Book review: Dead and Gone

Dead And Gone
A Sookie Stackhouse novel
By Charlaine Harris
Published by Ace Books, 2009
ISBN-10: 0441017150
ISBN-13: 978-0441017157

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Once again I bring you a review about my favorite horror/fantasy author. I should say my favorite female horror/fantasy author, since my homeboy Patrick Thomas is still the man where that particular genre is concerned. Even Stephen King can’t hold a candle to Charlaine Harris or Patrick Thomas when it comes to describing things that go bump in the night and comparing them to the everyday horrors perpetrated by your fellow humans. Having delved into the psyches of vampires, werewolves, and witches in her past novels, in this novel Ms. Harris now features a supernatural species she has only mentioned in passing—fairies.

Sookie’s big brother Jason, the werepanther, (who was bitten, not born) actually begins to show signs of maturity this time around. He even defends his sister when the bigoted Arlene, who used to be her friend, lashes out at her after the Weres’ coming out broadcast, calling her “the weirdest, the most inhuman, of them all”, because of her close friendships with the supes. Well, between Sookie’s vampire ex-boyfriend Bill and her witchy roommate Amelia, who managed to turn her own boyfriend into a cat, Arlene does have plenty of reason for calling her weird. But Sookie isn’t trying to be weird. Weirdness just thrusts itself upon her. Like Eric Northman, sheriff of Area 5, Sookie’s little part of Louisiana, as well as owner of Fangtasia, the local vamp bar. Now that Bill’s out of the picture (Or is he? He sure spends a lot of time lurking around Sookie’s place after dark, supposedly “protecting” her from other supes), Eric wants to claim her as his woman. He’s in for a rude awakening when his chauvinistic expectations of traditional womanhood come up against Sookie’s independent nature. He also has to contend with Sookie’s latest ex, Quinn the weretiger, who still wants her despite her reluctance to take on a man with a mentally ill mother and an underage sister dependant on him.

Anyway, when we last left our mind reading heroine, she was still catching her breath from the violent takeover of the Louisiana vamps’ territory by the vampires of Nevada. Things have settled down and now all the vamp survivors have pledged loyalty to Felipe de Castro, the new vampire king of Louisiana and Nevada, whose life Sookie saved after he and Eric were attacked by a surviving bodyguard of Sophie-Anne Leclerq, the former vampire queen of Louisiana, who came down with a bad case of permanent death while she was still healing from the injuries she suffered at the vampire summit in Michigan. (Phew! Soap operas are simple compared to Sookie’s life in Bon Temps, Louisiana.)

Now that the vampires have come out to the human world, all the shapeshifters, or weres, wolf and otherwise, have decided to go public as well. So Patricia Crimmins, a member of the Shreveport Were pack headed by Alcide Herveaux, a former beau of Sookie’s, is chosen to go on the local evening news to announce their presence to the world. The broadcast is seen on the TV at Merlotte’s, the bar where Sookie works. As Patricia is changing into a wolf on live TV, Sookie’s boss Sam, a rare pure shapeshifter who prefers to turn into a collie, and another werewolf, Tray Dawson, the local auto mechanic, change shape right in the bar to let their friends and neighbors know that they’re shifters too.

Everybody at Merlotte’s seems to take it in stride except for one waitress, Arlene, her boyfriend Whit and his buddy, all members of the local Fellowship of the Sun, a quasi-religious organization which is opposed to vampires having the same rights as living people. Finding out that some of their friends and neighbors are more than human doesn’t make them happy; in fact, things get downright ugly before Arlene and the boys stomp out, calling down hellfire and damnation upon all shifters and people who associate with them, especially Sookie. Arlene isn’t the only one who doesn’t react well to the fact that some people are two-natured. Shortly before closing time Sam gets a call from his stepfather in Texas, telling him that he’s been arrested for shooting Sam’s mother, who’s also a shifter. So Sookie’s left in charge of the bar while Sam runs home to mama in Texas.

The following morning Sookie receives a visit from two FBI agents, who want to know how she was able to help the cops and firefighters rescue so many people from the rubble of the bombed hotel at the vampire summit last year. She can see in their minds that they suspect she is a psychic (which she isn’t; Sookie only reads minds, she doesn’t see the future) and they want to recruit her to help them track down criminals. While Sookie’s as patriotic as the next American, the last thing she wants to do is read the minds of psycho killers and terrorists for a living. While she and her roommates Amanda and Olivia (both witches) are stonewalling the Feds, another complication pops up; her brother Jason’s estranged wife, a werepanther, is found murdered behind Merlotte’s, nailed to a crucifix.

As if her life wasn’t complicated enough, Sookie also receives a visit from her great-grandfather Niall Brigant, who’s a real fairy. No, not that kind of fairy! One of the fae; his half-human son was the real father of Sookie’s late father and aunt. Fairies are an endangered species; there are a lot less of them in the world than there used to be. So you’d think they would welcome a few half-human additions to the family, to save their dying race from extinction. But it seems that the fae are divided into human lovers and human haters, and Niall, a real prince of a guy (and I do mean prince!), is now fighting a civil war with his nephew Breandan (an old Irish name, pronounced Bran-don), another fairy prince, who despises humans and humans with fairy blood. So her great-grandfather has come to Merlotte’s to warn Sookie about the fairy war and the fact that Breandan and his people are gunning for her, because she is a hybrid and kin to their greatest enemy. She receives similar warnings from her fairy godmother Claudine, who is Niall’s granddaughter, and Claudine’s twin brother Claud, both of whom have assimilated into the human world on account of all the internecine warfare between their sky clan and Breandon’s water clan.

So, in addition to the threat of being forcibly recruited by the FBI to help them track terrorists with her mind reading ability, our heroine now has to worry about being caught in the crossfire between two warring fairy clans. It’s Sookie Stackhouse vs. the Badass Fairies, and believe me, these fairies ain’t about sweetness and light! Even the good ones like Niall and Claudine prefer to hold themselves aloof from humans (except when an exceptionally attractive mortal catches their eye, resulting in the occasional hybrid), while the bad ones are as viciously racist as the members of the Fellowship of the Sun, who are also gunning for our girl. In fact, both the fairies and the FotS lay traps for Sookie, but only one of them catches her. She survives, but at a terrible price, one that will leave scars on her soul that not even vampire blood can heal. The only good things to come out of it is that she and her brother become closer as a result of the fairy war (she hasn’t been speaking to him since he set her up as a witness to his wife’s adultery, so he could be rid of her more easily). She and Eric become closer as well, though she has mixed feelings about that, not sure whether it’s his lovemaking, which is superb, or his blood, which he gives her to heal her injuries, which makes him so attractive to her.

As usual, the talented Ms. Harris creates a believable background for each supernatural species while never losing her sense of proportion. She helps us believe that there really are vampires, weres, and other unearthly beings living among us, with a touch of humor to alleviate the fear of the unknown. It makes you look forward to the return of “True Blood”, the HBO series based upon her earliest novels, this summer. I like it, despite the many liberties the scriptwriters have taken with Ms. Harris’ characters (like making Tara, Sookie’s best friend, black instead of white). People who only know Sookie Stackhouse from the TV series should make a point of checking out the first two books, so they can stay abreast of the series in case they miss an episode or two. If you’ve come this far in Sookie’s world, I urge you to keep on reading; this latest novel is a satisfying summer read, as well as a worthy addition to the rest of Ms. Harris’ works.