was close to her boss at Merlotte's, unaware he was a shifter, best friends with a woman who would soon betray her brutally, and smitten with a somewhat taciturn vampire named Bill Compton, who was not only her first love, but her first experience with the supernatural kind. Now, eight books later, Sookie has increased her family in both blood relations and emotional bonds, and her own touch of supernatural heritage connects her to more communities than she ever knew existed. The bittersweet experience of not feeling loved has been replaced by the bittersweet knowledge of how many people now connected to her have died:

Probably that should have made me long for peace above all else.   But instead of turning into the Bon Temps Gandhi, in my heart I held the knowledge that there were plenty of people I wanted dead. I wasn't directly responsible for most of the deaths that were scattered in my wake, but I was haunted by the feeling that none of them would have happened if it weren't for me. In my darkest moments-’and this was one of them-’I wondered if my life was worth the price that had been paid for it.

The lighthearted Sookie who always tried to see the best in people and knew a better day was just around the corner has paid her own price for being alive and for the complex relationships she is continually struggling to negotiate and manage. It's not merely a loss of innocence, but rather an acquisition of experience that has shaken the foundations on which her whole world had previously been built:

"You've changed," [Bill] said.

"Sure, I have. I thought I was going to die for a couple of hours. I hurt like I've never hurt before. And Neave and Lochlan enjoyed it so much. That snapped something inside me. When you and Niall killed them, it was like an answer to the biggest prayer I'd ever prayed. I'm supposed to be a Christian, but most days I don't feel like I can even   presume to say that about myself any longer. I have a lot of mad left over. When I can't sleep, I think about the other people who didn't care how much pain and trouble they caused me. And I think about how good I'd feel if they died.”

Her greatest moments of happiness now often come from Eric, with whom she shares a blood bond, which makes her both relish and distrust her growing attachment to him. However, it is clear that he cares about Sookie, although his new vulnerability extends not only to his feelings for her but to his increasingly precarious safety under Victor's middle management and other complications from his past:

"If they stay until Tuesday, I'm going to see you no matter what they're doing," Eric told me. He sounded a little more like himself. "We'll make love. I feel like buying you a present."

"That sounds like a great night to me," I said, feeling a surge of hope. "I don't need a present, just you. So I'll see you Tuesday, no matter what. That's what you said, right?"

"That's what I said."

"Okay then, until Tuesday."

"I love you," Eric said in a drained voice. "And you are my wife, in the only way that matters to me."

Across generations, species, centuries, and emotional bonds, the complexity and depth of the relationships Sookie has seem constantly to be shaping and re-shaping her, defining her strength, outlining her vulnerabilities, altering her expectations and desires. Her moral and ethical values are in flux, even as she becomes bolder and more fleshed out as a character and a person. For me, Dead in the Family is the book in which the cost of Sookie's maturation has not yet been set, but like her, we would be foolish to believe that it is not quite high. As one of the many supernatural beings in her circle remarks to her, "Dead things love you… They're pulling on you." At no point in the series has that been clearer than in this book, where Sookie's fuller presence in the world around her has both grounded and shattered her. The genius of this book, in my opinion, is the way it so deftly ties together the sometimes seemingly disconnected pieces of earlier books.

One thing I have noticed about these books is that time is marked off in very specific, discrete pieces, and Dead in the Family is no exception. But here that narrative structure takes on even more significance, because it feels that time is counting down to some ultimate crisis point, and because we can see powerfully the way Sookie's own life is built on so many moments and events that she may not have a part in making but which will require an action or decision or reaction from her. Where some books feel stuffed with action and others feel like virtually nothing occurs, looking back I am already beginning to see how every encounter Sookie has had in these books is shaping both her character and her ultimate fate. And quite honestly, I am a little scared for her.

From the beginning of this series I have been engaged in Sookie's journey toward true independence and fulfillment. Whatever she is moving toward, it will likely be beyond her own imaginings, and for me, as a reader, that is both an exciting and frightening prospect. Where Sookie once yearned for a sweetheart, now she has several males in her circle who desire and care for her. Where she once wanted to be accepted by the people of Bon Temps, she now has deep ties both human and non-human communities, and it seems sometimes she has little peace in her life. She has a cousin she will finally get the chance to know, and a brother who has a very different view of family after his own recent losses. She has a current lover, a good friend who is most likely in love her, and several past lovers who still hold deep feelings for her and will move to protect her when necessary. She has some new friendships and is enjoying the revival of some old friendships. She has fae relatives on both sides of the door to Faery who are still reaching out to her.

In many ways Sookie's life is incredibly rich in family from whom she receives comfort and support. But as Dead in the Family demonstrates with incredible emotional poignancy and thematic cogency, "dead things" are "pulling on" Sookie. And even when their love is a gift, it is a burden and a risk. In some ways I feel that this series is the same, but like Sookie, I cannot bring myself to give up. A-

~Janet aka Robin

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This is a hardcover published by ACE, a division of Penguin. Penguin has not come to an agreement with Amazon and therefore there is no Kindle version. Pricing is set by the publisher for the digital book.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

31 Comments

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    May 06, 2010 @ 04:02:07

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  2. tricia
    May 06, 2010 @ 06:59:31

    Man, this is a great review. You managed to make me even more excited for this book.

  3. Kerry
    May 06, 2010 @ 07:46:08

    Awesome review – thank you so much for this. Can’t wait to read it.

  4. Brian
    May 06, 2010 @ 07:54:10

    I didn’t find this one as good as the previous books (they seem to have been going down hill a bit for the last few). No real plot, no real drama. It felt kinda flat, there just wasn’t enough of a story. More fluff than anything.

  5. Julia Rachel Barrett
    May 06, 2010 @ 08:53:02

    Your review is amazing. I cannot wait to read this book. The last book left me in awe and agony.

  6. Robin
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:00:54

    @Brian: There are some books in the series that I feel the same way about, even though others rave about them (DA Jennie and I had quite different takes on book 7, IIRC). But this one just felt to me like a watershed on so many levels.

    I do think there is some awkwardness in the transition from the first half of the book (focus more on Sookie) to the second (focus more on Eric and his own “family” problems), but I appreciated the layers of emotional depth and vulnerability Eric is showing, since he’s always seemed so cold and ruthless, even where Sookie is concerned. Of course, his vulnerability also means he may not be able to keep her safe forever, and that’s something that IMO is easy to forget because of the sheer strength and power he possesses.

    I was also glad to see Harris address the question of why Sookie’s grandmother did something that seems so out of character. That Harris appears to anticipate what logical questions the reader might have and returns to them later is one of the things about the series that makes me feel that everything will have an ultimate purpose, no matter how random or purposeless it may seem at the time. We’ll see, at least. I’ve become more and more willing to give Harris that benefit of the doubt, but the final verdict will come when I re-read the series from beginning to final end, whenever that comes.

  7. Dear Author Recommends for May | Dear Author
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:02:39

    [...] Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris, recommended by Janet aka Robin [...]

  8. Liz Fichera
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:03:37

    This is in my TBR pile. Can’t wait to read it now.

  9. A
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:03:52

    Wow. That was a review that packed a punch. This one is sitting on my nightstand and I can’t wait to start it. I’ve been a fan of this series for a long time now and I love it.

  10. Angela James
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:08:58

    You already know this, Robin, since I mentioned it, but I am so totally on the opposite side of the fence about this book. I agree with Brian. I thought a lot of the elements of the book seemed loosely connected, rather than making sense within the construct of an overall plot, not only within the book but within the series. Consequently, I felt this book was very episodic, both within the book itself and again as part of the series, doing nothing to move the series forward.

    Also, I thought that many of the events that occur in the book are only superficially explained, and one major event that happens (without giving spoilers but while letting those who’ve read the book–when Sookie and Pam thwart a murder attempt) that was setup as a pivotal moment in the book and something quite important, but is never revisited! No explanation, no aftermath, nothing. I found this particularly disturbing.

    All in all, I’d say this is one of my least favorite installments in the series and the highest grade I’d give it would be a C, and part of that is because I appreciated the narrative voice in the first few chapters as we see Sookie “healing”.

    Oh, one last thing, am I the only one who finds Eric’s use of “my lover” as a term of endearment for Sookie weirdly awkward?

  11. Evangeline
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:11:18

    Despite this A review, I’ll either borrow Dead in the Family or wait for the paperback release, because I really, really disliked the last two books in the series–Last year I turned Dead and Gone over to my local used book store immediately after reading it, that’s how disappointed I was (and I’ve been obsessed with this series since 2004!). I count the peak of the series and Harris’s writing with All Together Dead. *sigh*

  12. Brian
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:21:14

    Oh, one last thing, am I the only one who finds Eric's use of “my lover” as a term of endearment for Sookie weirdly awkward?

    It does feel a bit ‘off’ IMO. Quinn calling her ‘Babe’ all the time didn’t really work of me either though.

    Also, I thought that many of the events that occur in the book are only superficially explained, and one major event that happens (without giving spoilers but while letting those who've read the book-when Sookie and Pam thwart a murder attempt) that was setup as a pivotal moment in the book and something quite important, but is never revisited! No explanation, no aftermath, nothing. I found this particularly disturbing.

    That bugged me too.

    I also didn’t care for how all of the sudden after only a couple of months she was amazingly pretty much OK from the events at the end of the last book. I thought it was a real missed opportunity to really build Sookie as a character as she dealt with that. I know it was brought up in the prologue and had a brief mention here and there. I’d think there would be some major lingering effects throughout the whole storyline. Maybe I’ll feel different after a re-read.

    It’s like there were parts of two or three partial books stuck toggether (if that makes sense).

    On a side note Penguin still hasn’t fixed their problem with leaving the Prologue out of the table of contents on their ebooks. I almost missed the first months worth of happenings in this book.

  13. Robin
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:45:51

    @Brian and @Angela James: I hated it when Quinn called Sookie “babe,” but when Eric calls her “my lover,” it’s so cheesy that my discomfort is matched by my cracking up at it. So while it’s weird and kind of creepy, it always feels like a bit of theater to me, too (intentionally on Eric’s part), so now I kind of enjoy it, even when I don’t (if that makes any kind of twisted sense).

    As for the event to which you are both referring, I did not expect that to be addressed in this book for several reasons. First, it was obviously done as a rogue action, and therefore could not be directly acknowledged by the mastermind behind it. Because of that, the response, when it comes, will, I suspect, be carried out when it is assumed that the targets do not expect it. I also assume there was a great deal of surprise that the act didn’t work, else those who were sent to execute it would not have been sacrificed. IMO that was merely the first salvo in what promises to be a long, somewhat covert, battle for power.

    As for Sookie’s healing, I didn’t think she was fine in any way, shape, or form, but since I had full suspension of disbelief as I was reading it, I felt the book really conveyed that clearly. Had I been disengaged, who knows how I would feel about that. When that magic isn’t there, things grate in a much different, often unpleasant, way.

  14. Robin
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:48:45

    @Evangeline: If you did not like the last book, you may very well dislike this one, as well, since they are so strongly and directly linked (and the aftermath of the last book is playing out overtly in this one).

  15. Brian
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:59:47

    When that magic isn't there, things grate in a much different, often unpleasant, way.

    That may be it too. The last few books just haven’t engaged me like the earlier ones did. I’m reading it a second time right now, so we’ll see.

  16. Evangeline
    May 06, 2010 @ 11:03:04

    @Robin: Ugh. I’ll pass on this book, and possibly the next. Ah well, it was nice following the series; I’ll stick to True Blood and the bajillion other UF series’ I’ve picked up in the interim.

  17. Tabby
    May 06, 2010 @ 11:17:23

    *Spoilers*
    @Angela James:

    Oh, one last thing, am I the only one who finds Eric's use of “my lover” as a term of endearment for Sookie weirdly awkward?

    Awkward and on purpose! I felt like the whole book was written to show how unsuitable vampires were in general for Sookie and Eric specifically. I thought Harris did this in a lot of little ways like with the “my lover” instead of love, Sookie wondering if the wedding would be at night so she’d have a date and just making Eric unavailable for the limited amount of hours he’s awake.

    Contrasting that you have Sam being described as a good, dependable friend who’s stripper sexy, can have kids who aren’t animals and has no supernatural ties bringing death and mayhem to Sookie’s door. Sam is also only three years older than Sookie and shares her lifespan so they can grow old together. Oh, and Sookie can block Sam’s thoughts at will apparently which was the reason she was drawn to vampires to begin with.

    Maybe I read too much for the “romance” to really appreciate the themes Robin found throughout the book. For me, it felt like I was just being hit over the head with an Eric-bad-Sam-good hammer. Still, I enjoyed the story and read it in a day. B grade for me.

  18. Brian
    May 06, 2010 @ 11:54:29

    Just finished re-reading it on my lunch break. Other than changing my thoughts some on the whole healing part I still feel about the same. A solid C possibly edging towards a C+

  19. DS
    May 06, 2010 @ 12:06:09

    If you are an audible.com member you can buy the unabridged audio version for less than $10. It’s for one week only and the audio version was released on 5/4 so there is still a few days left. The undiscounted member price is $17.14.

    I wonder if this is Amazon aiming another blow at hardcovers?

  20. Donna
    May 06, 2010 @ 12:18:13

    The last book I read by this author was From Dead To Worse which I didn’t like as much as the others before it. It felt too episodic to me. I might try to eventually catch up with the series.

    On a side note, Robin, do you think Sookie is going to have a HEA with Eric?

  21. Robin
    May 06, 2010 @ 12:46:18

    @Donna: At this point, I don’t even think we can be assured that Eric will survive the series.

    I agree with a lot of what @Tabby says about the sacrifices Sookie is going to have to make to be with a vampire, even a powerful one like Eric. This, IMO, has been a consistent issue since she began her relationship with Bill (when no kids was a big issue for her). I have always believed that Sam is the best match for her, but I’m not sure there’s enough “pop” in their chemistry for Sookie.

    Consequently, I am not expecting a romantic HEA for Sookie at all. And I know that would piss off a number of readers, but it’s difficult for me, right now, to see Sookie permanently with any of the guys we’ve already met (and I’m not sure Sookie is anywhere near feeling ready to be changed into a vampire). I’ve often felt that Bill was a better vamp choice for Sookie, but I can’t imagine Eric giving Sookie up willingly at this point, so that may be a moot point (unless something happens to Eric, which will likely present a whole ‘nother series of problems). I’ve never been a fan of Alcide, either (jerkish, IMO).

    If Harris does give Sookie a believable romantic HEA at the end of the series I will be happily surprised. But at this point I’m just hoping Sookie is alive, intact, and happy at all when the series ends.

  22. Brian
    May 06, 2010 @ 13:21:34

    IIRC, Harris said in an interview recently NOT to expect an HEA for this series. Doesn’t mean there won’t be one, although I’d be surprised if it was a traditional HEA, but don’t expect one.

    She’s contracted through book 13 and doesn’t know at this point if that will be it or not. She’ll know before she starts 13 if she has more Sookie in her or not.

  23. Donna
    May 06, 2010 @ 14:38:54

    That’s interesting to hear Brian. I’m curious to see if she will end up stopping at 13. The series has become such a juggernaut that I assumed she would try to keep them coming for a infinite amount of time.

  24. Brian
    May 06, 2010 @ 15:26:22

    She may continue them, who knows. All she said was that she was contracted through 13 and would know for sure before she started 13 if she’d continue them. I’m sure if she wants to continue then Penguin will be happy to have her do so.

    Here’s the exact quote…
    “Q: Charlaine, Dead in the Family is the tenth in your Sookie Stackhouse series. How many more books do you think you'll do before wrapping things up?

    A: I have a contract that runs up through book 13. We'll see, definitely before I start 13, if I think I have more to say about Sookie.”
    http://www.likesbooks.com/blog/?p=4334

  25. Janine
    May 06, 2010 @ 23:58:14

    OT, sort of: I just noticed in the side bio blurb that this is your 100th post for DA, Robin. Congratulations on that!

  26. May
    May 07, 2010 @ 22:22:53

    I just finished – and I think you reviewed the book beautifully.

    Personally, I was totally drawn in by C.H.’s storytelling and I turned the pages quick as I could – it was an emotional rollercoaster and I couldn’t get off. Literary crack, I suppose.
    A few books ago I let go of the “HEA” expectation and I’ve been able to enjoy the series much more now just seeing where Sookie will go. While I felt a lot of subtle detail and insight to future was given in this installment, I also felt like the issues with Victor should have been dealt with better, and I felt like it was very much a “wrap up the mess left from the last one” kind of book.
    Having waited for the previous novel to be paperback, it was fresh in my mind so maybe that kept me enjoying it more?

    Any way around it – I loved every page and I’ll stick with this series. (Unlike the Plum series, which I’m giving up due to NOTHING happening with heroine!)

  27. Zosia
    May 08, 2010 @ 02:30:52

    I’m still waiting for this stupid thing to turn up in my country – I ordered it last year, but the post is slow! I haven't seen many good reviews for this book.

    From what I’ve heard she’s kind of allowing the show to dictate aspects of the books now. I don’t know how true that it, but I’ve heard of some True Blood references in this. For me, True Blood RUINED the book series. I haven’t read a Sookie Stackhouse book since I quit the show at the beginning of season two. It completely zapped my enjoyment of the series – now I see whiny TV Sookie and bland TV Bill and all the crazy stuff Alan Ball added in. And I’ve been reading everywhere fans whining the books aren’t following the show closely enough! Like True Blood owns Sookie! It makes me so mad.

    I think I’ll have to cut my losses and move on. Or maybe return to this series when I’ve wiped my memories of True Blood.

    Grrr, I’m making myself mad!

    The cover is really pretty though!

  28. KMont
    May 10, 2010 @ 14:01:27

    This was a great review, but I felt so opposite about it unfortunately. Last year I was pretty sure this series was ending soon for me and this installment confirmed it. I’m done. Such a sad state for my second most favorite series, that’s been so for more than eight years. Feels like I’m breaking things off with a long time friend.

    I read somewhere recently that Harris isn’t writing HEAs in this series, wish I could point where I specifically read that. Gar!

    This one felt like one big reaction to the last few chapters of the previous book. Not like a full, overall series arc/plot-moving book. Eh. Anyway, so long, Sook. Loved it for a long time, would rather just remember it fondly as opposed to bitter hissing fan-wise.

  29. Dear Author Recommends for June | Dear Author
    May 28, 2010 @ 18:37:46

    [...] Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris. Recommended by Janet. [...]

  30. Meriam
    May 30, 2010 @ 10:42:03

    Lovely review. I stopped reading the series halfway through, sort of fed up with Sookie and what I felt was a slow moving and vapid series (!)

    This year, I resumed the series from From Dead to Worse and I absolutely love it. I think her books can be either slow moving and character driven or fast paced and plot driven and I like both. For example, there were HUGE differences in pacing and tone between books 8 and 9.

    I think the dangling plot points Angela mentioned will probably come to a head in the next books. I like the continuity of that.

    As for Sookie and Eric… I think they have a blistering chemistry, unrivaled by any other romantic potential to date. Yet Sam is quite obviously being built up as Sookie’s ideal. But I wonder if the changes wrought in Sookie over the series now make her totally unsuitable for him? She is undoubtedly a darker and harder (and I think better) person than she was at the start. I really can’t imagine Sam fulfilling her on some darker, fundamental level.

  31. Charlaine Harris – Dead in the Family « Fyrefly's Book Blog
    Jun 24, 2010 @ 22:12:08

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