In her Kirkus interview a few months ago, Sookie Stackhouse author Charlaine Harris said, “While the fourth season [of True Blood] will generally follow the fourth book, the differences may well outweigh the similarities.” Hoo boy, she sure wasn’t kidding. While the plotlines of Dead to the World will no doubt influence the new season, episode one is chock full of plot elements drawn either from later books or from the fertile minds of show writers. (Spoilers ahoy!)

Check out our great list of Charlaine Harris books at Kirkus.

Seasons Two and Three opened moments after the prior season finale. Season Four takes the bold (and welcome) step of starting up a year after the tumult of Season Three. In the interim, Tara has delivered on her resolution to entirely reinvent herself—calling herself Toni and pretending to be from Atlanta, she’s now an extremely fit cage wrestler in New Orleans with a gorgeous girlfriend. Despite the DEA debacle of last season, Jason has actually managed to become a full-fledged cop on the Bon Temps, and has even matured somewhat, which is a good thing, because the previously alcoholic Detective Andy Bellefleur has, as foreshadowed in Season Three, found a charming new addiction: vampire blood. Bill is vampire king of Louisiana and busy doing a lot of damage control. After the now concrete-entombed vampire king of Mississippi ripped out a man’s spine on live TV, vampires are even less well regarded than before. Bill’s role is a quite radical departure from the book, where he’s mainly offstage, doing research in Peru.

Hoyt and Jessica’s relationship is showing the cracks one might expect in a human/vampire relationship, especially when the vampire is still (and will forever be) a teenager, and Hoyt’s uptight and vengeful mama, having disowned her son, has found a substitute in Sam’s unreliable brother Tommy, who’s still recovering from Sam’s bullet in his leg. Meanwhile, Sam’s joined a very unusual anger management group (if you can’t see the entirely wonderful denouement of that scene from a mile away, you need to upgrade your foreshadow radar).

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And what’s happened to Sookie, our heroine? Not as much you’d expect: although a year has passed for everyone else, she’s only spent what seems to be about 15 minutes in the land of Faerie—although they were a fairly eventful apparent quarter hour, spent in the company of her long-lost grandfather.

What aspects of Dead to the World remain present in Season Four? Well, Jason is kidnapped after he becomes involved with the people of Hotshot, an incredibly inbred clan of werepanthers, who are clearly far more desperate in the show (as well as being ex-meth dealers). It seems likely that however this plays out here, Jason’s going to get bitten and end up meowing at the full moon.

The dangerous witch coven coming to town is the A plot in the book. Presumably this storyline will eventually come to the fore of the season, if it isn’t crowded aside by all the other character drama. The show’s coven leader uses her real name, Marnie, instead of the witch-name Hallow, doesn’t appear to have a brother or be a werewolf, and is both older and flakier-seeming, but that doesn’t mean she’s not without menace. Given that she’s played by classically trained British actress Fiona Shaw (familiar to the sharp-eyed geek as Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia in the films), we can definitely expect great things from her. However, if she’s planning to curse vampire Eric Northman with amnesia so that he becomes adorably vulnerable, encouraging Sookie to finally get it on with him, that may not happen until later in the season, to judge by the preview of future episodes. At present, Eric’s got the upper hand in the relationship: he’s actually purchased Sookie’s house, sold by Jason during her absence, and so she’s unable to rescind the vampire’s invitation to be there. Although Eric’s a seriously nasty and manipulative customer, aren’t we all just waiting for the moment when these two hook up?

And that’s where we are as the credits roll and Nick Cave and Neko Case perform a fab cover of the Zombies classic “She’s Not There” (unless, of course, you’ve got access to HBO Go, which is already offering episode two online; when will you get with the program, Time Warner?).