Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Dead in the Family (by Charlaine Harris)


Yes, I have now read up to Book 10 in this series already. No, I haven't read any more of the things I'm actually supposed to be reading. Yes, it is true, I have no willpower whatsoever and am lucky books and TV shows are my worst addictions. No, I haven't read the new one, Dead Reckoning, yet, because the postal service round here is truly awful (no spoilers please!).

We already know (from Dead and Gone I think, but to be honest they've all started to blend together in my head at this point) that Book!Eric's maker was a Roman called Appius Livius Ocella. In Dead in the Family, we actually get to meet him, though he doesn't make quite as much of an impression as his other offspring, only the second famous vampire we meet in the series, Alexei Romanov (is that a pun? Roman/Romanov? I don't know, I'm very tired!).

TV!Eric's maker, Godric, was a fluffy bunny of a vampire who just wanted peace, love and forgiveness. OK, he was an awesome fluffy bunny who got rid of evil human rapists, and a fluffy bunny who'd clearly been pretty hardcore/badass/downright evil back in the day, but by the time we meet him, fluffiness is definitely to the forefront of his personality. Godric's purpose, TV-wise, is to provide Eric with what TV Tropes would call a Pet the Dog moment, to prove that there are actually some feelings under there and he doesn't spend all his time throwing people's dismembered arms around the cellar, since that's not something a girl generally finds attractive. I haven't read the first three books yet, so I don't know how Eric comes across in them, but in later books he's definitely a touch soppier than his TV incarnation, so presumably this was not such an urgent concern for Book!Eric.

As a result, Book!Eric's maker turns up much, much later and is a thoroughly different kettle of fish; a hard-as-nails Roman with an unfortunate soft spot for psychotic young boys. (TV!Godric is about the right age to be a Roman as well, but he never mentions it, except to note that he missed Jesus). Book!Eric is sufficiently fond of his maker to object to Sookie's attempt to off him as soon as possible, but he gets over Appius' subsequent death-by-enraged-fairy pretty quickly, having spent most of Appius' visit in something of a state of tension, a bit like his mother-in-law's come to visit, and brought a dangerous psychotic with her to boot.

Because there's no need for Book!Eric to demonstrate his soft side, since he's done that a few times already, his maker can be that much scarier. The casting of said scary maker as a Roman works brilliantly. The fact that the Roman world was a bit more bloodthirsty than ours is something that comes up a lot in popular culture, but never with any subtlty. Representations of Romans tend towards either giving us heroes who are just like us and way ahead of their time in their dislike of gladiatorial Games and so on, or they go in the other direction and give us wildly bloodthirsty Romans who revel in blood, gore and sex as much as possible (Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I'm looking at you).

What Harris gives us here is a slightly more subtle interpretation of a Roman (bearing in mind that this particular Roman is also a vampire, and a certain amount of violent bloodthirst comes with the territory). Appius has an even more casual attitude towards murder and mayhem than your average vampire, because he lived in a world with gladiatorial Games in it. However, this attitude doesn't sway into the realms of the ridiculous and as far as we know, he doesn't organise any orgies (though to be fair, Sookie doesn't know what's going on at Fangtasia for days at a time, so perhaps the jury's out on that one). Similarly, the book avoids implying Romans were Classical Athenians (where close, sexual or otherwise, relationships between older men and young boys were the norm among the elite) but at the same time, notes and makes a plot point out of the fact that having a sexual relationship with a thirteen-year-old boy would not seem criminal to a Roman - in fact, they wouldn't see anything wrong with it. Appius is just Roman enough to seem thoroughly foreign and downright creepy to Sookie, while staying the right side of totally ridiculous.

Harris doesn't include any major errors on the Roman history side, and she provides the currently accepted pronunication for the Latin name ('Li - wee - us'). Although most of us read Latin with the 'w' pronunciation for 'v's, I don't think I'm alone in reading names within a translation or English book with the 'v' - Livia, not Liwia - so that actually threw me for a moment, even though it's correct! I liked the emphasis on the importance of the different names and which ones are only for close family members to use. One of my favourite things about the books and the TV show is Bill's Civil War-era speech and vocabulary, so I was mildly disappointed not to see Appius' speech marked out that way, but then, as we've seen in Gods of the Arena, that can go too far when the original language is Latin, so it's probably for the best and I guess Appius would have learned modern English anyway.

Godric. Much nicer than Appius. Equally doomed.

Appius really is a very creepy and unpleasant presence in the book, although his actual 'screentime', as it were, is limited. I rather like this use of a Roman as a positively terrifying presence, due partly to his being a vampire, but also at least partly to his being a Roman (largely in the area of sexual morality - but treated realistically for once, and not orgy-based). So often the Romans are the protagonists in any story in which they feature, it's refreshing to see the nastier side of ancient Rome brought to the fore. I'm rather sad Appius got offed, as he was an interesting character, but still, he was pretty nasty, so he's no great loss, and given the series' tendency to kill off just about everyone who isn't Sookie, one of her love interests or her brother, I'm just relieved it was him that bought it and not Pam...

8 comments:

  1. I had kinda fallen off this series but you make me want to read this one now.

    Godric in the tv show also came off as something of an atoner to me.

    Representations of Romans tend towards either giving us heroes who are just like us and way ahead of their time in their dislike of gladiatorial Games and so on

    Hahaha...like Gordianus? Though one thing I like about the Steven Saylor books is that Gordianus's oddities are referenced in-universe (especially by Catalina), so it feels less like bad writing and more like Saylor deliberately decided to make him something of a dissident in his own society.

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  2. Yep - Gordianus and Falco are the first two examples that sprang to mind as I typed that! Falco even more than Gordianus, perhaps, and Helena even more than Falco.

    Good point about Godric - and to be fair, I'm skimming over the importance of that scene on the roof because I wanted to get to the book. I suppose I wanted to focus on his relationship with Eric here because that's what marks him out from Appius - but actually he does have a more important role in the show as the balance between Christian fanaticism and pagan fanaticism (I'm writing a paper on this at the moment, didn't want to get carried away and go into excessive detail!)

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  3. I lost interest in the series fairly early but this post gave me pause. But only for a moment. Decided that, yeah, I'm still not interested in reading more in the series. But your posts/recaps? Pure gold.

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  4. Thanks Vicky :) I started at Book 4, which helped I think, as friends had warned me I wasn't going to like Book 3! And Bill is very boring.

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  5. The S2 Blu-ray says that TV Godric was captured as a young child in Caesar's second invasion of Gaul. He was sold in the slave market in Rome to a cruel and abusive vampire and turned sometime in his teens.

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  6. Sounds interesting - it's a shame we won't get to see any of that on the show!

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  7. Romanov NOT a word play on Roman... but actual name Romanov as in the Russian Tsars! He's supposed to be the sickly Tsarevich who was executed with the rest of his family by the Bolsheviks just after the revolution.

    These books are so light that I barely remember them after I've finished... I had no memory of this one at all until reading your recap! :p
    You say there's a new one out? I'll have to see if my sister's nbought it yet and have her loan it to me :D

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  8. Yeah I know (did several exams on the Russian revolution) - I was only joking!

    There is a new one, it's not bad, not as good as some of the others though - they're starting to get way too depressing. I want more vampire romance, less sulking and actually getting upset about all the violence in them from these things...

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