For a long time, I thought of books by Charlaine Harris as a sort of guilty pleasure. I was worried my fellow English majors in college would think I was above the frivolity of modern vampire stories. (Of course, the mass Twilight obsession also made me feel like I should shove my adoration of this particular series to the back of the proverbial closet.) I would like to say this, though: The Southern Vampire Mysteries, a.k.a. the Sookie Stackhouse novels, are not Twilight. I respect the mythology that Harris built on and uses, and the topics and issues she tackles. There are vampires, were-animals, fairies, and other magical creatures, and they all pretty much adhere to the rules you’d expect them to. Vampires drink human blood and burn in the sun. Werewolves have a pack order that proves ruthless. Fairies, elves, and demons come in all forms, with varying degrees of darkness or light inside of them. Ditto on witches. The books are decidedly adult; there is violence, drugs, sex, and other serious themes. Sookie, the heroine, is an independent adult woman — likeable, relateable, and strong, flaws and all. She is telepathic, due to being part fairy. Her relationships are partnerships, in which — while there are most certainly problems — she holds her own. I like the characters here. I like the mysteries in each book, and the overarching plot lines that have tied the series together. Overall, though, I like these books because they’re fun.
Enough justifying and explaining! On to the review! (Note: no spoilers for this book, but I will be mentioning things that might be spoilers if you haven’t read books #1-11 in the series.)
Deadlocked is book number 12 in The Southern Vampire Mysteries series. I liked it significantly better than book number 11, Dead Reckoning. In Dead Reckoning, I felt that the first part of the novel dragged, and then, just when things got exciting, the novel ended. Pacing is not a problem at all in Deadlocked. Harris begins the book with regular problems that Sookie and her mortal friends face: a difficult pregnancy, a possibly lying boyfriend, workplace dynamics. These issues, while not unimportant, are put on the back burner for Sookie relatively quickly when a dead body turns up in the front yard of her vampire boyfriend, Eric. This murder proves to be the central mystery of the novel, with dizzying possibilities for not only who their killer might be, but also what their motive could have been.
Sookie and her vampire friends Eric, Bill, and Pam, along with others, have extra reason to watch their backs: they killed Victor, who worked for the vampire king Felipe. It just so happens that Felipe and his entourage are at Eric’s house when the murder takes place, trying to ascertain guilt for the disappearance of Victor. Of course, the issue is also complicated by the mortals, fae, and weres involved in the plot. Were-animals (or “shifters”) and vampires are known by the general public, but fae are not. Of course, all the magical creatures know about each other, despite the secrets kept from mortals.
On top of the tangled web of relationships surrounding the dead girl, Sookie is forced to face the unraveling relationship between her and Eric. Eric has been signed into a contract that would wed him to a beautiful, ambitious, and lethal vampire queen. Though the vampires have their own strict rules and ethics, the events and feelings surrounding the marriage contract are murky, and Sookie feels that Eric should be able to extricate himself from the situation if he truly loves her and values their relationship. Likewise, Eric is looking to Sookie to prove her love by using her own brand of magic to free him. Being at odds with Eric doesn’t help Sookie’s complicated relationship with other important men in her life, Bill (vampire, former boyfriend) and Sam (shifter, boss/business partner, friend). Sam has his own relationship and its host of issues to worry about, including the fact that his girlfriend dislikes Sookie to a truly alarming degree.
I’m pretty firmly staying away from saying much about the plot, because this really is a quick, fun read and I think you should experience it for yourself without any bits being given away. For perspective, I started this novel on Monday and finished it on Tuesday after work. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Harris writes great characters and sharp dialogue, all in her wonderful realm of magic realism. She tackles social issues such as religion, sexism, racism and bigotry, all without getting preachy or downtrodden. Like I said, Harris writes fun books, but they’re still books with something to say. These vampire/werewolf/fairy/magic novels are fluffier than, say, Anne Rice, but they’ve still got a bite. (Hardy har har — I had to do at least one pun!)