Book Review: Deadlocked, Charlaine Harris

I love the Sookie Stackhouse books – I love Sookie Stackhouse. I love her honesty, her simplicity, her self-reflectiveness, her ability to forgive and laugh at her own and others’ failings. I love that she’s not perfect. So, when I am invited into her world, I tend to venture there with the expectation that, while I might be scared and even anxious at times, it’s all so familiar: like being embraced by a favourite grandmother or older friend. Opening the pages of one of Harris’ Sookie novels is akin to immersing myself in a giant bubble-bath that might run cold occasionally and require a top up of hot water, or where the bubbles may disappear after a while, leaving me exposed, but the point is, I’m still in a bath and I like it there.

Having read Deadlocked, I think the attitude I take to these books is both testimony to Charlaine Harris’ writing, the world and characters she’s created and is what saves me from feeling less positive about this book than I might otherwise have been. That’s because, when I reflect back on what actually happened, I have to conclude: not much.

Oh, the usual characters appeared – Eric, Pam, Sam, Bill, Jason and Tara. There was the Weres, including Alcide, and the fae, Claude, Niall and others. There were also other supes, as Sookie calls them. Instead of serving the plot, they sort of drifted in and out and kept the story bubbling along. My bath didn’t get cold, it wasn’t drained, no, it was kinda comfortable and warm the entire time. I for one forgive Harris that. Because nothing really happened, nothing was resolved either. Well, something sort of happens with the fae, sort of with the vampires and sort of with the weres, but it’s a bit meh and you move on. The one thing that did occur was more than a little predictable and it was overturned by magic anyhow.

While there were questions asked about feelings and relationships, there were no real answers. Again, y’all just went along with things and accepted that the status quo wasn’t really shaken. Compared to past books, which have sizzled and zinged in the sex stakes, this one barely went beyond first base. In that regard, it was also lukewarm and no bubbles were popped.

Rumours are that this is the penultimate Sookie Stackhouse book. If that’s the case, I hope that Harris has kept all the things she left out of this one to throw into the last one. When it comes to Bon Temps and Sookie’s companions, Harris owes it to them and us to go out with a bang and not a whimper.

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Game of Thrones: George R.R.Martin

I read this book many years ago, not long after it first came out and remembered being awed by its scope and the dramatic and realistic flair of the writing. Of course, the passage of time can sometimes alter the way you feel about things – especially genre books. Usually, because you’ve read so many more in-between and educated yourself about the style and tropes that are used, expectations are raised. When I heard there was a TV series based on Martin’s books, I was a bit dubious and, I confess, watched it rather reluctantly at first – but not for long. The series, by HBO, was visually stunning and superbly acted. It’s fabulous to see fantasy being taken seriously for a change on the small screen (I know there are examples that do – but most are film. Few TV shows do honour to fantasy except in a kitsch fashion – I am thinking of Hercules and Xena here and excluding the fantastic True Blood which deserves it’s own paean).  On the contrary, this series persuaded me to reread the book – partly to test its appeal again, but also to see how closely the show stayed to Martin’s original vision. Well, in terms of the book and its initial appeal, none has been lost. Once again, I was drawn into Martin’s fantastically realised world with its liege lords, Banner men, dire wolves and the central families: the Starks, the Lannisters, the Taegaryans (however you spell it – sorry!) and the jostle for power that’s described as the Game of Thrones.

When I first read the book, I found the concept and place that remained with me was The Wall and the black-garbed men, the NightWatch, who swear an oath to protect the realm from the Others – the creatures who roam north of the great dividing barrier. Yet again, I was struck by the imaginative scope of such a place and those who dwell within its icy, remote grip and the culture they’ve created. Likewise, the horse lords, the Kalesi, and his bride, the disinherited Danys, were wonderfully drawn. But so are the castles of Winterfell, Kings Landing and the politics and inter-relationships that govern the realm comprised of seven very different kingdoms. Of course, Tyrion, another Lannister, would have to be one of the most memorable characters created: wise, witty, world-weary – he’s someone you initially loathe and champion – the latter becoming the default reaction.

This is such a powerful story that is full of machinations, twists, turns and bloodshed but always underpinned by human relations. As such, it really is a stand out addition to the historical fantasy genre. The TV series is also marvellous and stays true to Martin’s vision, so much so, swathes of dialogue (and his dialogue is rich, offensive, real and engaging) appears in the show.

A terrific book that initiates a wonderful saga. Unashamedly love it and the show – in fact, the theme song is now my ring tone.

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