Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris
Let's just start with these two basic premises about the Sookie Stackhouse series: 1.) These books are funny and clever and 2.) The series as a whole was appealing enough to be turned into a successful HBO show, True Blood. So why did I find myself skimming book #4? That, fellow reading writers, is the topic of today's post.
I'm going to answer this question with one words: expectations.
Ms. Harris has written an engaging book, some readers' favorite, in fact. However, I think there's an evolution of genre that starts in book two of the Sookie Stackhouse series and solidifies by this book, book 4. Specifically, book one was first a paranormal romance and second a mystery, but by book four, the genres have switched: it's first a paranormal world building, then it's mystery and last, there's a semi-romance subplot. I'll get to why I say "semi-romance" in a minute.
But first, let's go back to book #1: The world of vampires is revealed through the lens of Sookie's romance with Bill, much the way the Twilight books work, and the mystery is almost an afterthought, a device to create further intrigue about vampires, especially Bill, and their potential for evil. The book ends with Bill by Sookie's side, their relationship back on solid ground.
Now, in book four, there are two mystery plots--how and why Eric lost his memory and what happened to Jason. Even more striking Bill is out of the picture for almost all of the book, and when he arrives, there's little interation. In other words, the romance promise of a Happily Ever After has been pulled out from under my feet (solidified by events towards the end of book 3). Sookie is no longer together with Bill, and their future together looks bleak. In book four she gets together with Eric, who has forgotten just about everything except his skills in bed, which makes for a relationship that runs high on sex but low on emotion. Since it's no longer in the Happily Ever After, and considerably less time is spent on the development of that relationship. So the book no longer falls in the romance genre, though there's relationship and romance developments in the plot. So I'm calling it a semi-romance.
But look at the cover. It suggests sex... with many men. Not mystery. Not vampires, werewolves and shapeshifters. I'm not against reading about the paranormal. I'm in the middle of Interview with a Vampire, and I'm not looking for any romance... because none was promised to me. But between the cover of book 4 and the expectations set in book 1, I feel like this book promised romance that it didn't have.
So what does the reading writer take away from this book? Book one of a series sets the readers' expectations, and the cover of the book solidifies them. From this foundation, I judged the book. I was willing to follow Sookie through all sorts of crazy plot twists as my fundamental genre expectations were met. But they weren't. In breaking from this unspoken rule, Ms. Harris runs the risk that readers (like me!) will either skim or focus more on how the plot should have been written, not on the book the writer chose to write.