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:

  • http://www.whattamisaid.com Tamara

    I need to check out The Salt Roads. I loved Brown Girl in the Ring.

  • Simone L

    As a Trubie who is trying to convince her 8 year old daughter to have True Blood Party (her birthday is June 10th), let me shed some light. And don’t judge me for the party thing, I was gonna be Tara but my personality is very Pam. (haha)

    Anywho….I thought the same thing. The first time we ever saw Tara, she was flipping out on a customer for coming to the store without calling to see if they had what she was looking for. Then she freaked out on her boss. But with her relationship with Sam and as we got a closer look, Tara IS like many black women. Seeming so angry on the outside, when there is so much more going on that we don’t know. Some people might try to go and say Sookie was Tara’s white savior. Nope!! Tara was her own savior when she decided that she needed to distance herself from all the drama in Bon Temp. She’s been strong because there was nothing else she could be!! I love Tara, because she is like today’s black woman-strong when there is nothing else she could be, despite how she comes across.

  • http://www.whattamisaid.com Tami Winfrey Harris

    @Simone L

    I like Tara, but I do think Alan Ball struck one too many stereotyped notes. I resent him turning her into a sassy black friend, making her endure all sorts of hardship (including rape) without any support, while everyone in town fawns when Sookie gets a hangnail. And just when we thought Tara was ’bout to save herself, they have her throw herself in front of a bullet to save her no-good, self-centered friend that refuses to give up cavorting with two men who caused Tara so much pain.

    All I can say is that come June 10, my girl Tara had better not be dead.

  • Simone L

    I will F a wall up if Tara is dead. Word to sheetrock I will

  • http://sunnynala.wordpress.com sunny

    “Sookie is judgemental, provincial, difficult, petty and self-centered. And never more so than when interacting with other women.”

    Ms. Harris has a disturbing tendency to frequently snipe at Anna Paquin’s portrayal of Sookie in the most petty of terms. Just sayin’.

    “Harris’ writing has always illustrated regressive and sexist views of women”

    Yes. Too bad you didn’t specifically mention Sookie’s continuing ‘friendship’ with her rapist, Bill Compton. And I’m not just talking about the trunk rape/draining incident. Please re-read the filthy graveyard ‘sex’ scene and you’ll know what I mean. The lack of acknowledgement of these rapes is more than regressive, it’s f*cking pernicious.

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