Sookie now has to deal with the fall-out of her, Eric, and Pam’s successful plot to kill Victor. And that means entertaining the vampire King of Louisiana. The very first party they host for the King ends with a dead half-shifter girl on the lawn. Meanwhile, Sookie finds out just why Eric has been seeming distant lately, and it might be too much for them to overcome. On top of all this, Sookie has to keep track of and protect the fairie present given to her grandmother, the cluviel dor.
The penultimate book in the Sookie Stackhouse series has a lot of big reveals, as one would expect. The big reveals at the heart of Sookie’s overarching story make sense and are well-played, although the central mystery of this entry feels a bit ho-hum.
The cluviel dor felt a bit like a deus ex machina from the instant the concept was introduced in book 11. To a certain extent, a powerful magical object that grants one wish will always feel like a deus ex machina, no matter how it is ultimately used. However, of the many options for the use of the wish, I think that how Sooie ultimately uses it is the least like a deus ex machina that it could be. The world is not torn asunder. The events of prior books aren’t canceled out. The instant in which she uses it makes sense, feels real, and is understandable. It reveals a plot point that may irritate some readers, particularly big fans of Eric, but it’s not a development that doesn’t fit in with the characters and world. Meaning that the cluviel dor is not used as a love spell or to undo the existence of vampires or some such nonsense. Those nervous about what would happen with it should rest easy and continue reading the series. You won’t have the rug pulled out from under you.
The central mystery feels kind of repetitive. There’s a dead body, and everyone must figure out what happened. Similarly, Sookie continues to refuse to learn anything from the multiple supernatural situations she has found herself in. She continues to make incredibly dumb mistakes that make it hard to root for her.
The depiction of the vampires, fairies, and werewolves continues on an ever more negative spiral. The good supes are few and far between, whereas humanity is depicted as something to strive for. For instance, having mercy on someone is seen as having humanity, as opposed to just having mercy. One of the things I liked at the beginning of the series was the ambiguity of the supes. Having Sookie feel increasingly negative toward them all is a bit sad.
That said, the book definitely moves the plot forward in a logical way. Many loose ends are addressed and answers given. Plus there is at least one big final question left for the last book in the series.
Overall, if you’ve stuck with the series this far, you should definitely keep reading. The penultimate book answers some question and continues to flesh out the version of Bon Temps in Harris’s mind.
4 out of 5 stars
Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review
Dead in the Family, review
Dead Reckoning, review
When the aliens landed, they ignored humanity. Stopping briefly on their way somewhere else. Leaving behind mysterious random detritus, much like the remains left behind a roadside picnic. Redrick happened to live in one of the towns visited, and as a result has become a stalker. He sneaks into the Zone to gather alien artifacts to sell on the black market. Soon his whole life–and those of everyone in the town–becomes dominated by the Zone.
When I saw that this was Russian scifi from the Soviet era, I knew that I needed to pick it up, if for no other reason than that I’d never seen any before. This new print has been returned to the authors’ original vision, with the heavy edits (really, censorship) removed. It also starts with an introduction by Ursula K. LeGuin. I want to highlight one thing she says about scifi that I think truly illuminates its power.
Soviet writers had been using science fiction for years to write with at least relative freedom from Party ideology about politics, society, and the future of mankind. (location 22)
Scifi provides an opportunity for writers and readers to remove the shackles of whatever society they are currently living in and imagine the other. I think that’s a very powerful tool, and I commend the Strugatsky brothers for utilizing it in such a way from behind the Iron Curtain. They had to fight for years to get some version of this book published, in spite of being well-known and respected authors. That is a commitment to their art that is truly admirable. Now, on to the review of the actual book.
The germ of the idea is truly brilliant and is immediately clear. This idea of an alien race stopping by for a picnic, essentially, and ignoring humanity like so many ants. It’s so different from the more egotistical interpretation of alien visitations that we usually see. The book was worth the read for that alone. The early scenes are vivid and clearly establish this post-visitation situation where the Zone the aliens landed in is uninhabitable, and the government and scientists are trying to study it while stalkers sneak in (at great risk to their lives) to extract artifacts for the black market. Similarly, the artifacts that the stalkers (and government) find and bring out of the Zone are wonderfully imagined. It is easy to see that the authors probably knew exactly what the aliens used the items for whereas the characters in the book are clueless. Trying to find any use they can for them.
The book though is truly about Redrick. It uses the scifi setting to explore this man who really just wants to escape the rat race and have a comfortable life with his family. He chooses to attempt to be his own boss by being a stalker in the Zone and is repeatedly thrown in prison for it. We never really see him as a whole man, since we only saw him after the Zone. It is as if the presence of the Zone gave him hope, and the repeated failures slowly rob him of his life energy.
My whole life I’ve been dragged by the nose, I kept bragging like an idiot that I do as I like, and you bastards would just nod, then you’d wink at each other and lead me by the nose, dragging me, hauling, me, through shit, through jails, through bars…Enough! (location 2295)
In spite of this excellent set-up and interesting character arc, the book didn’t fully satisfy me. I found Redrick difficult to sympathize with. He thinks he is a slave to the system, but really he is choosing to be a slave to money. He could have left the town and the Zone behind multiple times to go live a life with his family, but he doesn’t. I understand others might interpret his freedom of movement differently from me, but that is how I saw his situation. It seems most of his problems come from a love of not just money but a love of wealth. So although I periodically sympathized with what he was saying, I didn’t ultimately sympathize with him.
What I truly found disappointing though was the ending. Without giving too much away, suffice to say that while the rest of the book was realistic scifi, couched in darkness and despair, the ending was surprisingly positive in a deus ex machina manner. It felt like a real cop-out, particularly compared to the rest of the book. Whereas most everything else was innovative, this was generic, ho-hum, and disappointing. While I was still glad to have experienced Redrick’s world, the ending kept the book from truly grasping me or blowing my mind.
Overall, then, this book is an important piece of both Russian and scifi literature. It has enough uniqueness of setting to it to keep the well-versed reader of both genres interested but beware that the main character might not be entirely sympathetic, and the ending is a bit disappointing. Recommended to fans of Russian or scifi literature.
3.5 out of 5 stars