Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dead but Not Forgotten

Nobody's Business by Rachel Caine
Tyger, Tyger by Christopher Golden
The Real Santa Claus by Leigh Perry
Taproot by Jeffrey J. Mariotte
Knit a Sweater Out of Sky by Seanan McGuire
Love Story by Jeanne C. Stein
The Million-Dollar Hunt by Jonathan Maberry 
Borderline Dead by Nicole Peeler
Extreme Makeover Vamp Edition by Leigh Evans
Don't Be Cruel by Bill Crider
What a Dream I Had by Nancy Holder
Another Dead Fairy by Miranda James
The Bat-Signal by Suzanne McLeod
The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars by Dana Cameron
Widower's Walk by MaryJanice Davidson

The whole concept of this anthology is an unusual one – this is a book of short stories set in Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse World written by other authors – a kind of licensed fanfiction. I have to say I was very very sceptical about the concept after the debacle of After Dead and I feared another cynical, exploitative money grab aimed at squeezing every last drop out of this series and its fans.

Do I think this was another cynical money grab? Honestly, yes – but despite that, there are some quality authors here who managed to pull out some interesting elements and tell some decent stories despite that which made it a far better book than the preceding debacle.

The stories I liked where ones that took regularly occurring characters who were present enough in the series to be identifiable characters and whose little vignette added more to them or the world. So I really liked Nobody’s Business by Rachel Caine which followed Kenya and Kevin, the two under-used police officers who grew to love each other as they pursue crime as normal humans in a supernatural haunted world. It was cute, impressive and fun with Kevin’s admiration and respect for Kenya really shining through even while also conveying the prejudice against interracial couples that overshadow them. Equally I liked The Bat Signal by Suzanne McLeod for taking Luna, an interesting werebat we met only briefly, and expanding her role in trying to be more involved in helping her fellow shapeshifters even if they don’t respect what a bat can do for them, instead favouring the larger predators

Similarly, I liked Tyger Tyger by Christopher Golden which followed weretiger Quinn and touched on a lot of issues with wereanimals being revealed and why it was more shocking than vampires (blood drinking night walkers are inherently separate from humanity – while shapeshifters could, by definition, be absolutely anyone making them a more immediate threat) as well as touching on inevitable military exploitation of wereanimals and issues like senility and elder care for a secretive community like weretigers. It covered a lot in a short space and was a very satisfying story when it ended.

I quite liked The Real Santa Clause by Leigh Perry and Knit a Sweater Out of Sky by Seanan McGuire not because I was especially interested in Amelia or Diantha (or in Sookie’s domestic bliss) but because it did a lot to flesh out the concept of witches and magic which I think the series always left so very neglected. Magic was there, occasionally it got used when it was useful but we didn’t get as much into the full effects of it – like how devastatingly it could be used against a business, or the mindset of witches that was so well displayed from Amelia’s point of view.

I wasn’t a big fan of Million Dollar Hunt by Jonathan Maberry because it was far too generic. Partly this is the fault of the character chosen – Mustapha was an extremely under-developed bit character in the series so there was very little to flesh out into a story that centred around him. But the story itself was generic – wereanimals fighting in the wilderness with a bit of canon twisting? This could quite literally have involved any wereanimal from any book I’ve read with wereanimals in it and not even slightly changed the story. I almost wonder if the story had already been written and they just filed the serial numbers off – there was no sense of world or character there

Borderline Dead by Nicole Peeler was another story I found generic in that it had little to do with Charlaine Harris’s world since it took a small side character – Desiree Dumas. But this story I loved – the idea of vampires playing into right-wing border patrols to try and deflect hatred against them against undocumented migrants – trying to use prejudiced nationalism and xenophobia as a way to prove to everyone that they’re good ol’ patriotic members of society is a nice, nuanced touch. Coupled with Desiree’s own determination to leave vampire control made for an interesting, layered story.

Extreme Makeover Vamp Edition by Leigh Evans was pretty much ridiculous. Vampire fashion reality show trying to force a make over on a very reluctant vampire. It was ridiculous. It was ludicrous. It was silly – but honestly it was also all kinds of fund and had some nice little side issues on shallowness and body image.

One story I actively disliked was Love Story by Jeanne C Stein. This is the story of why Adele Stackhouse, Sookie’s grandmother, had an affair which led to her part-fae grandchildren. I disliked it because it fit very badly with the ongoing treatment of women in the Sookie Stackhouse series but also within Charlaine Harris’s world as a whole – it also fit poorly with how I felt Adele has been treated by the series. Adele was Sookie’s grandmother; she raised Sookie and Jason alone after her son and daughter-in-law died. She worked hard, she fought for them and she was, by all accounts, a good, kind and caring parent to them both. She was a good person – and then the series revealed she’d been unfaithful to her husband and Sookie was extremely harsh in her condemnation and over-the-top reaction to the news (which is, sadly, very standard for the slut shaming of this series). It felt very much like whatever Adele had done was all invalidated by her infidelity, that hussy!

And then we have this shot story that feels like an attempt to justify Adele, to redeem her. I hate the very idea – I hate that this character has basically been reduced to her infidelity to a degree that we need a redemption storyline for her and I equally hate the way it turned out – that her infidelity is justified because she did it for the precious babies, without which their lives were just so empty and desolate (her husband was infertile – and apparently adoption didn’t exist).

I didn’t enjoy Taproot by Jeffrey J Mariotte because I’m generally not a fan of Andy. I suppose it’s not bad because it was a sotry that actually showed Andy being a competent police detective which has been rather lacking (to say the least) in the main series (a simplistic characterisation – since Andy Bellefleur was someone who Sookie didn’t like, he tended to be universally awful, so this kind of development was probably needed). This is more than can be said for Don’t be Cruel by Bill Crider which is basically just a retelling of events in the book from Bubba’s perspective – rehashing a story through the eyes of a gimmick character is just dull. I think you’d have to be a pretty excessive Elvis fan to find it meaningful. What a Dream I Had by Nancy Holder is a story of Alcide’s eternally tragic love life which didn’t particularly excite me either because it just added to, well, Alcide’s eternally tragic love life by introducing yet another tragically doomed lover (though, out of Harris’s hands, at least this woman wasn’t evil and awful)

I cringed a little reading Another Dead Fairy by Miranda James simply because the main series characterisation of Claude was so terribly awful and offensive – so this was a pleasant surprise in that it wasn’t so eye gougingly terrible – but equally it didn’t really add anything to what was already there. I can’t quite say the same for The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars by Dana Cameron which follows Pam and her wild life which is something I could love – and there’s a lot about this story I do love. But equally seeing Pam turn to Eric over and over without a great deal showing us in the main series or in this story WHY Pam owes Eric so much is vaguely frustrating – especially when it involves putting Eric above a female love interest. I also wasn’t a fan of the writing style here, being a little confused and chopping back and forth

We finish on Widower’s Walk by Mary Janice Davidson and it’s just awful. 200 years into the future we follow the immortal Eric – WHO IS STILL MOPING AFTER SOOKIE, dear gods really, really? He’s stalking her descendants in full mopey fashion. And that’s not the least of it – 200 years into the future doesn’t feel nearly different enough from now and Eric himself feels a lot older, more jaded and out of touch. Yes, it’s 200 years into the future but Eric is already 1,000 years old – he never had trouble making himself current before, I can’t see an extra 200 years shaking him that much, especially since so little has happened. This whole story feels more like a desperate last lament for the-ending-that-should-have-been.

So, my ending thought on this collection? Yes, it’s a cynical money grab – but because of the talent of some of these authors there are some decent gems in there, among a lot of generic meh. I also appreciate some development in some severely under-addressed areas of the Sookie Stackhouse world and that several of these authors chose to expand the limited stories of some of the minority characters lurking in the corners of Sookie’s universe – giving far more life and presence to several POC and gay characters than were present in the original series which I appreciated.

It’s not amazing, but it’s pretty damn good with some sweet moments – you don’t need this book to finish the Sookie universe, but nor will you be sorry for investing in it.