Still reeling from the Fae War that claimed her pregnant cousin (and literal fairy godmother) Claudine, her witch roommate Amelia’s Were lover Tray, vampire Clancy, and her pregnant sister-in-law Crystal, Sookie Stackhouse is hoping for a little down time. That is, of course, not to be.
With the entrance to the fairy realm closed, Sookie’s stunningly handsome, predominantly gay, generally reserved fairy cousin Claude (twin to the now dead Claudine) has nowhere else to stay, and Amelia’s room is occupied before it has time to get dusty.
The petty irritations of living with Claude fall by the wayside, however, in contrast to the arrival of Sookie’s lover, and regional vampire Sheriff, Eric’s sire – a relic of the ancient Roman empire, Appius Livius Ocella is some two thousands years old. He’s tracked down his child in hopes that Eric can help manage another son brought over from the cusp of death – Alexei is about a century old but has retained the form of the boy he was when he was found, near death and the sole survivor of a family slaughtered by revolutionaries. Cosseted and indulged in life, Alexei has not adjusted well to the increasing constraints of modern life – the advantages of vampires being known to the world at large has not come without cost, and one of the sacrifices is conservation of humans, a price Alexei seems unwilling to pay.
In the meantime two internal power struggles are looming – the death of the Vampire Queen of New Orleans, Sophie-Anne, has made Eric’s position more precarious. Her successor, Victor, elected by region leader Felipe de Castro, is no fan of Sookie’s husband. At the same time there is dissent among the two-natured, who have followed the vampire’s lead and gone public. The move was not unanimous, and has not been met with universal acceptance – as some humans support regulation restricting the movements and other rights of American citizens who are Weres, local leader Alcide faces espionage and leadership challenges. When the body of Alcide’s new second, Basim al Saud, is found buried in Sookie’s woods, events become personal.
Now up to ten volumes, the Sookie Stackhouse universe is becoming almost unmanageably complicated. Although the various plot threads outlined were engrossing and well integrated, there is a massive amount of back-story, on a number of fronts. Harris does a better than adequate job of dropping enough reminders to bring the broad brush strokes of it all back, and finally the whole fairy thing, that felt quite tacked on initially, feels like a deliberate part of the narrative arc.
All this may make it sound as though I didn’t enjoy Dead in the Family, and that wouldn’t be accurate. But, and this seems to be common to the majority of paranormal series, I come away from each instalment feeling as though the drama de jour is another daub of hectic colour in an already confused and busy vision. I’m not sure why this plot complexity is so prevalent in the genre, but it is – Davison’s vampire queen series now has a two or three page recap of events to catch up readers, and anyone new to the Sookie Stackhouse series would be comprehensively lost a few pages in. In contrast, Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series is almost twice as long, and also has narrative twists that have affected the central protagonist – over the course of the series Phryne has acquired live-in staff, two adopted daughters, a long-term married lover, a close friend and maid whose fiancé is a police officer, multiple connections across Melbourne, and reunited with her sister. But one could pick up a novel anywhere in the series and pick up all they needed to enjoy the novel on its own.
Of course, Greenwood has also determined that her series has an end point, whereas Soockie seems determined to continue, in ever increasingly complexity, ad infinitum. Claudine left Sookie her savings, and for perhaps the first time in her life, Sookie need not worry about penury around the next corner. One senses, however, that her next round of troubles will also come not singly but in battalions. – Alex