As True Blood fans eagerly await the show's fourth season, readers of the Sookie Stackhouse book series on which the show is based have a new installment to devour. Dead Reckoning is the eleventh Southern Vampire Mystery, and it continues to build on the surprisingly complex universe author Charlaine Harris has laid out. What began as a fairly simple vampire-human romance has become a sprawling supernatural epic - and that can lead to problems. Suffering from too-much-plotitis, the latest Sookie Stackhouse book spreads itself thin between vampire politics, faerie drama, and yes, planning a baby shower.
Dead Reckoning picks up where Dead in the Family left off. Sookie is living with her fae cousin Claude and her great-uncle Dermot. She's married to Eric in the vampire way, which isn't legally binding but does allow for lots of rough sex. (Rest assured we get a scene of a post-coital Sookie icing her "yahoo palace.") Eric has his own share of problems following the vampire power shift, particularly when it comes to Louisiana king Felipe de Castro's regent Victor Madden. A fair amount of exposition is thrown in for new readers, though honestly, who would pick up and try to make sense of Dead Reckoning without reading the first 10 books in the series?
If it sounds like there's too much going on in Sookie's world, that's because there is-and all of this before the book really gets started. On top of all the supernatural background drama, Sookie is still being pursued by Sandra Pelt, on a mission to avenge her sister Debbie. As a result, all of the plots suffer: Harris usually jumps between her disparate stories with relative ease, but the strain is obvious here. Dead Reckoning's focus is perplexing, to say the least, and all the storylines meander toward mostly underwhelming conclusions.
The faerie bits are, as always, the weakest link. I'll give Harris credit for complicating the traditional vampire mythos - no, just adding werewolves doesn't count - but at this point, far too much time is being devoted to Sookie's fae family. There are some interesting bits, including Sookie's attempts to justify her vaguely incestuous behavior. (Early in the book, she checks out a shirtless Dermot, who looks identical to her brother Jason.) And I love that all the sexually ambiguous fae seek refuge in a male strip club. But there's a whole lot of fluff, including a mystical item called the cluviel dor, an elf named Bellenos, and an unnecessary infodump by demon lawyer Mr. Cataliades.
And despite how brutal the faeries can be, their presence still feels tonally inconsistent with Dead Reckoning's vampire bits, which are sadly rushed to make room for everything else. Vampire politics are admittedly kind of silly, but Eric and Pam remain the most interesting characters Harris has given us, so cutting down on their page-time is always a mistake. Not to mention the fact that Victor felt like a real threat, making the half-assed resolution to his story a real letdown. Without saying too much about the bloody coup against him, I'll just say that it involves a convenient and rare performance by Bubba, the vampire formerly known as Elvis.
While Dead Reckoning does introduce conflict that could prove interesting to the rest of the series, the book doesn't live up to its promise. The major deaths that occur are so side-note, they could easily have been shoved into previous installments. And the revelations are shrug-worthy - do we really need to know exactly how the part-fae Sookie got her telepathy? Spoiler alert: it's not that interesting.
Perhaps Harris' series has gotten away from her, in which case she would be wise to reign it in, or at least focus on more consistent pacing. Even the overdone True Blood isn't as headache-inducing as this. Sadly, Dead Reckoning is one of the more forgettable entries in the Southern Vampire Mysteries.