Dead Reckoning, by Charlaine Harris. Ace Books, 2011. 325 pp. 978-0-441-02031-7.
...in which Sookie witnesses a bombing, gets pulled into vampire politics, and acquires an interesting fairy artifact.
Dead Reckoning, the most recent installment in Charlaine Harris' enormously popular Sookie Stackhouse series, is an improvement on the last few books in the series, but doesn't quite measure up to the earlier books. The book opens with Sookie working her shift at Merlotte's bar, which is firebombed by a mysterious individual. Sookie suspects that someone supernatural is behind the attack. Meanwhile, at home, Sookie is working on cleaning out the attic of her 150 year old house, with the help of her two fairy cousins/roommates. While cleaning out an old desk, Sookie finds a mysterious object that was given to her grandmother by her grandfather. As Sookie digs deeper into the mysteries surrounding her fairy ancestry, she also has to fend off attacks on her life and cope with her secretive, distracted boyfriend, Eric, who's being pulled into a nasty political affair amongst the vampires.
Throughout the entire series, it has seemed like Sookie is quite possibly the most unlucky human on the planet, as pretty much everything seems to go wrong for her. She has multiple attempts on her life in each book, but the past four or so books (including this one) the attacks have escalated from petty personal grudges to territorial and political assassination attempts. In Dead and Gone, the life-threatening situations are particularly epic. Luckily, her problems in this installment are a little less enormous, which is a welcome change in pace. I'm glad that the focus is shifting from the supernatural community as a whole back to Sookie as an individual. The strength of the series has always been Sookie's characterization and her personal discoveries as she learns about her family history and abilities.
In terms of the book's pacing, I found it to be an improvement over the last three or so books. Recently, it seems like the books have consisted of a never-ending stream of dangerous events, culminating in one massively dangerous event. This book brings the frenetic pace down a notch, allowing for some character introspection that has been lacking. Sookie actually has time to pursue personal interests, and talk to some friends, and dig into her family history without having a bunch of dangerous people hovering over her shoulder.
One of the things that has always made this series stand out from other vampire series is that the characters all feel real and, to some extent, human. Sookie is a heroine who tries her hardest to overcome some significant obstacles... she's flawed, but she feels real (unlike Bella from Twilight). Even the vampires feel real, though some stereotypical vampire behavior is inevitable. However, the biggest weakness of this particular book is the secondary characterization. Sam, Eric, Pam, Bill, etc. have always brought a lot to the series, as each one has their own unique quirks and distinctly different relationships with Sookie. Eric doesn't make many appearances in this book, and when he does appear, he's surly and preoccupied. This is explained later, but the effect it had was to make Eric feel like an afterthought. Bill kind of pops up as a plot convenience. Sam is there, in the background, but doesn't have a lot of meaningful scenes. Pam is the only one whose roll in this story left a deep impact on me. Her story arc, while very sad, adds a lot of depth and dimension to her character.
The book was good enough to encourage me to read future additions to the series. The last few books had me questioning whether I'd continue, but this one was encouraging, even if it falls short of the first five or so books in the series. The book ended with what seems like an end to one phase of Sookie's life, but with an opening for numerous new questions and relationships. The tone of the end suggests that Charlaine Harris may be taking the story in a very new direction. After the mediocrity of the last few books, a new direction is very welcome.