And So This is the End: Reflections on Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

I discovered The Sookie Stackhouse series (back when it was the Southern Vampire Mysteries and before it was True Blood) entirely on accident.

I picked up the paperback on a whim while standing in line to buy Anna Karenina at The Dusty Bookshelf, my local used bookstore. The title caught my eye, and though I thought the cover art was a bit silly, the blurb on the back sounded fun and I thought it might balance out the serious and sad classic of Russian Lit I’d already selected. I remember feeling bold in my choice. I reveled in the freedom to read anything I want after years of being inundated by journal articles and dense academic texts. Since it was more comfortable to read the lightweight paperback than the thick copy of Anna Karenina, I started the first chapter of Dead Until Dark as I sipped my smoothie on my lunch break. I quickly became so absorbed in the story I was late going back to work.

The next morning I went to our local not-used bookstore and was perturbed when I couldn’t find the rest of the series under Harris in the fiction section. Was I going to have to wait for the sequel to arrive from Amazon? I didn’t have a Kindle at the time, and I was in a panic over waiting a few days for it to ship. I was so anxious to get my hands on it, I did something I never do. I asked for help locating it. That was when the bookstore clerk took me to an aisle of the bookstore I’d never been to before: mystery.

I bought them all, read them over a couple days, and still, years later, haven’t finished Anna Karenina (though I’ve started it quite a few times).

I’m not sure if my continued devotion and delight in this series is a product of this experience. Does one ever forget their first love? When it comes to genre fiction, I won’t ever forget this series and am not sure it can ever be replaced with something else in my heart.

sookie_stackhouse_covers

The Sookie Stackhouse series changed my reading habits so profoundly, it’s not an exaggeration to say it changed my life.

For the last 6 years, every May, I’ve taken the day off work so I could sit and read the latest release all in one sitting. I’ve speculated about and dissected this series with other fans. This is  the series that showed me that reading could be just for fun and didn’t have to serve a great purpose. I’ve looked forward to it each year.

I was very ambivalent about this last installment. While lots of fans had given up on the series after being disappointed with the last couple books, I loved the darker turn they had taken. As much as I enjoyed the speculation about what would happen prior to earlier releases, I wanted to go into this one blind and form opinions on my own. For the last few weeks I deliberately stayed away from spoilers—and the vitriol that some “fans” were spewing about the leaked ending.

What does an author owe fans of a popular series?

In a word, nothing. The characters and world belong to the authors, and a writer is under no obligation to give fans the ending they want.

Though it was clear very early in the book that Sookie’s relationship with Eric was doomed, knowing about the existence of spoilers that indicated  they didn’t end up together did  negatively impact my reading experience. Just the knowledge that so many fans were up in arms about the leaked ending made it clear that Sookie didn’t live happily ever after with Eric, and I wished I could have found that out for myself, organically, while reading the story, rather than have the petulant and mean-spirited fans ruin the release for me, and I assume for Charlaine Harris, as well.

I’m not saying readers owe authors anything, either. They are welcome to hate a book, but the entitled fans who think Charlaine Harris “got it wrong” really irritate me.

Was Dead Ever After my favorite Sookie book? Not by a long shot. Do I think it was a decent, credible, believable, and satisfying ending to the series? Yes. I’ll discuss what I found problematic and what I liked below the jump. There will be lots of spoilers. 

dead ever after

Dead Ever After picks up right after the end of Deadlocked. Sam’s recovering from his back-from-the-dead experience and Sookie notices how lush her garden is after the final visit from her fairy great-grandfather, Niall. Sam’s in a bit of a funk—dying will do that to you—and Sookie’s worried about the fallout with Eric and the vampires. But life must go on. They’ve got a bar to run. Of course, there are complications. Sookie’s being directly targeted by a couple of different groups. Two elaborate plots are hatched, and she has to deal with being framed for murder and arrested, as well as being shot and kidnapped (again).

Here’s the nitty gritty about what didn’t work for me.

My complaints about the final installment in the series are all about the writing from a technical standpoint rather than my opinion on Sookie’s romantic relationships. The biggest issue I had with Dead Ever After was the inclusion of sections that weren’t from Sookie’s first person perspective. The identities of these characters was painfully obvious from the beginning and ruined the mystery. Departing from the structure of the previous 12 books for this last installment made absolutely no sense. I understand why Harris went this route; her next series is going to be written entirely in third person. Still, this “practice” compromised the story she was telling in this book. The third person chapters read like filler, and there were so many other possible threads of story to tie up that were left dangling, I was disappointed that this what Charlaine Harris decided to do with the grand finale.

I didn’t so much mind that it was humans who perceived they had been wronged that were the great threat to Sookie, and I appreciated the irony that it was Claude who was involved, though Sookie always valued her family above all. I can’t help agree with Sookie when she asserts that the plot was needlessly complicated and the motives dubious, but it seemed like a fair way to get so many of the minor characters back for the finale.

I was disappointed that vampire politics did not play a larger role in this book. I had a hard time believing that Felipe was not more interested in retaining her telepathic services. The details about the power structure and hierarchy that were revealed in Dead Reckoning were ultimately meaningless. I was very surprised to find out Niall and Eric had conspired to keep a watchful eye on Sookie so early in the game, and we didn’t get any more history or context to this. I was so excited to meet Eric’s other child, but Karin was a big snooze and ultimately disappointing. These were all wasted opportunities, in my opinion.

But Eric and Sookie have an epic, forever love!

But most people aren’t complaining about any of this; they are up in arms about Sookie ending up with Sam (at least the beginning of something with Sam) and her final break with Eric.

I mean, I get it, to a certain extent. Readers who read lots of romance expected Eric to be redeemed. But Eric was never a romantic hero, and Harris reminded readers this both in the text and in interviews for years.

I’ll admit, I was always intrigued by Eric. He was funny and I loved his sense of humor. I’ll admit big and blonde with long hair had me thinking Fabio when I first read the books, and that definitely wasn’t to my taste, but then enter Alexander Skarsgård as Eric on True Blood and I had no problem supplanting his image for my imagination’s. While in my personal life, I can’t ever imagine pursuing a relationship with someone who wondered aloud if they should kill me, since the books are escapist fiction, I was always rooting for Eric and Sookie, from their first exchange:

“Well aren’t you sweet?” 

“Not especially.” 

A small part of me is disappointed that Eric and Sookie parted, mostly because of the truly heart-breaking way he treats her in this final installment. Still, I can’t imagine a way to overcome the insurmontable obstacles keeping them from being happy together while still maintaining the integrity of both their characters.

Eric is selfish. He reacts like a sullen child when he’s hurt emotionally. He was never going to put Sookie’s interests above his own, even if she came a close second and he managed to really love her. Harris showed Sookie—and readers—this time and time again. He put her in the awkward position of marrying him through vampire custom without explaining the ramifications, while never offering to attach himself to her in a way that was meaningful to her. He bit her savagely, intending to inflict pain, when she didn’t rejoice in the death of their enemies to his satisfaction. He kept her in the dark about his maker’s contract to tie him to the Queen of Oklahoma. He wanted her to love him enough to use the cluviel dor to magically end  that problem for him, and when she didn’t, he resented her. 

Sookie loved Eric, despite his flaws. She wanted him to choose her, to fight for their relationship. He didn’t.

Instead, Eric resigns himself to the pretty sweet deal he’s getting in negotiations with Oklahoma. He’s off the hook for Victor’s murder with Felipe and allying with a powerful, beautiful woman, and he’s pissed he can’t have his cake and eat it, too.

When Eric and Sookie have their final talk, their first honest discussion of what they wanted out of their relationship, the truth comes out. Eric always wanted to turn Sookie, even though he’d promised not to ever do it against her will. Now that he’s rejected their marriage, he doesn’t see any reason why he can’t continue to see her on the side. Sookie finally says what has been on her mind the whole time, what kept her from truly committing to Eric: he won’t love her when she’s old and gray, and he won’t ever marry her according to her traditions.

Sometimes love simply is not enough.

Then, just so readers and Sookie don’t go getting any ideas that maybe, somehow, over the rest of the book, they’ll get back together, Eric makes a real asshole move. Sure, he puts up Sookie’s bail money when Sam asks, but ensures that Sookie won’t discover Sam did ask, and also forbids him from being alone with Sookie at all. Because Eric has the maturity of a teenager, and thinks that if he can’t have Sookie, nobody should, her own happiness be damned.

In his own twisted way, Eric still cares for Sookie. He does show up and offer to heal her when she’s been shot, even though he’s publicly declared his blood is not her, nor hers, his. Sure, he’s mostly a jerk and pissed that Sam’s there, but he still goes, when it has to be a risk to his situation with Freyda. He includes in his negotiations with Felipe and Freyda a provision that Sookie not be harmed and even if Pam asserts it is not done out of kindness, he leaves Karin with a year-long assignment to guard her property. I’m inclined to side with Sookie, and think it was done in part to show Freyda how he protects and defends what is his, and partly because he does genuinely care for her.

I’ll always love Sookie. 

Sookie is what makes this series work. She’s a complicated and nuanced character. Despite the dark moments in this book, readers are still treated to those times where Sookie is so funny, you can’t help but chuckle. Sookie is resilient. She adapts. She exists in a moral grey area while still staying true to her core beliefs.  Though the wider mystery seemed mostly ridiculous, I did enjoy watching the humans of Bon Temps and her supernatural friends rally around Sookie in her defense. I’m one of her fans that is doing the same.

Charlaine Harris has stated that she always knew who Sookie would eventually end up with, but also that she is not a plotter and doesn’t write outlines and just added elements to the story as she went to keep it interesting. I share some fans annoyance that there were inconsistencies in the story and that changes were made to later novels in order  to accomodate HBO.  But I’ll always love Sookie.

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18 thoughts on “And So This is the End: Reflections on Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

  1. I’m perfectly alright with Sookie ending up with Sam. The Eric thing has always been iffy, in fact, I stopped reading at the time when Eric lost his memory (Dead to the World, IIRC) correctly because I was like “really? Eric and Sookie?” it just wasn’t even believable for me. Well, it’s sort of believable if Sookie were to have an affair with him but HEA? Nah!

  2. I’m a bit late to the commenting game and I understand that it is not a book of great literary value that you are reviewing here, but in my opinion, someone who hasn’t read Anna Karenina cannot comment on anyone’s writing.

    1. I’ve since read Anna Karenina, but even if I haven’t, it’s my book review blog and I can comment on whatever writing I want. There’s no rule about having to have read certain books to be able to have an opinion on literature.

  3. I gave up on this series a couple of books back. I got the sense that the author no longer enjoyed writing the series and this affected the enjoyment I took from the books. But I’m glad for your reflections. I enjoyed reading them. Have you read The Hollows series by Kim Harrison? I believe it’s stronger both where writing and plotting are concerned. I’d love to read your thoughts on the books if you have read them.

  4. This series really changed my reading habits, too. My uncle gave me the first seven books one christmas and I read them through in a week — which I’d never done before. But I did give up on the series two books ago. It’s disappointing to hear that she messed up the style of the series by breaking from first person POV — I mean, that’s just really odd to do when you’ve been doing something else the entire time. It doesn’t seem like a great pick.

    And, OMG, I’m so happy to hear that she picked Sam!! He was my fav from the start and the only one — long term — that made sense to me. If she didn’t want to become a vampire, she couldn’t end up with a vampire. Sam was always my favorite character anyway.

    Really great review!

      1. Chalaine Harris made it more and more obvious that Sam would be the final love interest for Sookie. Even though Sookie was first attracted to vampire lovers because like Sam she couldn’t read their minds and unlike Sam she didn’t work for or with them, it was clear they couldn’t share her life in the way she needed them too and the whole mortal aging while they remained ageless was an inevitably impossible obstacle to overcome. How that major difference didn’t seem to weigh in until late in her relationship with Eric is baffling. Now as for the believable way Sam and Sookie finally got together, not so much. How did Sookie not realize how much she loved Sam after using her one use only Faery gift to save him instead of her relationship with Eric? How could she have not realized (being as self-aware as she was) that Eric deep down was a self-absorbed narcissist who could never love her the way she needed. She didn’t have any problem telling Quinn to take a hike because she’d always be 2nd or 3rd in his life. Seems like all she and Eric ever had in common was great sexual chemistry. Unlike most readers who seem truly upset that she didn’t end up with Eric, I could never understand how her relationship with him lasted any longer than her relationship with Quinn for different reasons? My problem with the Sookie-Sam thing was she says she wants to go slow when he tells her he loves her then a few days later gets in the sack with him and then decides she needs to take a step back and slow down. And we’re supposed to believe that Sookie whom Harris has built up to have this incredible sexual appetite is suddenly going to deny herself sex with this guy she’s known and cared for for years and has proven to have such great sexual chemistry with while she goes slow? If Sam had been some new character to the story it would make sense. But this was a man she’d known, admired and in some form loved for years. Only denying him more because she didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship and work relationship. Now he’s declared his love for her (“I want you to be mine”) they’ve had incredible sex and she suddenly needs to go really, really slow in their relationship. Just didn’t make sense to me other than a contrived way for Harris to show Sookie’s growing maturation in forming relationships and willingness to stand on her own without a man. Overall though I enjoyed the final book. All the main characters (the good guys) ended up happy (even Eric) and the evil doers were punished. Bill Compton was the only character I felt sorry for because despite how he’d initially met Sookie for dubious reasons, he’d loved her almost immediately. It would have been nice if Harris had found a vampire love for Bill to spend eternity (or a couple of hundred years) with too as she did for Eric and Pam. I know that’s a fairy tale ending but so what. It was a fairy tale series.

  5. Molly, I gave up on this series a few books back (2?) but it was one of my absolute favorites. I started reading them at the very first book; it was a random bookstore find back when I was a college freshman:) After that, I got my best friend into it as well and we looked forward to the release of each book after that. I agree that they are just so much fun. I watched True Blood for a while but it just wasn’t as fun for me. (but I also replaced my imagination’s version of Eric with Alexander Skarsgard) I love what you’ve written here. An ode to a series that had its ups and downs but that you saw through to the end. You made me want to start the series over and read it the whole way through. One of these days I’ll be so down in the dumps that that will sound like perfection and I’ll devour them one after the other again. Until then, I’m glad I read all your spoilers.

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