Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Is Dead Reckoning the Worst Book of the Year?

Entertainment Weekly has declared Charlaine Harris’ Dead Reckoning one of the worst books of 2011.  Dead Reckoning is the 11th novel in the hugely popular Sookie Stackhouse series.  Harris’ series is the basis of the popular HBO show True Blood.  

Well here is our review of Dead Reckoning

Obviously, we have read worse this year. Anyone looking through our 0.5 Fang reviews, or our New Year’s Day post can see that. However, at the same time I wouldn’t say that Entertainment Weekly is entirely out of line here, albeit their determination is rather exaggerated

Part of the reason we can’t just turn round and say that they’re out of line, is that we know Charlaine Harris can do better than she did in Dead Reckoning. Dead Reckoning was well below the standard she’d set for plot development, characterisation and in writing overall. As readers we felt like she’d lost interest in her series. In fact, Dead Reckoning felt rushed and churned out, without adequate checking. To be brutally frank, maybe we can say Entertainment Weekly has not given that book the respect it deserved, but I don’t think Charlaine Harris respected her own book or her own characters either.

The book contained some glaring continuity errors - not just with the other books in the series, but even internally as well.

We also have some severe out of character reactions. Eric has to beat Pam into submission in physical combat? Eric so out of control that Sookie has to calm him down as if he’s Adam Hauptman? Sookie, after 10 books of trying to absorb everything she can about vampire society, a woman who collects new information as treats, is now reluctant to listen to Eric give us massive information about the world because she’s so damn horny? Did she steal Anita Blake’s Ardeur? And then we have Bill talking about the Miss America Best Tits Competition. Really, musty, fusty Bill Compton?

Were these even the same characters? They had the same names, but they didn’t feel like the same people

So worst book of the year? Maybe not, definitely hyperbole. But it was a disappointment and there was a point there - and there is something to said for giving a book a bad mark not because a book is that bad, but because it is such a step down from the series and what has already been established. This book was such a clumsy deviation from what the characters were before that I can’t say the criticism is wrong.

The following is a section of Charlaine’s response to the Entertainment Weekly determination of her book.

I was in the pages of EW again in the year-end issue: “Best and Worst of 2011.” My book, DEAD RECKONING, was designated one of the worst of the year, along with a book by the ubiquitous Kardashians and one by Snooki of “Jersey Shore” fame.
At first I really couldn’t believe it. Though I fully realized DEAD RECKONING was not a perfect book, I knew I’d read worse during 2011. Then I realized that the criteria must have been, “bad books by someone famous.” Still, it stung pretty badly, as you can imagine.
I was pretty philosophical about the experience until my inner insecurities began to plague me. Most writers have plenty of those, beginning with the suspicion that we are actually no good at all and that someday someone will discover this . . . no matter how healthy our bank account may be, or how brisk sales have been.

Stronger than any review of Dead Reckoning, or conversations than I have had about this book, Ms. Harris’ own words stand as an indictment of what she willfully put out into the world. At first my inclination was to consider the fact that today, most works of fiction are a collaborative work though the author is given sole credit for their work.  If we are all honest, writers are highly dependent on a good editor to not only correct spelling and grammatical mistakes, but to ensure that their plots coincide with previous work, as well as to keep the story on point.  After reading what Ms. Harris had to say however, I am not so certain that a dual blame should be assigned to her work. In her response, Ms. Harris admitted to putting out a sub par book to her fans.

Most writers are plagued with insecurity and this is specifically why most will dedicate everything that they have to ensure that their work is the best that it can be because it’s a part of them.  This creates a covenant between author and reader.  Just as writers invest in their work so do readers.  A good book has the ability to take a reader completely out of the world.  It is a gift and something to be cherished.  Over the past 10 books, Ms. Harris created a relationship with the readers and turn they trusted her not to let them down and to take care with the characters that they have grown to love.

It may sound overly dramatic - but people bought that book based on the previous 10 books. People paid their money on the basis of what Charlaine Harris had previously produced.

In the end Harris broke a covenant with her readers and that is why, Entertainment Weekly chose to rank her book so poorly. We are in a recession and that means that for many disposable income is something that is difficult to come by.  People not only invested their precious time to read Dead Reckoning, but their hard earned cash.  This is a leap of faith and in the case of Dead Reckoning, one that left many with a bitter taste in their mouth.  Unlike many products, you cannot return a book to a store because it is a sub par product.

I fully recognize that Harris may have signed a contract to write a certain number of books in a series and therefore must fulfill her legal obligations, however she also made a commitment to the fans at the same time.  If she was hurt by the review, it certainly was not less than the fans who invested their time and money into buying and reading her work.  

Editors Note: This article has been revised to reflect the correct number of books in this series.