Depending on your point of view, Dead Reckoning is either a “getting close to the end”, expositional book that begins the process of tidying up loose ends – or the harbinger of a Viking-sized character assassination, rooted in blind panic and designed to kill off the rampant worship of a character whose popularity has somehow unintentionally eclipsed that of others in the series.
There are at least three key Eric-related incidents in book eleven that have generated quite the ruckus – Eric’s collaboration with Niall to keep tabs on Sookie, a collaboration which apparently goes back to the beginnings of the SVM; his physical brawling with Pam; and “Bitegate” (as Eric’s bite at the end of the novel has come to be known in these parts)….also known as The Really Big BAD.
I don’t have a crystal ball. Nor do I proclaim to know Harris’ plans for Sookie, for Eric, or for the two of them as a couple – and I’m absolutely not here to tell anyone that their reading of the books is wrong. But I will openly admit that I don’t understand why so many people seem to find Dead Reckoning so discouraging, or why they believe Harris is trying to retcon her story in order to hose down some uncontained and purely accidental explosion in Eric’s popularity. I know only what makes sense to me given Sookie’s narrative and Eric’s character development over the course of almost twelve books, and it’s from that perspective that I’d like to take a closer look at one of the bombs mentioned above: the nature of the relationship between Eric and Niall. Specifically, whether this relationship casts Eric in a deceptive light, and whether evidence exists in earlier books to support the background of this relationship as it was laid out in Dead Reckoning.
I hope that by the end of this two part post we’ll have a clearer idea of how this partnership evolved based solely on details provided in Dead Reckoning and the ten books preceding it. This means putting aside preconceptions about the impact of True Blood on the direction of the novels (and since nine of the eleven were completed before the show even aired, that shouldn’t be too hard); the author’s notoriously twisty interview soundbites on Eric, and anything else that is not spelt out between the covers of these books. When we reach the end of this series, all that will matter is what is written in black and white. So for the purpose of this post, that’s all I could really give a shit about.
As Sookie’s narration can at times be unreliable (ie. she can only relate what she believes to be true at the time), I’ve tried to only include Sookie’s take where it can be verified by other characters or subsequent events.
So are you still with me? Good.
Dead Reckoning raised the following questions:
- What did Eric tell Niall about Sookie?
- When did Eric and Niall have Terry start watching Sookie?
- How long did Eric know Sookie was a fairy?
- How long did Eric know Sookie was related to Niall?
- Why would Eric feed Niall information? What was in it for him?
So let’s dive in, head first. And what better place to begin than at the very beginning.
CARELESS WHISPERS – WHAT DID ERIC TELL NIALL?
Eric and Niall have a history spanning many years; at least back to Sookie’s youth and probably even before she was born:
“I have known Eric Northman for a long time. I thought you would come if he asked you to.”
Niall to Sookie at their first meeting, From Dead to Worse (8)
“He [Eric] has been useful to me in the past, but he can’t second-guess me with you.”
Niall to Sookie, From Dead to Worse (8)
In Dead Reckoning, Sookie was given a brief history of her great grandfather’s involvement in her life from Claude and Dermot:
[Niall] assumed you would be the same as Jason . . . essentially a normal human.”
“But then he heard you weren‘t,” Dermot said.
“Heard? From who? Whom?”…
Sookie, Dermot and Claude – Dead Reckoning (11)
Cue Horrified Reaction from entire book fandom - “HOLYSHIT! WHUTTHEFUCKINGHELLNOW??”
What’s the deal, Eric? Have you taken up stalking babies? Did you somehow find out Sookie was a fairy and just decide to keep that all to yourself? Did you pull a Sophie-Anne and screw information about her telepathy out of Hadley? Shit, were you watching from the shrubbery when Sookie got beaten up? (“Move ovah Eric….this is MAH bush!!”)
What exactly did you tell Niall, Northman? And more to the point, what business was it of yours to be telling him anything?
While it’s easy to jump to all sorts of heinous conclusions and read this as a nuclear bomb going off, I’m pretty happy to leave that to those who have turned jumping to heinous conclusions about Eric into an Olympic sport. Instead I’m going to do something outrageously sensible, and look at this in the wider context of previous books to see if we can’t make some sense.
There’s no implication whatsoever here that Eric had any knowledge of who or what Sookie was before she met him in Dead Until Dark, or that their meeting in Fangtasia all those moons ago was not the first time Eric had heard of Sookie Stackhouse.
Does this passage say that Niall heard from Eric that Sookie was a fairy?
Though it might be an almost automatic leap to this conclusion since Fairy Prince Niall is on the receiving end of the information, it actually says nothing of the sort.
What it does say is that Niall heard from Eric that Sookie wasn’t a “normal human”.
So what exactly did Niall hear from Eric?
Given the fact that there’s zero evidence in previous books to support an argument that Eric knew Sookie was a fairy before his association with Niall and before Sookie herself told him – and that it’s a well established fact that he knew she was a telepath from the night they met – what Eric most likely told Niall was that this “non normal human” was a telepath.
Not particularly earth shattering in the overall scheme of things, considering every man and his three legged dog in Bon Temps knew that Sookie could read minds anyway.
Yet, now we’re left wondering why Niall would ever give a crap about some random telepath in Bon Temps. We know from Dead Reckoning that Niall visited Jason as a newborn to determine whether he had the essential spark. Upon learning that he didn’t, Niall lost interest in the Stackhouse children and when Sookie was born, assumed that she too was a normal human and didn’t bother to check on her. But he knew about her. He knew she lived in Bon Temps, he knew her name and her age and most importantly, he knew her genealogy – specifically her direct descent from Fintan, half fairy and dear friend of the telepathic demon, Cataliades.
“I’ve known about your family for the past sixty years, give or take. But my son Fintan forbade me seeing any of you.”
Niall, first meeting, From Dead to Worse (8)
It’s the essential spark, not the telepathy, that interests Niall. But for the telepathy gift to manifest in the Stackhouse line in the first place, the spark must already be present. So when Eric told Niall he’d met a telepath from Bon Temps (and perhaps even told him who she was, though the theory still holds even if he didn’t give Niall her name), how many dots does Niall need to connect to work out that it’s probably Sookie, that she has the spark after all, and that she’s suddenly worthy of his interest?
Given what he knew of the Stackhouses already, not many dots at all.
EVERY STEP YOU TAKE – WHEN DID TERRY START WATCHING SOOKIE?
“Niall thought to ask Eric to alert him to events in your life. Eric would tell Niall from time to time what you were up to. “
Claude to Sookie, Dead Reckoning (11)
“Sookie? You knew they wanted me to watch out for you? They come to my trailer at night, for months, that big blond one and then the shining one. They always wanted to know about you..”
”Sure,” I said, thinking, What?
”They wanted to know how you were doing and who was you hanging with, and who hated you and who loved you…”
”That’s okay,” I said. “It was okay to tell them.”
Terry and Sookie, Dead Reckoning (11)
Sookie then thinks to herself:
“I’d known Eric had had someone watching me while I dated Bill and while I was on my own later. I’d guessed that my great-grandfather had had some source of knowledge, too.”
Sookie, Dead Reckoning (11)
OH, REALLY? Sookie knew someone had been watching her? More retcon, obviously! Since when did Sookie know she was being stalked by someone besides her creepy woods-dwelling ex – and if she knew this to be fact all along, why didn’t she mention it before?
Well, actually…she did.
Dead Reckoning is set in May 2006, but as far back as Dead as a Doornail (set in late January, 2005) Sookie knew that someone was “informing” on her to Eric, and she expressed it in no uncertain terms:
After a moment’s silence, [Eric] said, “I wish I knew who’s trying to kill you. And I hear you had a visit from some private detectives. What did they want of you?”
“Who told you that?”
Now I had something else to worry about. Someone was informing on me. I could feel my blood pressure rise. “
Sookie and Eric, Dead as a Doornail (5)
Naturally, Sookie wonders if the informant is Charles Twining – a relative stranger and employee of Eric’s who is working at Merlotte’s and has recently started staying with her. But as she left work earlier that day, having just spoken with Lily and Jack Leeds (the private investigators Eric mentions above), she randomly notes:
Charles Twining was due to relieve Terry at full dark.
Sookie, Dead as a Doornail (5)
Terry…the self-confessed snitch.
WELL, FANCY THAT.
So in book 5, we learned: that Terry was working the same shift as Sookie when the Leed’s visited her at Merlotte’s, that Eric knew about the Leed’s visit before Sookie told him herself, and that Sookie suspected that someone was informing on her to Eric.
We now have solid evidence that Eric and Niall had Terry running surveillance back in Dead as a Doornail (5). Can we trace Niall and Eric’s arrangement back even further than that?
Let’s find out.
“Niall thought to ask Eric to alert him to events in your life. Eric would tell Niall from time to time what you were up to. There came a time when Eric thought you needed the protection of your great-grandfather, and of course you were withering.”
“So Grandfather sent Claudine, and then when she grew worried she couldn‘t take care of you, he decided to meet you himself.”
Sookie, Claude and Dermot – Dead Reckoning (11)
Exactly when did Eric begin to think that Sookie required Niall’s protection? Well, Claudine first lands in Sookie’s life early in Dead to the World (4), just after Eric was cursed. Since Dermot maintains that it was at Eric’s insistence that Niall sent Claudine – and Eric was amnesiac and staying with Sookie from the opening pages of DTTW – it must be the case that Eric’s request for Niall’s protection came during the events of Club Dead (3), at the latest.
What happened during Club Dead that left Sookie vulnerable enough in Eric’s eyes that he started to think she needed additional protection? Sookie dumped Bill – and found herself alone and unattached to a vampire for the first time since entering the supernatural world. A rather precarious position to be in when powerful vampires as far away as Dallas and New Orleans already know about your neat little party trick, or have witnessed it firsthand.
Eric was almost definitely conferring with Niall throughout Club Dead. We can reasonably extrapolate from here that their initial conversation about Sookie occured even earlier – in Living Dead in Dallas (2), or possibly even Dead Until Dark (1), since we know that some time elapsed between Eric first telling Niall about Sookie, and his request for Niall’s protection.
We also have Eric’s rather succinct defense in Dead Reckoning, when Sookie called him out on the way he got her to marry him, and about his deal with Terry:
“But that happened before I knew you, Sookie”.
Eric, Dead Reckoning (11)
Since he was obviously quite well acquainted with Sookie by the time he married her in Dead and Gone (9), these manipulations happened when he didn’t “know” her in the sense that he “knows” her now – they weren’t as emotionally connected. His mention of the marriage is what actually clarifies this. This line has been used to argue that Eric hired Terry or was conspiring with Niall before he met Sookie. It’s pretty clear when you actually read it in context with what comes before and after it, that is not what he means at all.
THE BOTTOM LINE
That’s a truckload of dry and tedious shit I’ve made you wade through up there, and we’re still only two questions into the five at the beginning of this post. Let’s condense the key points down into a tight little summary, just to make sure we have everything straight.
1. Eric told Niall that Sookie was a telepath, and this conversation definitely occurred before Dead as a Doornail (5).
2. Niall deduced from this information and his prior knowledge of the Stackhouses that Sookie probably possessed the essential spark and therefore warranted further investigation.
3. Niall asked Eric to keep him informed of Sookie’s business, and Eric coerced her co-worker, Terry, to do this on a day to day basis. This deal was clearly already operating by Book 5 so it must have been struck prior to this.
4. Eric requested protection for Sookie from Niall, which Niall sent in the form of Claudine. The timing of Claudine’s arrival indicates that Eric made this request before he was cursed in the opening pages of Dead to the World (4), most likely during Club Dead (3).
Whoa, I think a need a drink. Now that we have a timeframe for when Eric and Niall started watching Sookie, the last few questions on our list can be tackled.
How long did Eric know that Sookie was a fairy?
How long did Eric know Sookie was related to Niall?
And the elephant in the room: what was in this arrangement for Eric?
Is his association with Niall comparable to Bill’s association with Sophie-Anne? After all, both vampires made deals with a more powerful supe who wanted to get closer to Sookie….didn’t they?
Stay tuned for part 2 in the next day or two, where I’ll take a look at these questions a little more closely.