I finished reading ‘From Dead to Worse’, the eighth book in the Charlaine Harris Southern Vampire Mysteries series today. I generally enjoy these books, and while I had fun with this one, I felt from a little after halfway that something seemed to be missing. Once I’d finished reading, I googled for reviews of the books, and was surprised that none of the most prominent hits mentioned something important, though a lot of the feedback reviews on Amazon and Goodreads touched on it. NOTE: Spoilers ahoy!
There’s no central unifying conflict to this book, and it muddles the plot considerably.
There’s lots of interesting conflict; possibly too much, as if Harris was tossing everything into the kitchen sink, or throwing it like spaghetti to a wall to see what stuck. There’s a hostile takeover, a werewolf war. Sookie discovers that she has a surprising great-grandfather, which isn’t an easy adjustment for either of them, and her brother Jason’s wedding to Crystal the were-Panther starts off a chain of events that lead to Sookie refusing all contact with Jason. And don’t get me started on the ups and downs of her love life in this one… 😉
But none of these conflicts are pervasive enough to serve as a spine to the plot. The Great-grandfather element is close, especially since it’s introduced near the start of the book and is last touched on close to the end, but Great-grandpa pops in and out too seldom for his influence to really be felt on large swathes of the book. And the last scene seems to be little more than a WTF teaser to queue up a new idea that Harris is toying with.
In contrast, I am now going to go through the previous seven books in the series and try to sum up their conflict in a single sentence:
Dead Until Dark: Sookie has to find a serial killer targeting ‘fang-banging’ vampire lovers… before she becomes the next victim.
Living Dead in Dallas: This is a bit complicated because of the ‘framing plot’ with the Maenad back in Bon Temps, but overall I’d say that the main plot is Sookie’s mission in Dallas to find the missing vampire, and who’s responsible.
Club Dead: There are two interlaced main plots here – Eric’s abduction in Mississippi and Sookie’s mission to rescue him is one. While there, she gets involved with the Jackson weres who try to kill her.
Dead to the World: Again, we’ve got a few interrelating plots – the mystery of what happened to Eric is probably the most significant one, which spawns off the subplot of amnesia Eric’s romance with Sookie. Less closely related is the subplot of Jason being missing as well.
Dead as a Doornail: Tying everything together here is the mystery plot of the sniper targeting shapeshifters. The pack leadership contests are a major subplot, and Sookie’s house getting burned down is really just a side note and red herring.
Definitely Dead: This one isn’t very neat, but I’d say the central conflict is between Sookie and Sophie-Anne, who appears as a major character in a novel for the first time and certainly looms large. There’s at least three layers to the relationship, in that Sookie is trying to impress Sophie-Anne to a certain extent, maintain her independence from the vampire Queen, and above all not get herself killed. Romance between Sookie and Quinn the were-tiger is the B plot.
All Together Dead: There’s a lot going on in Rhodes, but the mystery and the hints of a plot help to unify it together, and that conflict certainly brings the book to a big finish.
I’m glad that I picked up on that, and this series certainly serves as good lesson about what you can and can’t do with conflict. 🙂 Are there any other vampire fans among my followers? What do you think of conflict in these books – or what about your favorite series?