When I read books with supernatural elements, I tend to have strong reactions. I either like or dislike them, without much middle ground. When they work, supernatural romances are some of the best stories out there. Charlaine Harris’s Dead to the World, while not a conventional romance, works in a big way.
Dead to the World is book four in a series featuring Sookie Stackhouse. Although Harris provides enough background to make this a stand-alone novel, I recommend starting with Dead Until Dark, the first book in the series, and reading them in order. Having this background adds richness to a reading of this book, which opens with Sookie having problems with her vampire ex-boyfriend, Bill Compton. In the previous book, Club Dead, he left her for another woman. Now, Bill stops by her house before leaving on a trip to Peru, and he seems to want her back.
There are a few obstacles to their relationship. First, Sookie doesn’t know if she wants to be with Bill again. Second, her relationship with Bill drew her into the vampire world, a place she doesn’t really want to be. Though human, Sookie is a telepath, and vampires have found her telepathy skills useful. Her association with vampires and other supernatural creatures has led to numerous injuries and trips to the hospital. Bill and Sookie agree to spend more time apart. In the meantime, she makes a New Year’s resolution “to stay out of trouble.”
Sookie’s resolution is immediately put to the test when she encounters a tall blonde man running on the side of the road during her drive home. The man is Eric, Bill’s boss, who is also a vampire. This is atypical behavior for Eric, and things get even more strange when Sookie confronts him, and he appears not to know who she is. She discovers that he has no memory at all — he doesn’t even know his name. She takes him home, calls Pam (Eric’s second-in-command), who makes arrangements to pick him up the next evening.
When Pam arrives, she explains that Eric was cursed by a coven of witches, who want half of Eric’s profits from his bar, Fangtasia. Now Eric is wanted by the witches. To keep him safe, Sookie agrees to allow him to stay with her. But the witches aren’t Sookie’s only problem. Her brother, Jason, has mysteriously disappeared.
Sookie is a compelling heroine. The story is written in first-person from her point of view. Although a telepath, Sookie is an endearing everywoman with thoughts, feelings, and concerns that are easy to identify with. Being in close quarters with Eric presents a few challenges. The threat of the witch coven may lead her right into physical danger —the trouble she’s trying to avoid. Then there’s Eric himself. Sookie’s relationship with him has always been complicated. At times she has feared, appreciated, and been attracted to him. The Eric she’s known is mysterious, ruthless, and heavily involved in vampire politics. This Eric listens to her, shows more interest in her life, and cares more for her than he does about politics. Sookie explains: “Now that he’d lost his memory, he was lots of uncomplicated fun.”
The plot and characters make Dead to the World a strong story. Two other elements make it a keeper. One is the humor that runs throughout the book. Harris writes with a subtle humor that’s very appealing. I loved lines like, “If there were an international butt competition, Eric would win, hands down—or cheeks up.” In another scene, Eric watches episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Eric thought the show was a hoot, especially the way the vampires’ foreheads bulged out when they got blood-lusty.” Sookie’s ability to find humor even in difficult moments kept me smiling as I read.
The second element is the way Harris explores the complexities of Sookie’s situation. She was fond of Eric before — “He was gorgeous and could kiss like a house afire” — but she’s drawn to this Eric in different ways. This results in a conflict for Sookie: she likes and cares for this Eric, but at the same time, she recognizes that this isn’t the “real” Eric. For this reason, Sookie both wants and doesn’t want him to regain his memory. This conflict kept my interest high and plays out in fascinating ways.
Dead to the World is not a conventional romance, and it had an unexpected though satisfying ending. I’m sure the effects will continue into the fifth book. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next installment!