Monday, May 13, 2013

Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse #13) by Charlaine Harris

Sookie is back. And people want to kill her. For reasons (don’t ask what they are, I barely know, the book certainly doesn’t know. But then again they may have met her for 10 minutes, that could be motive enough)

Which means every character this 13 book series has ever had since the very beginning decides to pop in to wave and say hi, most of them leaving again, others staying for breakfast. Sookie whines and complains and whines and complains and whines some more with an extra side order of how awful all woman are except the Sookzilla are.

And then badness happens, convoluted rescue and Sookie ends up shagging someone half of fandom hates.

What you wanted a real recap? Seriously, there’s nothing to recap. Some random guys decide they hate Sookie and try to destroy her in a fashion that makes your average Scooby Doo villain look direct and simple. Arlene is sprung out of prison is evil and bad, dies and Sookie is framed – inelegantly – for her murder that would never have stuck anyway. Everyone rallies round the wonderful Sookie. Sookie is her usual nasty self and whines about her love life while doing nothing.

Let me preface this review with a point: I know a lot of fans are giving this book low ratings because they are absolutely horrified, shocked and appalled that Sookie didn’t end up with their lover of choice. So upset, in fact, that some of them have lost their ever loving minds.

So let me be clear, I do not care who Sookie ends up with. No, no, I do, but only in a sense of wanting to know which man to pity, which man is forced to bite the bullet, and which men manage to flee from the Sookzilla and escape her clutches.

That said, her relationship is frankly the least reason I dislike this book – what with the writing, the broken plot, the ridiculous characterisations and, of course, Sookie herself.

Firstly, since this is the last book in the series, every character there has ever been showed up to wave and say hi. These characters fit into two categories – men who turned up to remind us how awful all the other women in their lives were compared to the precious Sookie (Sam runs down his lovers – the Maenad, Jannalyn, both worse than Sookie. Quinn reflects on the mother of his child – who won’t let him nearby – and the sister Sookie disapproves of. Alcide has 1 out of three lovers Sookie found tolerable – and she’s dead). They all consider their past relationships – in some cases it’s the only reason they actually show up at all – just to remind us how wonderful and perfect Sookie is next to every other woman in the world ever.

Of course, some women return to the fold as well – and there begins the grand apology genuflections for being women who have inevitably failed the perfect Sookzilla. Tara is there to apologise for how she failed her Sookieness and later Amelia shows up to do her own penitence at the altar of Sookie perfection. It’s pretty glaring when you compare the men returning to Sookie’s service and the women – the men reflect on how bad their women were, the women are penitent about what bad people they are, because no woman can ever match the Sookzilla, no woman is allowed to be her peer, they always have to be beneath her or lesser than her because she is Sookie, the special woman. And, of course, there’s the evil evil betraying Arlene who finally gets hers! And absolutely no-one is sorry about the death of a single mother because of what she did to Sookie, she knows because she read the bar’s minds and they’re all Team!Sookie.

Even new women on the scene – like Ann and Sam’s mother – have to have their flaws paraded through Sookie’s mind to remind us how terribad wrong all other women are compared to the Sookzilla!

It just adds to the general unpleasantness that is Sookie. I can’t emphasise this enough, but Sookie is a really really nasty person. Tara, her best friend who has just had twins, returns to Sookie’s life and some of her first thoughts are 1) Tara is more-than-curvy (and mentally commenting that Tara has put on 2 dress sizes, not one) and 2) that she isn’t grooming her eyebrows neatly any more. She also moans about Tara sending baby pictures of her newborn twins and even assumes one of Tara’s other friends must be relieved with Sookie taking Tara away to escape the dreaded scourge of baby pictures

Or there’s her garden. Niall has blessed her garden to turn it into an Eden – it is lush and beautiful and stunning and thriving and has awesome tomato plants of infinite growth, constantly refreshing their super-perfect, amazing fruit. Sookie’s reaction? Oh it’s nice – but now she has to mow the lawn more often, damn it! Typical backfiring faerie gift! And he could have thrown in a protection circle! And she’s sick of tomatoes anyway!

Or her house full of supporters who have completely dropped everything in their lives, travelled from New Orleans and are now working tooth and nail to support and help the Sookzilla in her time of need. And Sookie? Resents their presence! Complains at the number to feed. Feels relief when she doesn’t have to deal with them.

Honestly, she’s lucky she’s the telepath, because if people could regularly see the nasty in her head they’d burn her at the stake.

Then there’s the writing itself. First, we have all these people showing up for no damn reason than to remind us that they exist (and remind us how awful their womenfolk were). What did Quinn and Alcide actually achieve? Why were they even there? Couldn’t they have just picked up a phone? I don’t know why Karin was introduced – they could have just used Pam in Sookie’s eternal service, especially since the last few books have slowly but surely stripped Pam of any real personality. We had a new barmaid, I have no idea why. Mustapha and Warren are hanging around vaguely for no apparent reason. The urge to shoe horn every passing character who has ever been in a book creates lots and lots of little scenes that do nothing for the story.

This is an added problem because we still have the standard community building. This is actually one of the things I used to like about the Sookie Stackhouse series – you had a strong sense of her culture and place and her community by the way she interacted with people, by the way she knew everyone and could fit them all into her little social net, by the way she knew who was related to who, the gossip about each one, etc. The problem is that this minor mini-character bloat is made even worse by the character’s coming back to wave at us and remind us how much all women are awful compared to the Sookzilla. We have a gazillion character interactions, character info dumps, character cameos which add not the slightest thing to the plot.

Which is another problem – the plot. Or lack thereof. I’m going to try and do this without spoilers, but Charlaine Harris has shaken her series and scooped up all of the vaguely-not-nice people she has left alive and dumped them all into this book as the bad guy. And it doesn’t work, not even slightly. Two of these men I don’t even remember. Another I only remember because True Blood the television series vastly increased his role. None of them have any particular reason to hate Sookie – let alone pour the amount of resources into hurting her that they are doing. And if their motives make no sense, their actual method is ludicrous to a degree that beggars belief, because all these men who have no particular reason to hate Sookie have decided that can’t just kill her, oh no, they must destroy her utterly with torture and betrayal.

Why? No story reasons – they just want this elaborate revenge fantasy because it’s the only way you can justify them not throwing half the money they are actually spending at a sniper to watch her house and bring her down. Or drive her off the road on one of the many many times she drives home at night. They want complicated revenge because it’s the only way the story would work – the characters are being twisted into the story like square pegs being hammered into round holes by a spatially challenged toddler.

Of course throughout all this Sookie does nothing. She gets her posse of supporters, plays hostess (poorly) and then just gets on with her life – she goes to work, she worries about Sam, she worries about Eric, she does absolutely nothing to figure out who is trying to set her up for murder. And don’t tell me that she has no investigating skills, I know she has no investigating skills – but the last 12 books have been based on her leaping into investigations without any kind of skills either and half of them were none of her business. But now she decides to kick back and let her house guests take care of it?

But she needs to get on with her daily life because then she wouldn’t end up going to the dance with Jason and his fiancée and then…

AArgh, it’s no good, I need a spoiler break here! There’s just absolutely no way I can sum up the ridiculousness of this ending without one. Highlight the text to reveal the SPOILERS

She went out to a dance! While being hunted! With none of her bodyguards?! Why would she do this?! Yes she’s had sex with Sam, is his penis so large it managed to travel up her body and dislodge her brain?! And then she’s kidnapped.

And it’s the most inept kidnapping in the history of abduction. When she escapes there’s a whole CONVOY of rescuers chasing her kidnappers. There’s literally a line of cars rushing to the rescue of Sookzilla. All their elaborate planning to torture her horribly failed because, in the end, if they’d stopped they’d have been caught and the best they could hope for is to kill Sookie before she was rescued.

But the way Sookie escaped was to reveal to extra #1 and extra #2 that Claude was gay – to which they completely ignored the fact they’re kidnapping a woman for torture in order to get some gay bashing in. Seriously? And Claude ASKED Sookie what homophobia was. He has lived on Earth for years, decades, quite possibly centuries, and the idea of prejudice against gay people is alien to him? No, no way. There is absolutely no way Claude could be that kind of ignorant. And then he decides to react to this by using faerie magic on the 2 homophobes to make them attracted to each other – while he’s driving and while they’re spouting hate. Really?

Is this supposed to be progressive? Is this supposed to be supportive? The gay man who needs educated about homophobia, Sookzilla saved by a gay bashing, the gay man using powers to force sexual feelings on homophobes and homophobes who are so frothing at the mouth they will attack the man currently driving their getaway vehicle AT SPEED?

The ending make no sense. It was nonsense. It was ridiculous. Every part of it screamed that the author didn’t know how to end this book and just wanted to get it done. The convoluted, weak story ended with a cobbled together ending with no reason behind it. It wasn’t just clumsy, it was lazy, unbelievable and just plain bad.

Which kind of sums up this book. This is not the crown on the end of the series. The plot was convoluted, made little sense and was largely in the background. The ending was utterly awful and I kind of want the protagonist to be eaten by something with large fangs. When some series end I feel a profound sadness that an epic tale that has held me heart and soul has ended, I grieve for good series ending. With this book finished all I feel is relief and a vague feeling of accomplishment – like when you’ve finished a particularly onerous housework job