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REVIEW: From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris

Dear Ms. Harris,

Back in the spring of 2004, I was one of those entrenched historical romance fans decrying the new flood of paranormal romances (if only I’d known how much worse it would get, I would’ve paced my ire a bit). A friend loaned me your first Sookie Stackhouse novel, Dead Until Dark, and despite my prejudices against vampires, Southern settings and small town locations, for some reason I picked it up and started reading.

And I fell in love.

In love with Sookie. In love with your writing, and with Sookie’s utterly unique and endearing voice. Even in love with the paranormal world you created, which quickly expanded from vampires to include shapeshifters, fairies and other assorted non-human beings. You portrayed the effect that Sookie’s telepathy had on her life in the medium homogenous community of Bon Temps beautifully, making it both realistic and poignant.

I devoured the first four books in the series, one after another, and never even began to get Sookie-fatigue. Then I settled down, twitching every once in a while, to wait almost a year for the next book in the series.

Because I read the first half of the series in one gulp, and also due to its serial nature (the events of each book often begin only days or weeks after the end of the previous book), I sometimes have trouble distinguishing one "Dead" book from the next. Yes, I remember that Living Dead in Dallas is the one where Sookie goes to Dallas (I’m quick that way), and that Dead to the World is the one where Sookie gets with Eric (because, ooh la la). But in general, the events of the books tend to blend together. (Also, I forget whole huge important details from one book to the next. But I think that’s more a function of my advanced age – I’m going to be 40! In 15 months! – than anything to do with the books themselves, except for perhaps the fact that each book is pretty chock-full of goings-on.)

I have given each of the first five books in the Sookie Stackhouse series A grades; 2006’s Definitely Dead was an A-, and last year’s All Together Dead earned a B+. One might think that this constitutes a trend and that the series has started to slip for me, but honestly I think the less than stellar grade, at least for All Together Dead, had largely to do with the change of setting (from Bon Temps to Rhodes, the site of the vampire convention). That book just wasn’t quite as anchored as the other books in the series, and thus suffered slightly in comparison (not that a B+ is a bad grade).

For a more coherent synopsis of the plot of From Dead to Worse, I would point to Janet’s review here. To some degree, though, your plots are both fairly irrelevant (except in that their events contribute to Sookie’s emotional growth), and great big messes, anyway. On the one hand, this sometimes gives your books a bit of an episodic feel – at time plot threads are started at the beginning of one book, and then pretty much dropped while the main plot is dealt with, only to be picked up at the end, by which time I have well-nigh forgotten about them. It can make the story feel a little uneven, at least for anal-retentive me, who likes intricate, circular plots that fit together neatly at the end.

But on the other hand, the messiness of the plots highlights the intense realism of Sookie’s world. Yes, it’s odd to say about a world that is populated with witches, vampires and werewolves, but one of the series’ greatest virtues is how seamlessly the mundane and the fantastic are folded together. It doesn’t matter what death-defying hijinx Sookie has gotten to in a day – she still has to go home, get ready for work, and then do a full shift as a waitress at Sam’s bar. She has bills to pay and responsibilities that extend beyond her ever-expanding commitments to the supernatural community.

So the fact that all plot points don’t get wrapped up in one big tidy bow adds to the sense that this is Sookie’s real life we’re reading about. In From Dead to Worse, the aspect that was picked up at the beginning and then semi-ignored until the end was that of Sookie’s newly introduced otherworldly great grandfather. I assume we’ll be seeing more of him in future books. I’m cautiously optomistic about him as a character; Sookie needs all of the help she can get, considering how often she finds herself in peril, and how useless and unreliable her one other blood relative, her brother Jason, is.

I have never been one of those readers bothered by the fact that Everyone Loves Sookie (or rather, every paranormal male seemingly is attracted to her – at one point, I lost count at six men). I adore Sookie, albeit in a platonic girl-crush kind of way, so who am I to say that the men in her life shouldn’t fall at her feet? Which they don’t, actually – if anything, the various men who are drawn to Sookie tend to present more problems than they solve. In any case, Sookie appears to drop one admirer in this installment, and I won’t miss him hugely. The tension of "who will Sookie end up with?" is not, IMO, overplayed in the series, and most of the main contenders have enough virtues and flaws to keep me interested in the answer.

There were some aspects of From Dead to Worse that bugged me. Sookie’s folksy, conversational voice is one of the main draws of these books, but sometimes she repeats herself, reiterating details that have already been mentioned earlier in the book or even in previous books (yes, I know the werewolves are thinking of going public – I swear it gets mentioned four times in From Dead to Worse alone). The many characters that are reintroduced in each book usually get a little blurb from Sookie reminding us who they are and their relationship to her. This is helpful when I can’t quite remember the character, but irritating with characters I’m quite familiar with already. I recognize that there are challenges to writing a continuing series with so many characters and where so much happens in each story. I might prefer a glossary of characters at the beginning for the new reader (not that I would advise that anyone pick up this series in the middle!) or those whose memories need refreshing.

Can I just reiterate that I love Sookie? She feels so real to me that I am invested in her happiness, and when people who should care for her let her down, I feel her disappointment and hurt. I think From Dead to Worse was a return to your classic form, and for that reason, I can’t give it less than an A grade.

~Jennie

This book can be purchased in hardcover from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

23 Comments

  1. Jackie
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 06:29:05

    This was a hell of a book. I felt it was a turning point for Sookie — many subplots have come to their conclusion — and, more, that it sets the stage for the next book and also prepares the readers to hold onto their seats, because now everything will be different.

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  2. Chantal
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 07:46:09

    What I love about this series is that it keeps on getting better and better.

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  3. Kathy
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 07:51:15

    I happened upon these books thru a previous review here and a blurb I read on the internet regarding the HBO series in development, and thought that i’d give the first a test drive, so to speak. The cover put me off at first – but I figured that I’d press on. I read that first book in one night – and as a testament to my feelings for the book – I immediately got on the internet that night (quite late) and ordered all the rest and pre-ordered From Dead To Worse (gasp – hardcover). I fell in love – with Sookie, with Eric, with Bill, will Bon Temps, all of it. The characters are well drawn, the locations are well defined, and the plot keeps moving forward. I love the way that the characters mature with the plot line and events. I love the way we keep learning more of their layers. Oh, did I mention I LOVE THESE BOOKS? I have shared them with two friends that read and they also have joined the fan club. I will now join the rest of the long time fans waiting for the next installment. But I can guarantee you that the Spring of 2009 will see me re-reading all the books to get reaquainted with Sookie and prepare myself for the next one. Keep them coming! Oh – and I have changed my mind on the cover art – it is perfect.

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  4. Bev Stephans
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 09:43:40

    I have loved this series since its inception. Her Lily Bard series is also worth giving a try. In some ways the Bard series is darker than the Sookie series.

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  5. Victoria Dahl
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 10:58:05

    This is one of my favorite series ever in the whole world.

    Bill broke my heart. Eric is hot and scary. Sookie is fun to know. And I love Sam.

    Not very articulate for a writer, I guess, but ‘nuf said.

    (I just wish she’d get rid of the roommates, because I don’t like roommates and it bugs me.)

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  6. Janet/Robin
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 12:19:39

    But on the other hand, the messiness of the plots highlights the intense realism of Sookie's world. Yes, it's odd to say about a world that is populated with witches, vampires and werewolves, but one of the series' greatest virtues is how seamlessly the mundane and the fantastic are folded together. It doesn't matter what death-defying hijinx Sookie has gotten to in a day – she still has to go home, get ready for work, and then do a full shift as a waitress at Sam's bar. She has bills to pay and responsibilities that extend beyond her ever-expanding commitments to the supernatural community.

    You make some excellent points here, Jennie. It is definitely the realism of the series that makes it so poignant to me, especially the way Sookie well and truly struggles with so many mundane (but very important) things. Like you, I read many of the books in one shot, and I wonder if that made me more invested in the series (I experienced the world of the books as a semi-whole). I found myself nodding at many of your insights and opinions.

    The plot issues do challenge me, though. OTOH, I think the way you look at it is right in terms of a real life scenario. But sometimes in the context of a book I need some artificially imposed order to keep it feeling coherent (that the author is exercising control over her world).

    My favorite (straight A) book in the series is probably Dead To The World. Although I had always been a Bill over Eric reader, IMO there was just so much poignancy in the Eric-Sookie relationship in that book that it changed my view of Eric, made me more interested in his potential. There was a moment where Sookie thinks about how rare and valuable the spontaneous blessings in her life are that really brought home to me how real Sookie feels to me, and how much I care that she finds happiness in whatever form she desires it.

    I do feel sorry for Bill now, but I have to say that in From Dead To Worse, when Eric has his revelation, it ignited some hope in me that maybe he will try to recapture some of the happiness he felt when he lost his memory. I felt it was so touching the way he marveled at his ability to possess such strong feelings. As sincere as Bill’s feelings for Sookie may be, I think Eric understands her better. Although I don’t know how independent he would want her to be, since he is used to having everyone around him show subservience. And I can only imagine the kind of jealousy the effects of the blood bond might have on anyone who takes an interest in Sookie (jealousy both in Eric and the other guy). The next book should be very interesting.

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  7. Allie
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 12:34:27

    What I like about her books is she is one of the few female urban fantasy characters that doesn’t do stupid things to further the plot and that it so refreshing!!!! If stupid things are done it is the people around her and not Sookie herself.

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  8. Angie
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 12:35:48

    Great review, Jennie. I discovered the Sookie books right after I had my first baby and they absolutely got me through the sleep deprivation, recovery pain, and new mother adjustment period. I’m in agreement with you on the first five being grade A, with the sixth and seventh not quite as compelling. But I loved this one. Definitely a return to classic Sookie. I loved that it all stayed in Bon Temps and that she made some rather difficult decisions she’d been needing to make. And the scene where Eric remembers…I am very anxious for them to have “the conversation” in the next book.

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  9. MaryK
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 12:50:28

    OMG, Eric remembers?! I must catch up on this series!

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  10. Charlene Teglia
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 14:14:10

    For some reason, I’ve never gotten around to reading this series. I really need to pick the first one up.

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  11. Lesley
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 22:37:25

    I recently found this series and had the luxury of reading the first seven books in a couple of months. From Dead to Worse was released shortly after I finished reading the others and I can’t believe that I have to wait a year for the next book!
    I love this series, and thought that this review was dead on. I have started the Lily Bard and Harper Connelly series and while I am enjoyng them, Sookie is my favorite.

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  12. Jennie F.
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 00:37:41

    But sometimes in the context of a book I need some artificially imposed order to keep it feeling coherent (that the author is exercising control over her world).

    Generally, I agree. I kind of consider Harris and Sookie a special case. I’m not even sure how I’d react to an orderly Sookie book. I think it would confuse me at this point!

    I do feel sorry for Bill now, but I have to say that in From Dead To Worse, when Eric has his revelation, it ignited some hope in me that maybe he will try to recapture some of the happiness he felt when he lost his memory.

    I’ve never been a huge Bill backer – I feel a little sorry for him, but he made his bed (coffin?). I looove Eric, but in thinking long term, I wonder about Alcide. I sense that maybe he’s not a reader favorite (though I’m not really sure); he can be a jerk. But I wonder if he’s just enough of a jerk to be a real guy, while having the right balance of supe and human for Sookie. I think any long-term relationship with a vamp would have a lot of roadblocks (chiefly, obviously, Sookie’s aging). IMO Sam is too nice for Sookie; in spite of the attraction she feels for him at times, I think their relationship is more platonic than romantic.

    In the end, of course, there is no guarantee that the last book will have Sookie paired off with any man. I think that would be fine too. As long as she’s happy!

    I discovered the Sookie books right after I had my first baby and they absolutely got me through the sleep deprivation, recovery pain, and new mother adjustment period.

    Interesting. I discovered them when I was going through my mom’s terminal illness, and I think that is at least part of the reason they resonated so much for me. First of all, they were really a blessed escape into another world. But also, the darkness, and the undercurrents of death and loss, I think had particular meaning for me at that time. I think I would have loved the books in any case, but I always remember the experience of reading them one after another rather vividly because it was such an intense time in my life.

    For some reason, I've never gotten around to reading this series. I really need to pick the first one up.

    You should! Not everyone loves the Sookie books, but I think for a lot of readers it’s a series that transcends just being good reads – maybe sort of like the Harry Potter series, it’s the creation of a world and characters the reader really cares about deeply. That’s my experience, anyway.

    I have started the Lily Bard and Harper Connelly series and while I am enjoyng them, Sookie is my favorite.

    I have thought about giving Lily Bard a try, and I’m particularly intrigued by Harper Connelly. I think with the latter series, I can maybe wait until there are a few more books so I can read them in a row.

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  13. Angela
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 01:59:06

    This is my least liked book of the series. With all the of the many different plots going on and ending before a new one began, FDtW felt like a “filler” installment, like Charlaine Harris needed to get this stuff out of the way before she could move on to the next chapter in her life. I appreciate an author who doesn’t drag out storylines, but the pacing of this book was just…off. Regarding Sookie’s voice, I felt it was missing. For some reason, the writing just didn’t sound like Sookie. I can re-read the preceding books over and over again and her voice just feels authentic and present, whereas this felt like, dare I say it, fan fiction–as though a big fan of the novels attempted to replicate Sookie’s voice.

    I do like her assembled cast of characters, and I’m kind of happy with the direction Sookie’s love life has taken, but not entirely because I don’t trust Eric at all. Even though Bill moved to Bon Temps under fraudulent circumstances, he just doesn’t seem frighteningly unscrupulous like Eric (or Pam even). The only thing in the book I would have gladly done without was the Crystal/Jason stuff. It was disgusting and really came across as character assassination(Jason and Crystal’s) for the sake of nothing. But the ending was cute and sort of redeemed the ho-hum quality of the rest of the book.

    And in closing, I love Alcide. He’s such a selfish crybaby, but there’s something about him. *g*

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  14. carolyn Jean
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 07:17:50

    Great review! That is so true about the mix of mundane realism and fantasy beings, you totally put your finger on that, and it is so satisfying!

    Oh, and on Eric remembering. Mary K: it is so wonderfully satisfying. Like all Eric parts, you just want MORE, but so much is packed into a small space when he remembers.

    And I love Alcide in this, too.

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  15. April
    Jan 01, 2009 @ 07:54:21

    I really wish one of you Dear Author gals would do an “If You Like Sookie Stackhouse….” post.

    In recent weeks I have devoured the series and am really looking for a Sookie-like fix. I had actually planned on waiting until March, when the PB comes out, to read From Dead to Worse (simply because I want my books to match the other paperbacks and I hate reading hardbacks); however, I find I just can’t wait. So now I’m waiting, all aquiver, for Amazon to deliver book 8.

    I’ve been trying to figure out why I love this series so. Is it the supernatural element? Maybe. The supernatural allows characters to act decidedly un-PC, and it gives the readers an excuse to be okay with that. Is it the “whodunnit” element? Absolutely not. I have to say I don’t think Charlaine Harris excels at the mystery genre. I always have the whodunnit figured out, and skim impatiently through the mystery plotline as Sookie tries to figure these things out, waiting to get back to the romance (more Eric!). (Sooooo obvious who the shooter was in book 5, and who the murderer was in book 1, and that the Fellowship of the Sun was going to pull a giant terrorist plot at the vampire summit. “Duh!” About the mysterious suitcases! I mean, how many different ways could Sookie be warned! Then she gets upset at Barry the Bellboy because HE didn’t tell anybody what he knew!!!! Geez Louise!).

    What I love most about this series is how real it feels. I love the tone and voice. I love that I feel I know these characters and this town. I love that I have no idea who Sookie will end up with in the end. I love that I was totally pulling for Sookie and Bill, but I was not so disappointed when she gave Bill the heave-ho.

    So, I’m looking for another (paranormal romance maybe? or not) series that I can sink my teeth into (HA HA). I want a series that features the same characters throughout. Maybe less of the mystery element than the Sookie series (I could do without that). I’m sick of these supposedly romance series that are not really series. The characters are only superficially related in those series, and I want to stay with the same people, the same setting and time period, I want to KNOW the characters for many many books (which is part of the reason why I love series like Gabaldon’s Outlander and Harry Potter so much).

    So….help me. Do an “If You Like Sookie Stackhouse….” post.
    Thanks

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  16. votermom
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 07:22:51

    I just finished all the Sookie books in a row in two weeks. Wow!

    My favorite characters are Sookie, Sam, Pam, Amelia, and ERIC!

    Do I have to wait until May for the next one? *whine*

    Go Team Eric!!!!!

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  17. Jennie
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 11:52:34

    votermom, have you watched the HBO series True Blood? It diverges from the first book in places, and Anna Paquin is not quite how I pictured Sookie, but it is good in its own right. I really enjoyed season 1 and look forward to season 2.

    Yeah, it’s a bummer to have to wait a year between books, but on the bright side, at least Harris is consistent about putting out a Sookie book every May – none of this “when will it come out?” business (reminds me, I should check if there’s a pub date for the next Outlander opus by Diana Gabaldon).

    I have quite a soft spot for Eric myself. The only thing is, I don’t see him (or any vampire, really) as an appropriate long-term mate for Sookie. I guess someone could turn her, but that doesn’t quite feel right to me, for some reason (though I guess Harris could change my mind).

    As I mentioned in another comment, of the players currently on the field, Alcide seems like the best fit for Sookie, if we’re thinking happily ever after. He’d need to do some maturing, though.

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  18. carolyn jean
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 12:03:13

    Jennie, You make a good point about Eric’s viability, but I so want it to be him. And I hold out hope because she did uncover the kind, vulnerable core of him, and you know, how many heroes are bad on the outside, tender on the inside? That screams partner to me.

    However, I also agree that Alcide would be excellent for her. I’ll never forget her musing how he’s a regular guy, and how she’d make breakfast for him and he’d actaully eat it…that was so great.

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  19. votermom
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 15:52:53

    Jennie, I saw the first ep of True Blood when we had free HBO, which made me go and find Dead Until Dark.
    But now I don’t have HBO. :(

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  20. MaryK
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 16:23:47

    @Jennie: So, you liked the HBO series? I was planning to rent the DVDs eventually, but the show’s been getting a lot of criticism for departing from the books and focusing on minor characters and now I’m kind of ambivalent. What’s your take on the plot departures?

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  21. Jennie
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 19:24:07

    MaryK, I really liked it quite a bit. I think if you go in expecting the books in film form, you’re bound to be disappointed. But if you divorce it from the books, it’s a pretty damn entertaining series. It helps that I don’t remember the first book that well! I mean, it wasn’t until nearly the end that I remembered who the killer was (and I was disappointed because I’d liked that character on the show!).

    I think some of the changes and focussing on other characters are the inevitable result of taking a first-person narrative and dropping it into a television series. I think the story would feel way too static if it was just following Sookie.

    There is a lot more of Jason than in the books, so far. Jason is not my favorite character, but on the plus side, the actor probably most closely physically resembles the way I had pictured the character in my head (Bill would probably be second on that count). And the plot stuff that has been added for Jason feels very true to the character of Jason in the books – it’s not like he’s a different character, we’re just seeing more of him.

    The other character who is way more major in the series than in the books is Tara. I hardly remember what part Tara even had in the first book. But I *love* the character of Tara in the series, she is probably my favorite character, sympathetic and infuriating in turns. I think the actress who plays her does an excellent job.

    I’m excited to see the second season; I’m especially hoping to see more of Eric. When Eric was first introduced, he seemed faintly ridiculous to me, with the long blong hair and the accent and the glamouring (sp.?). But you know, Eric is kind of ridiculous, and the actor who plays him (who I think is Stellan Skaarsgard’s son IRL?) has really grown on me.

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  22. Joseph Archibald
    Mar 13, 2009 @ 02:01:04

    I love all the books by Charlaine Harris! I remember as a kid watching things like the Munsters and the Adams Family, then there was Salem’s Lot too – wow, superb!
    Anyone seen the series True Blood by HBO yet and how does this stack up against the book series? I heard not so good things but what do you feel?

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  23. Nargis Martin
    Feb 20, 2011 @ 22:04:26

    Old is Gold they say and i must say that this was one hell of a book. I enjoyed it like anything

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