I have always loved to read. Books were a prominent part of my childhood and some of my earliest memories are of my mom and dad reading to me. I was a pretty faithful reader up until I went to graduate school. Once I entered my doctoral program, I still read a lot, but it wasn’t for leisure. My free time was filled with court cases and books on presidential leadership and political parties. Reading became a chore and when I did have free time, I wanted to get as far away from books as possible. I also picked up the troubling habit of skimming books for content rather than for enjoyment. In graduate school, that’s a method of survival; when you are reading at least three academic books a week, you can’t linger over every word. You get the gist of the argument and move on to the next assignment. But even after my tour of duty in academia ended, I’ve been having trouble just slowing down and reading just for fun. I find myself speed reading to get the book done as quickly as possible, even if I am enjoying it. I have to force myself to just take my time and savor the words. I’m too worried about the destination and not the journey. It’s a constant struggle and it makes me sad that graduate school has taken some of the pleasure of reading away from me.
The one time and place that I am able to retreat to reading for pure enjoyment is on vacation. I don’t know if it is the relaxation associated with being on vacation that allows me to slow down and just enjoy the book for the sake of enjoying a book or if it is the fact that there really isn’t much else to do when you are sitting alone on an airplane or killing time at the airport waiting for your flight. Whatever the reason, as excited as I am to get away from it all and to see new places and visit friends, one of the things I most look forward to every time I go away is the chance to just sit and read.
It was during these layovers at some random airport that I first picked up Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. I only recently bought a Kindle, so before that I had to lug a bunch of books with me in my carry-on bag. Sometimes I would misjudge how many books to bring and would wind up with nothing to read if I finished my books too quickly. On one of these occasions, I wandered into the airport bookstore in search of something to occupy my time. The show True Blood had just recently been announced or debuted (I don’t recall which) so it was on my mind when I decided to give the book series that the show was based on a try.
The Sookie books were a perfect vacation read – quick, entertaining and escapism. Harris spun a fun tale of telepath Sookie Stackhouse and her interactions with the vampires, eccentric humans and other supernatural creatures that all seemed to find their way to her small Louisiana hometown. Though the writing might not be the most advanced, it was easy to get lost in the world that she created. Dead to the World (Book 4), which the most recent season of True Blood was based on, was easily my favorite of the series. As the universe of the story grew, Harris was able to introduce the reader to exciting new characters and plotlines. I looked forward to her new books coming out every year.
About three books ago, I noticed that the books started to taper off in the quality of storytelling. As more and more characters and storylines were introduced, the books just became too complex. Harris just seems unable to characters go and the result is an overstuffed world where with so many characters competing for attention, none are able to truly shine. The same goes for story lines; there began to be too many crammed into each book. This resulted in a general mess and the books became increasingly less fun to read. Increased complexity and characters is not necessarily a bad thing; if executed properly, it can draw you even further into the fictional world (see the Game of Thrones Series). But the Sookie Stackhouse series wasn’t that sophisticated to begin with and Harris is not up to the task as a writer of juggling everything that she’s put into play. By Book 10 (Dead in the Family), I was getting tired. By Book 11 (Dead Reckoning), I’d stopped actually buying the books and would wait until they were available from the library. I was no longer as excited to see what the crew in Bon Temps was up to, but I hate to quit a series and there were still enough characters (Eric!) and some plot lines that I remained loyal. I hoped that Harris would turn the series around
Deadlocked, released in the beginning of May 2012, was unfortunately more of the same. Crammed in the book are vampires, werepanters, werewolves, witches, demons and (my least favorite) fairies. The introduction of the fairies to the series coincides with when I thought the books went downhill, so I’m never too thrilled when their nonsense is a focal point of the books. Unfortunately, Deadlocked spends a lot of time with them, though very little is actually accomplished until the final scenes. Actually, nothing much happens with any of the characters or plot lines until the very end and then it all happens in such a rush that it is unfulfilling.
Even the vampire storylines, which are my favorite and are what the series was founded on, are pretty lackluster in Deadlocked. Eric is barely in the book and in his few appearances he seems like a different character than he was earlier in the series. In fact, almost all the characters seem a little off. Sookie, who is usually pretty upbeat despite the ordeals that she faces, is sullen and full of angst in this book. Reading about her moping and generally being miserable isn’t very fun. There is a lot of monotony and stuff about the fringe human characters in Deadlocked, which is an odd choice. When you have so many supernatural characters at your disposal, why devote so much time to the lives of characters that no one cares about and that have never been very developed? Even Harris’ trademark sex scenes are absent. Deadlocked killed every last vestige of what I used to like about the series.
Apparently Charlaine Harris feels the same way, because yesterday she announced that 2013’s Dead Ever After (Book 13) would be her last in the series. She clearly needed to take a break from this universe because, in her own words, she has no more stories to tell about these characters. I’m hoping that for the final chapter of this saga she edits down the terrain that she tries to cover and focuses on only a few characters and plot points (preferably the vampires). Perhaps without the pressure of having to maintain the series, she can return to her heyday and give these characters the proper sendoff that they deserve. Since there is only one more book, I’m willing to stick it out and finish the series that I was actually contemplating abandoning. I’m glad that she realized it was time, though I wish she had figured this out a few books ago. Deadlocked is the work of an author that is clearly off their game.