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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/03/2008 Archived Entry: "Book review: From Dead to Worse"

From Dead to Worse: A Sookie Stackhouse novel
By Charlaine Harris
Published by Ace Books, New York ISBN-10: 0441015891 ISBN-13: 9780441015894

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This is the eighth in the Southern Vampire series by the talented Charlaine Harris, a Southern belle with a sense of humor that's both whimsical and macabre. Her vampires are just as frightening as Anne Rice's, and a lot more interesting. So is her heroine, Sookie Stackhouse. Not that there's anything frightening about Sookie; she's just an ordinary working gal from Bon Temps, Louisiana, who works as a barmaid at a local bar named Merlotte's. Oh, and she's also psychic.

In the last seven books, Sookie has crossed paths with vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, demons, witches, serial killers and religious fanatics. Of them all, the last three groups were wholly human and managed to do her more harm than the supes (supernaturals). Physical harm, that is. She's had her heart broken by Bill Compton, her vampire boyfriend. (How would you feel if you found out your boyfriend was a male Mata Hari who seduced you on orders from his boss, the vampire queen of Louisiana, because she wanted a psychic on her payroll?) She's been befriended by Claudine, a beautiful fairy who always shows up at the right time to rescue her. Since her breakup with Bill she's been courted by a werewolf and two shapeshifters, one of whom helped to find her missing brother Jason after he was kidnapped by a jealous werepanther whose girlfriend he was dating. She's survived a vampire war of succession in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, a vampire summit in Rhodes, Michigan after Katrina, which was violently disrupted by a sect of religious fanatics called the Fellowship of the Sun, an anti-vampire cult as vicious as the undead they're so violently opposed to.

Now, in this latest chronicle of her adventures, Sookie faces the biggest challenge of all; being betrayed by someone she loves. Two someones, as a matter of fact; her latest boyfriend Quinn, the weretiger, and her own brother, now a werepanther, married to the girl responsible for making him one (her ex bit him one too many times). She also witnesses a hostile takeover of the Louisiana vamps' territory by the Los Vegas vamps and a war between two local werewolf packs, which both look like schoolyard fights compared to the emotional battering she takes from the two men who supposedly love her. Yeah, there's never a dull moment in Sookie's world. But she often wishes there was.

For Sookie, being involved with supes on account of her paranormal talent has its positive and negative sides. On the positive side, vampire brains, which are a blank to her, are very restful. She's been hired as a human lie detector by both vamps and werewolves whenever they're forced to do business with each other (Were and shapeshifter minds aren't as easy to read as humans', but they still send out flashes of strong emotion that Sookie can see as mind pictures.) So the supernatural community of Bon Temps thinks she's special, which has gone a long way toward repairing her self-esteem, heavily damaged by her fellow humans. (After all, how much confidence can you have in yourself when you know exactly what everybody thinks of you? And you don't dare set them straight, for fear of being further ostracized by the ignorant and superstitious, of which there are plenty down south.) Just being among people who know about your peculiar talent and don't fear you, because they're pretty fearful themselves, can be very empowering. She also earns a lot more as a psychic than she does as a barmaid. Which allows her to indulge in a few luxuries like buying pretty clothes in a boutique instead of a discount store, putting fresh gravel on her driveway, and making repairs on her late grandmother's rambling old house, where Sookie grew up after her parents died and still lives.

On the negative side, she wouldn't have had to make those repairs if a vampire assassin hadn't set her house on fire. She's also had her home invaded by a pack of werewolves and had to rescue her ex-boyfriend from a rival vampire king and her old friend Tara from an abusive vampire boyfriend. And the very talent that supes value her for is what makes ordinary humans fear and avoid her. Most of the humans in this little Southern town who've known her since she was born think she's either crazy or hopelessly stupid, which forces her to behave like a stereotypical dumb blonde to keep her psychic talent a secret. Even her late mother preferred to think she was disturbed rather than believe she was telling the truth about her nasty uncle, who kept feeling Sookie up every chance he got when she was a kid.

But it was a human serial killer that murdered her grandmother, and the Fellowship of the Sun that nearly killed her twice for being a vampire-lover. Even in an alternate future universe where people and vampires have learned to live together, more or less in harmony, on account of a synthetic Japanese blood substitute called True Blood (for which the forthcoming HBO TV series based on this book series is named). It enables the vampires to enjoy their warm liquid protein diet without having to tap their neighbors' necks. There are still quite a few people who don't consider vampires "natural", who preach sermons against them and urge all good Christians to reject them, even subtly encourage them to kill vampires on sight, along with the people who love them. There are a lot of parallels to gay people and AIDS in Sookie's world. This depressing note of reality is what helps to keep it real, not just some weird horrific fantasy world.

Sookie herself has matured somewhat since the first book. She started out as a lonely little girl longing for love but unable to accept it because she knew too much about men. Bill's air of mystery and dark glamour, along with his silent mind, helped her to grow and mature as a woman, letting her find love and acceptance with someone who wasn't afraid to love her. Which made his later betrayal all the more poignant; her inability to read vampire minds, the very thing that made him so attractive to her, was what made him so hateful to her when she discovered his hidden agenda. Now she knows enough to think twice before accepting a vampire contract to act as a psychic interpreter between supes. She's also learned not to believe everything she thought she knew about supes; like many minorities, most of what is believed about them is either grossly exaggerated or deliberately understated by the subjects themselves, to prevent curious outsiders from getting too nosy. You might think her occasional brushes with death due to her hanging with supes would help her to appreciate her own human species more. But once you get to know the people in Sookie's world, you'll understand why she prefers the company of supes. Sookie has discovered, far too often, that mere mortals can be more dangerous than supes. So will you, once you dive into Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series, which I heartily recommend you do before seeing the new HBO TV series "True Blood", which premieres on September 7th (Okay, HBO, there's your second free plug. Do I get a free tee shirt or what?)

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