HBO’s juggernaut True Blood returns Sunday, June 10. If you’ve been jonesing for soap, sex and the supernatural, I suggest you hold on until then, because the latest installment of author Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Series, on which the show is based, provides none of that. The book “Deadlocked” (Ace 2012) [http://www.amazon.com/Deadlocked-Sookie-Stackhouse-Book-12/dp/1937007448] released last week, proves this beloved urban fantasy series is deader than anything in fictional Bon Temps, La.
In “Deadlocked,” a young woman is found dead on Eric Northman’s front lawn and telepath Sookie Stackhouse needs to uncover why, even as her relationship with the vampire sheriff is crumbling. Someone also seems to want the magical cluviel dor left to Sookie by her grandmother and, worse yet, something weird is going on with refugees from Faery who work and live in Hooligan’s, the local strip club.
If you think murder, magic and exotic dancing make for an exciting mix, you would be wrong–at least in this case. More than mayhem, “Deadlocked” focuses on the mundane. Sookie fills out tax forms. Sookie goes to Piggly Wiggly. Sookie makes sweet potato casserole. Gone even is high-octane vampire sex that left Sookie cooling off her nethers with frozen peas. (Yeah…that really happened). Never has fantasy been so damned dull.
Not helping the book is the increasing unpleasantness of our heroine. In chapter eight, vampire Queen Freyda says to Sookie, “Pam is fond of you. This one, too. I don’t know why, and I want to know.” Your royal highness, you are not alone. Like many of Harris’ female leads (See the Aurora Teagarden series), Sookie is judgemental, provincial, difficult, petty and self-centered. And never more so than when interacting with other women. She obsessively measures herself against other women and their lives; has few female friends; and does little for other women that isn’t obligatory cultural nicety. It is hard to root for a character like this. Nevertheless, in the series, any man who comes within a mile of Sookie (Even her great uncle and cousin…What?…Ugh.) is captivated and forever in her thrall.
Harris’ writing has always illustrated regressive and sexist views of women. She handles race even more poorly. The more diverse Bon Temps viewers see on “True Blood” can be credited to showrunner Alan Ball. People of color are marginalized in Harris’ Bon Temps–either destined for death or stereotypes. “Deadlocked” introduces black enforcer Mustapha Kahn, a (you guessed it) ex-con whose real name is KeShawn. In the book, Sookie and her former lover Bill reckon that KeShawn must be related to a black man they met in another city, because that man’s name was RaShawn…Uh huh…hot buttered foolishness.
Harris’ lapses would be less apparent had she delivered a rolicking good book. She didn’t. When I first discovered the Southern Vampire Series, following the first season of “True Blood,” I ate it up. It was action-packed, fun, fantasy reading that led me deeper into the urban fantasy genre. But where urban fantasy writers like Kim Harrison and Kelly Armstrong have been able to keep their long-running series fresh and exciting, Harris seems to have lost interest in Sookie and the Bon Temps crew. And I’m losing interest, too. “Deadlocked” is the penultimate book in the series and, to be frank, the end can’t come soon enough. I hate to leave a book unread, but this one came very close to becoming one of the few books on my “did not finish” list.
If you’re a fantasy fan like I am and want to get hooked on a superior series, check out the fabulous Iron Druid chronicles by Kevin Hearne. [http://www.kevinhearne.com/books] Hearne is an excellent, witty writer, who draws from a host of mythologies for this can’t-put-down series. Book four, “Tricked,” was released in April and is on stands now.
In the meantime, ignore me while I fangirl about Law & Order: SVU’s Christopher Meloni joining the True Blood cast in June: