Top critical review
I guess Charlaine Harris should have stuck with the tentative title "Dead End" after all.
Reviewed in the United States on January 22, 2016
Full disclosure, if I could, this would be half a star, and that half would be for book design and not the actual content inside. Buckle up, babies, this is rough.
I ended up waiting to post this because I just wanted to forget how the series ended. For a while I thought I would just go back and reread the books from the series I liked. In reality, since the last book was published I haven't felt the need to reread them. I finally packed them up and felt it would be fitting to finally do this and be done with the whole thing.
The final Sookie Stackhouse was finally slated to come out. I couldn’t make it to the store that Tuesday, and man, waiting was not an option. What if I got spoiled?! There was too much I wanted to know, but I really did want it all to unravel at its own pace. I wanted to experience the results. Sookie and Eric’s fight for their relationship has been my favorite aspect of an otherwise disintegrating series (because let’s be honest the "mystery" portion of SVM went out the window back with book 9. Since then I’ve pretty much just shrugged my shoulders at whatever mystery comes along). Yes, the Sookie books have always had that sort of frothy, fun, shallow feel to them, but I didn’t mind. I don’t mind eating hamburger when I know that’s what it is. That said, I’ve always admired how the ostracized, insecure Sookie had grown from the first book into the smart, independent, capable woman who was the wife of an equally strong and willful man (vampire). Not only that, but Eric had always seemed proud and admiring of her independence. He very easily accepted her as a woman and as an equal. She was both beautiful and intelligent. No, she didn’t have the typical life of the conservative south (babies, a husband, a boring job), but she had HER life and someone that loved her for it. That both she and Eric had endured a history of sexual assault and had stayed strong and managed to put themselves in positions of both power and agency was the literary cherry on top. The coup de grace.
Victims don’t need to stay victims. They can not only survive, they can thrive and they can overcome.
Sometimes bad things happen. People say things like, it was my own fault. There’s such a thing as too good to be true. And, I should have known better.
In this case, I really should have known better.
Two weeks prior spoilers went around and people started cancelling preorders. I worried. More than I had in about two years. Maybe Sookie did end up with Sam. It’s what I’d assumed would happen back when I’d read the first nine books. But that was before Charlaine Harris went through the trouble of building Sookie and Eric’s marriage. Before the plot against Victor Madden they both orchestrated and carried out. Before Sookie told countless naysayers that she loved Eric; he was it for her. Book 11 came. They’re breaking up in this book, I’d told myself mournfully. Time to work in boy-next-door Sam. The book was rocky for them (Sookie and Eric), but they soldiered on. Book 12 came. Ok, this is the book. If there’s ever going to be a breakup it has to be here, otherwise it’s too late for Sam. Along came the dubious ending, but not a definite break. Besides, I had Charlaine Harris’s own words to console me.
Sookie and her HEA will overcome many obstacles.
Many obstacles indeed.
How good was it that suddenly Eric had to overcome the very same thing that broke up Sookie and Bill? How good was it that we’d see Sookie hold her own and fight for her husband? That she’d have the self-respect and dignity to tell off Freyda, because she loved Eric and deserved to be his wife? That together they’d come up with a plan that would finally leave them both free and independent, masters of their own destiny. After all, Sookie had once said to Eric she wanted to own her life, as much as anyone can. Clearly they’d both wanted that.
Maybe, I’d said, maybe Bill fans are disconsolate because their reunion didn’t happen.
Maybe Sam fans are upset that he really is just her friend.
Or maybe those were straws and I was grasping at them like a boss. You know.
The heartache started almost immediately.
I got my book and cracked it that day, already disappointed that the "shocking" murder that "rocks" Bon Temps was Arlene’s, as revealed by the interior flap. Way to go book designer, because mysteries are boring when you don’t know the answer ahead of time.
Following this was the most ridiculous dedication page EVER. I'm sorry, but an author reminding adult fans she can't make us all happy is just absurd. No one expects she can. No one. It's a paltry strawman argument given when an author's book bombs in popular opinion.
There's also the haunting last few words. "I hope you agree that it's fitting."
This just sounded so passive-aggressive that I had to roll my eyes. It's a cop out way of saying, I picked Sam and I know it goes against everything else that comes before, but too bad. This is best.
I hoped I was wrong, still hanging on to my straws and whatever else would have me.
All of this, and I hadn't even started the actual book part of the book.
Wow. This was gonna be *awesome*.
From there I immediately liked the prologue. Yes, the alternate voices was a different approach, but there was a deal with the devil! To get back at Sookie! Oh man. How would she and Eric cope with this whilst taking on Freyda and even possibly Felipe de Castro and their shenanigans!?
The answer? Easy, they wouldn’t.
My initial huh moment was Sam’s lack of a response to not being dead. Like Sookie herself pointed out, he isn’t really all that grateful. All he does is act mopey about having been "dead". Then Sookie is all bratty as she tends to be when people don’t think she’s neater than sliced bread.
So he’s angsty and she’s angsty that he’s angsty and I’m all, grow up and tell me a story! I paid expedited shipping costs for this!
I waited for Eric to swoop in with some awesome. I waited for the plotting and the scheming. I waited for the romantic moments.
Hell, I waited for anything.
But really, if anything was missing more from this book than a plot or a midol pill it was Eric.
My first taste of him comes from Bill to describe his reaction to the cluvial d’or. That’s right, Eric flies off in a huff as a cliffhanger from the last book and my resolution to that is Bill ‘date-rape’ Compton.
Charlaine Harris, why do you hate me?
I mean, what?
Because the most reliable source for information about your boyfriend is your ex-boyfriend who has a history of hating your current boyfriend.
It’s no more jacked up than anything else going on. Really.
Because Arlene gets busted out of jail by a mysterious lawyer and reverend that want Sookie dead. I guess along with suspension of belief because this is a fantasy series I have to have suspension of intelligence as well. Nothing else was gonna stop me from knowing this was Newlen and Glassport. Then Arlene and Sookie have some sort of lame showdown, she doesn’t get her job back and ends up in a dumpster. Dead.
To be fair, I did like that someone I so hated ended up in a dumpster. I’ve wished characters dead in a hole I can’t even say how many times. Finally, I got it.
So there is that.
Of course Sookie is arrested for the murder because Arlene is dead wearing one of Sookie’s scarves after talking to her about getting her job back. And in a town with the same crack detective work as The Salem Witch trials, that’s enough for a conviction.
This is about 100 pages in, by the way, without really anything between Sookie and Eric. I’m still holding onto my straws like nobody’s business, but the writing is all but on the wall. Which is nice, cos it sure as hell wasn’t on the page. In a relationship often thwarted by lack of communication and straight-forwardness, I’d really thought they’d eventually have it out.
At least I still had Arlene dead in a dumpster.
Now, at no point would I think Sookie was really going to prison for life, so I am thankful Harris didn’t try and draw out that suspense to ridiculous lengths. Because really I already had my hands full with eyerolling because Sookie has this absurd born again experience where she contemplates that jail isn’t exactly an inappropriate place for her because she has killed people. Just not Arlene.
People who had been trying to kill her. But whatever, let’s not split hairs or really think too hard. Sookie gets out on bail–a bail Eric pays–and right about there is where the plot should get rolling. Sookie needs to prove her innocence and I still want to know what’s happening with Eric and the contract. It’s been mentioned, but only tangentially. Which I guess is this book’s theme. Stuff happens off the page or only just barely. What IS on the page is shopping with Tara, talking smack about supes, angsting about Sam, and Sookie’s tomatoes.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Tomatoes.
I mean, here was Eric’s chance to crack down and help exonerate Sookie. Instead I got some lukewarm divorce and then Eric telling Sookie afterwards he wants to keep her on the side, and that he should have just forcibly turned her ages ago.
Yeah. It’s that book. The book where not only does a character get beaten and butchered, but then spat on. That book that actively has a character contradict things they said just a book or so ago. If I could say any one thing about this book it’s that it was angry. Angry and vindictive. If anything about Eric could have been construed as selfless and caring it was obliterated either by out of character actions or by other characters telling me outright that Eric is being selfish.
Forget this book. Dead in a dumpster.
About this point I unregrettably tuned out. I mean, I KNEW who killed Arlene. I even knew why. Eric and Sookie didn’t seem to be getting back together. Hell, Sookie even contemplated revenge sex with Bill. Which is so wrong in so many ways I can’t even be as mad as I want to be because I’m just too damn confused. There’s also cameo after cameo like mad. You can tell there was a list Harris just ticked off (along with ticking me off). Alcide, Quinn, Bob, Diantha, Cataliades, Barry, Amelia. It just gets exhausting.
Which brings me back around to Sam. Sam, who was said to just be a squick off since coming back from the dead. Here’s a chance to have him be possessed (someone is, but it isn’t Sam and it sure as hell isn’t even interesting) or to have brought something back from the realm of the dead. But no, the "something off" is Sam has an existential realization that he’s kind of screwing around with his life, dating women he doesn’t even like. I’m sorry. This isn’t charming or endearing. Sam is well over thirty years old. His revelation that, hey, I was uncomfortable bringing my girlfriend home to my mom probably means I shouldn’t be dating her, is just too childish. What grown man brings home a pretend girlfriend to his mother?!
And if I didn’t want to think about Sam, well, too bad because Sookie obsesses about him like mad in this book. Then you’ve also got Bill–who is now all-knowing because Harris relies on outside exposition to convey everything–who subtly not so subtly makes the assertion that Sookie only used the cluvial d’or on Sam because she loves him. No really, this happens. He asks if she’d do it for someone like Terry Bellefleur and she says no.
Sorry Terry. Probably best you didn’t invite Sookie to your wedding after all.
The book just unravels. By the way, no detective work is going on in this town for Arlene’s killer. Yeah, this is the murder that "rocks" Bon Temps. Maybe rocks the casbah, but it does not rock the town. No one is even sorry she’s dead. Sookie is mad that Eric does nothing to get out of the contract (to be fair she does nothing either) and Sam has some secret because he’s being super indirect. Like more so than usual, and that’s saying something.
Look. Sam is a reanimated corpse and I still can’t find him interesting. That’s impressive.
How on earth can we find out what’s happening? Bill can come over. Because this is what he does.
I can’t even think about how Bill likens this reveal to Eric telling Sookie how Bill was ordered to seduce her for her talent. Or how Sookie has the gall to say this incident was what hurt hers and Bill’s relationship so badly in the past (yes, because it’s the messenger’s fault Bill raped and lied to you). I can’t think of how she says Bill’s betrayal hurt worse and she just wants her relationship with Eric to fade away.
Dead in a dumpster everyone.
In the end Sookie finds out Sam really wanted to get Sookie out of jail, but Eric puts up the funds on the condition Sam needs to stay away from Sookie. Is this sneaky? Sure. Is it up there with rape and subterfuge and founding a relationship on a lie? No. But it’s no doorknob either, so whatever. We have a section where Harris does this lame magic to acquit Sam of past wrong doings. The maenad he slept with who harmed Sookie? He had to sleep with her. She made him. (For someone who mocked the vampire/maker bond all through the series, Sookie’s cavalier acceptance of this is unforgivable). Oh, and Sam wants her to be his. That’s really how he phrases it. Vampires are possessive users. Thank God Sam swoops in to be different, because treating Sookie like an object is just wrong.
I mean, fine. Sam is the HEA. I honestly have no problem with that idea at all. In a lot of contexts the boy-next-door love interest works and is even great. I can get behind where the book could go with their feelings and the set-up. The problem is the book waited too long and just doesn’t really try. Because it’s less concerned with making the pairing make sense (you know, with buildup and whatnot) and more concerned with making it a twist that was literally saved until the last book because THAT was what the series devolved into. Come on. Make Sookie fall in love with him! Make me see why she should love him! Make me fall in love with him! I want to, help me out!
And the scene between them was just so smug. It totally read as, Sam was the best because he’s human, not a nasty, terrible, icky old vampire and people are the best just because.
For someone who championed the outcasted vampires, suddenly Sookie sounds like a bigot. She also tells Sam she doesn’t want a real relationship. She needs to take things slow.
Which is why you totally should start out by having sex first.
I wish this book had been about breaking patterns and charting unknown territory. I could have handled an Eric break if it was for Sookie to strike out in a new direction. But she doesn’t. Eric is ultimately parceled off to Oklahoma having added on an extra hundred years to his sentence to look out for Sookie. Eric in essence pays for Sookie and Sam’s happily ever after and neither ever tell him thank you. Never mind this puts Eric right back under someone the way he was as Appius’s child. Eric will now be a sex slave for 200 years. He loses Pam, his area, the bar he built and ran, his vampires and friends, and Sookie. She can’t even muster any sympathy. There isn't even any formal good-bye. He's just gone and she's just relieved. A relationship of twelve books just dismissed off the page.
The book winds up with Sookie kidnapped again, masterminded by Claude, who hired Newlin and Glassport to frame her for murder. Again, the mystery is really unimportant and uninteresting. There’s some weird scene with Claude using some faerie sex magic and Sookie uses that as a chance to escape, but it’s just so rushed and tired I can’t care. Because I know nothing irrevocable will happen to Sookie. I can’t even think of all the unfulfilled promises the summary on the book’s flap made. You know, the convenient lie, what passes for justice is more spilled blood? What did that even mean?
In the end it doesn’t matter. It’s Sookie and Sam, though she admits she doesn’t know if she loves him on her own, or because of the cluvial d’or. She doesn’t care, though the blood bond took a bunch of books to sort out because she needed to know her own feelings. The vampires and supes just seem out of her life and we’re right back to where she was book 1. It’s almost as bad as the whole, this whole series was a dream. In some ways it feels worse, because the broadening of Sookie's horizons, her adventures and growth are all treated as something that she got away from.
I finished, just feeling tired and bereft. There was no comedy, no suspense, no smiley moments. Sookie simply moves down the line onto a new suitor who has the same problems as all the others. I’m supposed to believe the residents of Bon Temps really do accept her, though we’ve seen in the past they don’t ( Andy has said she's subhuman and Sid Matt Lancaster told her to her face she was unnatural). It’s as though she treats her growth from the past 12 books as a bad dream and she is right back where she was in the beginning.
What baffles me most is if this is a series about tolerance, why does Sookie end up with Sam? She and Sam are the two supernatural beings who like to pretend they aren't. That isn't tolerance or self-realization. That's self-loathing. And the biggest problem I have with this is, Sam has never challenged Sookie to find a way to accept her telepathy as a positive thing in her life. Hell, at least Bill could do that. All Sam is concerned with in regards to her gift is whether she can hear him or not. He doesn't drag her talent out in the open so they can discuss it, he just wants to make sure that it won't affect them if they don't want it to.
In essence: Can we pretend you can't read my mind? Because that's totally healthy.
I knew what was coming by reading the dedication page, and I just felt angry. I don’t see how this was a fitting end to any story. Not when any change and growth is negated. From being a character I always loved, I didn’t even like Sookie this book. Pretty much every reason I gave myself for why it had to be Eric, because otherwise the book would be awful, was what happened.
And guess what? The book was awful.
Maybe this book was intended to come after book 3. Maybe the fling with Eric was a plot to sell books. Maybe Sookie had grown into a character whom this ending no longer fit for. No matter what, that’s no excuse. Harris is no new author and should have known better. Instead of a definite ending we get some ridiculous open ended crap about she might not even love Sam or be with him come Christmas. From telling us last book losing Eric would leave a terrible void in her life, Sookie just wants him to go away so she doesn't have to deal with their relationship like an adult. What’s an even bigger tragedy is I don’t need an epilogue to know how her and Sam's lives play out. The life Sookie seemed to staunchly reject is now exactly what she’ll get. Babies and regifted crockpots. The things she always told the Bon Temps residents she didn't need to be happy. Was that a lie or did they finally beat her into submission? I can't know because like everything else necessary for this book to tell me anything, it's not on the page.
What makes me angriest is I did not conjure up my love for Sookie and Eric's relationship from nowhere. Charlaine Harris herself fostered it and gave me reason to hope and believe. Then in this last book she slapped me in the face and laughed at me for it. Eric's bite in book 11 was villified, yet Bill has STILL not answered for his rape. She and Quinn are comfortable friends, yet he betrayed her in a hostile takeover, despite being her boyfriend. She's sorry Alcide is not for her. But he's tricked her into using her gift for him time and time again. And she can't even muster any regrets over Eric, or tender reflections for the man who supported her through torture, who has saved her life countless times, and who risked his own wellbeing to look out for her. I can understand two people just not being cut out for a future. I'd have loved a heartfelt, bittersweet separation. Some acknowledgment that they both HAD loved each other, that other factors had simply been too much. Instead it's made to seem as though Eric makes a shallow, silly choice to just leave Sookie all for Sam. As though he chooses a life of glitz and glam over her. Instead it's the fact that Sookie was just too intolerant of Eric's culture. She says Eric doesn't love her enough. Clearly, the same can be said for her. Sam loses or gives up nothing for Sookie's happiness. Eric gives up everything.
I wish this book were dead in a dumpster.