Charlaine Harris

Gollancz (2012)

ISBN: 978-0-575-09658-5

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Deadlocked is Charlaine Harris in a return to the form which first hooked me on the Sookie Stackhouse novels. None of the novels in this series have been bad, but a couple of the recent ones seemed to focus on character development or advancing the overall story arc at the expense of a plot complete within the novel. Deadlocked offers an interesting self contained plot, important character developments, and a step forward in the overall story arc.

Sookie Stackhouse, as long time readers of the series will know, is a waitress from small town Bon Temps. One of the reasons Sookie is a waitress is her psychic ability; when you can hear everything everyone around you is thinking, it’s very hard to concentrate on anything else – like studying, or simply carrying on a conversation that doesn’t make you sound crazy. Sookie’s life briefly got easier when she met Bill Compton, a vampire. Although Bill eventually taught her how to shield herself to some extent, Sookie’s initial relief was caused by the discovery that she can’t hear vampire thoughts. Being with Bill was very peaceful.

Except the bottom line is that vampires aren’t very peaceful or restful. As the series progresses, Sookie becomes deeply involved in vampire politics – not always voluntarily – including politics that involve a lot of other supernatural beings she didn’t previously believe in. Vampire politics are often fatal for humans, and Sookie has found herself becoming tougher and more hardened than she would have believed possible.

As Deadlocked opens, Sookie is now dating vampire Eric Northman. In a previous novel, Eric and Sookie, with some help from a motley assortment of vampires, killed another vampire and his entourage. The murders were effectively self defence, but that isn’t always a good excuse in vampire terms. So Eric and Sookie are dancing around the matter with the vampire king Felipe, attempting to defend their actions without actually admitting to them. Things become more complicated when the human police arrive; a human girl has died at a party Eric is hosting for Felipe, and at first glance it looks as though Eric is responsible.

Things don’t add up, though, and Sookie starts her own investigation. It’s hard to concentrate, though, because her fairy relatives have other problems and Sookie is drawn into those, too. And let’s not forget that Tara is going to have her twins any minute now!

Deadlocked is a really enjoyable book. There is a self-contained plot (the strand concerning the dead human girl) which is resolved by the end of the novel, although no doubt there will be some reverberations in future novels. This gives a pleasing sense of completion to the novel. However, while the wider stories of both vampire politics and fairy conflicts are advanced, these are still to be fully worked out. The advancement, however, answers some questions raised in earlier novels and so will again provide a sense of satisfaction. Harris isn’t just endlessly stringing this out; she is clearly advancing these elements of the overall story arc.

For me, one of the particularly enjoyable aspects was the further changes in Sookie. Throughout the series we have seen her develop from a fairly innocent, relatively naïve young girl to a much harder, more suspicious person. In a sense she has become more adult; she doesn’t automatically believe the best of everyone, and she takes more responsibility for making actual decisions rather than doing what’s polite. She stands up for herself and she has done some very tough things to look after herself and those she loves. Sookie has become increasingly real and I’m enjoying seeing her turn into a more proactive person. I’m sure I’m not the only reader hoping she’ll eventually find a happy ending.

Negatives? Well, Harris doesn’t write long novels. As usual, this was a fairly quick read. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably feel that it ends too soon. And some of the subplots are treated with remarkable brevity. On the other hand, looking at some of the overblown fantasy novels that are around, many people would argue that this is a positive.

It is a novel that would be tricky for readers new to the series. Although most of the plot would be relatively easy to follow, there’s a lot around it that would be confusing to a new reader. Relationships and their history, in particular, aren’t explained in much detail – you either know about them or you don’t. And although some of the plot relies on what happened in a previous book (Dead Reckoning), this isn’t really explained in detail either. I suspect that a new reader might enjoy this to some extent, but feel that a lot is still unexplained at the end of the novel.

And of course, some things are left unexplained; although Harris completes a part of her plot within the novel, there is an overall story arc behind the series which is not yet complete. Harris is building a complex world and complex characters who live in it; it isn’t easy to see where she’s going but I’m optimistic it will be an interesting denouement.

For ongoing readers of the series then, this is an excellent book. It revives some of the strengths of the early books which had faltered a little in recent novels; it’s a lively and entertaining story which will bring readers closer to Sookie. As a bonus, it does continue to build the overall story arc, a little more subtly than in some of the other novels. New readers will probably consider this a more average novel, given the amount of background they’ll be missing; some may be enticed to go back to the start of the series, but in general I’d simply advise potential readers to start there anyway.