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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Laurell K. Hamilton: ANITA BLAKE, VAMPIRE HUNTER

Series:  ANITA BLAKE, VAMPIRE HUNTER
Plot Type: Erotic Urban Fantasy (UF) 
Publishers and Titles:
1     Guilty Pleasures (Jove, 2002)
2     The Laughing Corpse (Jove, 2002)
3     Circus of the Damned (Jove, 2002)
4     Lunatic Café (Jove, 2002)
5     Bloody Bones (Jove, 2002)
6     The Killing Dance (Jove, 2002)
7     Burnt Offerings (Jove, 2002)
8     Blue Moon (Jove, 2002)
8.5  "The Girl Who Was Infatuated with Death" in Bite (Jove, 2004)
9      Obsidian Butterfly (Jove, 2002)
10     Narcissus in Chains (Jove, 2002)
11     Cerulean Sins (Jove, 2004)
11.5  "Blood Upon My Lips" in Cravings (Jove, 2004)
12     Incubus Dreams (Jove, 2005)
13     Micah (Jove, 2006)
14     Danse Macabre (Berkley, 2006)
15     The Harlequin (Berkley, 2007) 
16     Blood Noir (Berkley, 2009)
17     Skin Trade (Berkley, 2009)
18     Flirt (Berkley, 2010)
19     Bullet (Berkley, 2010) 
20     Hit List (Berkley, 6/2011)
20.5  "Beauty, an Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Outtake," (Berkley e-novella, 5/2012) 
21     Kiss the Dead (Berkley, 6/2012)
22     Affliction (Berkley, 7/2013)
23     Jason (Berkley, 12/2014)
24     Dead Ice (Berkley, 6/2015)
25     Crimson Death (Berkley, 10/2016)
25.5  "Wounded" (Penguin e-novella, 12/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 12/14/16 to include a review of Crimson Death, the 25th novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 20 through 24. 

               NOVEL 25:  Crimson Death                
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     In her twenty-fifth adventure, vampire hunter and necromancer Anita Blake learns that evil is in the eye of the beholder... 

     Anita has never seen Damian, her vampire servant, in such a state. The rising sun doesn’t usher in the peaceful death that he desperately needs. Instead, he’s being bombarded with violent nightmares and blood sweats.

     And now, with Damian at his most vulnerable, Anita needs him the most. The vampire who created him, who subjected him to centuries of torture, might be losing control, allowing rogue vampires to run wild and break one of their kind’s few strict taboos.

     Some say love is a great motivator, but hatred gets the job done, too. And when Anita joins forces with her friend Edward to stop the carnage, Damian will be at their side, even if it means traveling back to the land where all his nightmares spring from...a place that couldn’t be less welcoming to a vampire, an assassin, and a necromancer: Ireland.

MY REVIEW: 
    This is a first for me: I'm writing a review of a novel that I just couldn't force myself to finish. I read the first 207 pages of this door-stop of a book, and realized that I just didn't care about the plot or the characters enough to slog through to the end (page 708). After 200 pages (a third of the way into the book), Hamilton still hadn't immersed Anita into the plot, and even though I was looking forward to this being an "Edward" novel, Edward himself had not appeared—only his voice on the telephone.

     Basically, the pages I read consisted of an agonizingly slow and tedious review of all of the men in Anita's life (and some of the women). Hamilton insists that we know every detail of their hair (color, style, length); eyes (color, shape, changeability); physical build (height, muscularity, shoulder width); and love styles (cuddlers, toppers, bottomers). Then we have to wade through a rehash of the Belle Morte story line and the Marmee Noir (aka Mother of All Darkness) story line along with a review of the situation with the Harlequin, who now must (unwillingly and unhappily) bow down to Jean-Claude as their master and Anita as their queen. Some of the Harlequin (former Vampire Council enforcers) want in on Anita and Jean-Claude's polyamorous orgies, but Anita is planning to limit the number of bed partners she has, so she refuses and they get mad.

     The narrative drones on and on as Anita and her entourage reminisce, bicker, discuss various aspects of sex, copulate, shower, discuss sex some more, spar, discuss sex some more, and then do it all over again. We get lots of relationship paragraphs like this from Anita: 

     "I left my girlfriend behind to make sure the live-in girlfriend of my ex-lover and current vampire servant didn't harm anyone, while I went to have a date with our shared lover. I would have said shared boyfriend, but Echo really only had one person she dated, and that was Fortune...Fortune was my girlfriend's girlfriend, or maybe Fortune was my girlfriend, too. So did that make either of them my girlfriend's girlfriend or just my girlfriend? Was Jean-Claude their girlfriend's boyfriend? Or since everyone had at least occasional sex with each other, were words like boyfriend and girlfriend too old-fashioned to cover it? I was beginning to get a headache, and it wasn't from the dance music." (Note: Believe me, at this point, my headache was worse than Anita's!)

And here is one of the MANY examples of Anita's sex-related musings:
     "Damian was very straight, much to Nathaniel's disappointment. My happily bisexual fiancé would have loved for Damian to be at least as friendly as Richard was with Jean-Claude. Oddly, Richard was just about as heterosexual as Damian, but he did bondage with us. There were needs we met in Richard's life and he in ours because of it. Damian was utterly vanilla—not a fault, but for the rest of us in these relationships it made it even more awkward, because we were so rocky road with extra cherries, gobs of whipped cream, and sprinkles on top." (Note: This is from page 77, and after I read it, I truly had to force myself to keep reading.)

Then, just a few pages later, it got even worse:
     "Damian snuggled in against me, pinning Jean-Claude's arm between us. Nathaniel snuggled in tighter on Damian's other side, throwing a leg across the other man's legs, which pressed his body tight against Jean-Claude's arm and Damian's side. Nathaniel stretched out his arm across Damian's back and finally must have put part of his shoulder on the other man's back, because he could reach not only me but enough of Jean-Claude so he was able to wrap his hand over the other vampire's side and hold him, too. Jean-Claude raised his arm and put it across Damian's back and Nathaniel's side. Now Damian could press himself closer against me...." (Note: This scene goes on and on and on like this as everyone arranges their arms, their legs, and their snuggly bits. It's like a boring game of Twister played out in Jean-Claude's giant orgy bed.)

     Apparently the plotwhenever it final beginsdeals with a vampire situation in Ireland, a country that supposedly has never had vampires within its borders (but this turns out to be untrue). Edward is in Ireland working with the police to solve the mystery of several vampire-bite deaths, and he convinces the Irish cops that he needs Anita and a few of her boys to help him out. Naturally, there is one Irish police detective who hates Anita's guts before he even meets herwhich ALWAYS happens, so no big surprise there.

     If you decide to tackle this gargantuan book, you have more patience and stamina than I do. Perhaps when Edward finally materializes in the flesh, the pace will pick up and the story will actually be interesting. But I'll never know because, really, I just can't make myself read another monotonous page crammed full of the tawdry, yet boring, details of Anita's strange and sleazy life.

     Click HERE to go to the Crimson Death page on Amazon.com where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio.

               OVERVIEW OF THE ANITA BLAKE WORLD                
     What can I say about Anita Blake? Anita is the archetypal vampire hunter. Guilty Pleasures was published in 1993, and all of the urban fantasy (UF) heroines who have been created by other authors in the past nearly twenty years owe their knife-slashing, gun-toting, ass-kicking, crime-investigating skills directly to her. If you read urban fantasy, you've seen many heroines who wear knives on their wrists, in their hair, down their backs, and in their boots, and you need to realize that Anita did it first. She has a black belt in Judo and college training in preternatural biology and comparative religion—and she is a trained vampire executioner. By the mid-point in the series, Anita has vampiric abilities never before seen in a human, and she carries several lycanthropic virus in her bloodstream, although she cannot shape shift (not yet, anyway). What a woman!

     If you haven't yet met Anita, you should definitely NOT begin your relationship with the most recent book in the series. Instead, you should go right to book 1: Guilty Pleasures. There you will meet a young woman who works as an animator—a necromancer, or raiser of the dead—and vampire executioner with the highest kill rate in the country. The early Anita sees supernaturals as monsters and has no qualms about ending their existence. In her animator role, Anita raises the dead mostly for reasons related to civil law. Imagine, for example that Great-Aunt Edna dies without a will, and the relatives are fighting over who gets her diamond necklace. All you have to do is hire Anita to bring Aunt Edna back so that she can answer a few questions. Presto! Problem solved. Of course, every animation does not go smoothly, and sometimes there are ulterior motives on the part of Anita's clients. Violence is always right around the corner in Anita's world. 

     In the early books, Anita has an uneasy relationship with Jean-Claude, master vampire of St. Louis. He is attracted to her and hits on her constantly, but she remains stalwartly celibate...right up until book 6. Then all bets are off as Anita begins to explore the pleasures of supernatural sex. Anita's life changes dramatically from that point on. The Anita in book 1 and the Anita in book 20 are worlds apart in many, many ways as she goes from hating vampires and fearing lycanthropes (werewolves) to trusting them, befriending them, and eventually loving some (well....many) of them.

     One thing you have to understand about ANITA BLAKE is that sexual content varies greatly throughout the series. In the first five books, Anita develops friendships with Jean-Claude and with Richard Zeeman, head of the local werewolf pack, but she remains celibate, although she agrees to date them both in book 4 (Lunatic Café). Beginning with book 6 (The Killing Dance), those two relationships and others become highly sexual. Beginning with book 10 (Narcissus in Chains), there is an increasing focus on Anita’s infection with the ardeur (a supernatural hunger requiring her to feed it via direct or vicarious sexual energy), which dramatically increases the number and level of graphic sex scenes with multiple supernatural sexual partners. In the later books of the series, as plots become less and less important, the only mystery is which (and how many) paranormal boy toys will satisfy Anita’s ardeur. In addition to the varying levels of sensuality, Anita’s metaphysical powers develop and continue to grow stronger as the series progresses. Some of this is related to the ardeur and some to the fact that Jean-Claude marks her and makes her his human servant. This grants Anita unusual strength, rapid healing, and an increased resistance to vampires' hypnotic efforts. 

Hamilton has also written some ANITA BLAKE short stories: 

    >> “Those Who Seek Forgiveness” (prequel): in Strange Candy story collection (Berkley, 2007) and The Living Dead anthology (Night Shade, 2008)

    > > “The Girl Who Was Infatuated with Death”: (takes place between Blue Moon and Obsidian Butterfly) in Strange Candy story collection (Berkley, 2007) and Bite anthology (Jove, 2004)

     Also available is a book of essays: Ardeur: Fourteen Essays on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series (BenBella, 2010). Marvel Comics has published a series of graphic novels based on the series. 

     Click HERE for an annotated list of the many characters in the ANITA BLAKE series. Click HERE for book summaries. Click HERE to go to All Things Anita, a wiki for the series.

                   NOVEL 20:  Hit List                   
     Hit List (V4; S4; H2) is an Edward (aka Ted Forrester) story. Edward is a fascinating character who pops up from time to time throughout the series, beginning in book 1. He is a sociopath—a cold-hearted, cold-blooded, mercenary assassin who targets supernatural varmints who are too tough for other hunters to catch and kill. Over the years, Edward has taught Anita many of his skills. They are like BFF monster killers. My favorite Edward book is Obsidian Butterfly (a rare no-sex novel), in which Anita and Edward have a wild experience with an Aztec vampire goddess in New Mexico, and where Anita picks up some of the dark powers that she puts to good use in Hit List

     At this point in the series, both Edward and Anita are U.S. marshals with the preternatural division. As the story opens, Anita and Edward are in Seattle searching for the serial killer of gold weretigers. They soon figure out that the whole serial killing thing is in reality a plot to get Anita away from her protectors back in St. Louis. The culprit is, once again, the Mother of All Darkness (aka Mommy Darkness), the first vampire, who has had a hate-hate relationship with Anita for years. Mommy D. is using the Harlequin (whom we met in the eponymous book 15) to kill the weretigers and capture Anita. The Harlequin are an extremely powerful and deadly group of lycanthropes who have served as enforcers for the Vampire Council, but were created originally by Mommy D. and remain loyal to her. Mommy lost her body back in book 17 (Skin Trade) when it was blown up, but she retains her spirit, which she wants to inject metaphysically into Anita's body. 

     In this book, Anita must continue to contend with the usual disparagement from the local cops. (For some reason, they think she's a slut because she sleeps with a house full of were-creatures and vampires. Go figure!) She also must deal with Edward's lethal sidekicks: Bernardo, a Native American womanizer, and Olaf, a very scary psychopath who believes that Anita is destined to be his "girlfriend." Olaf's "girlfriends" have all been petite, dark-haired, young women whom he tortured and killed after the bedroom antics were over. Needless to say, Anita has always tried to stay as far away as possible from Olaf. Near the end of the book, Olaf has a life-changing run-in with a lycanthrope, so we know that his future interactions with Anita will be even scarier. 

     Predictably, Anita adds one more love slave to her entourage: Ethan, a tiger who combines four lycanthropic tiger strands in his DNA (red, blue, white, and gold). If you're like me, you hate to see these handsome, vibrant guys turned into Anita's lust zombies, but what's a girl to do when the ardeur kicks in?

     I enjoyed this book a lot more than the last few. The ardeur lovemaking is limited to just one scene with Ethan, although there is a cringe-worthy lovesick scene between Anita and Nicky at one point that shows just how deeply poor Nicky has fallen into his needy, subservient role. The action in the story is compelling as it follows the hunt for and defeat of the deadly Harlequin. There is a nice night-time ambush/hunt scene that includes some of Edward's always-fascinating weapons. I always enjoy the interplay between Anita and Edward and between Anita and the two murderous sidekicks (Olaf and Bernardo). If you've been following Anita through the series, you'll probably like this book better than the last one (Bullet, which was a sexual soap opera). But...once again...don't begin the series with this book. Start at the beginning.

     Reader response to the ANITA BLAKE series ranges from ecstatic love to deep hate, with the negative group growing larger, book by book. Readers generally give high marks to the first half of the series, up to and including Obsidian Butterfly. From then on, the ardeur takes over and the graphic, multiple-partner sex scenes frequently overwhelm the plot—eventually becoming quite boring. I agree with that criticism, but I still find the character of Anita to be engaging and interesting. As I think back to the straight-laced, celibate girl she was in Guilty Pleasures, and then look at the world-weary, burned-out woman she has become in Hit List, I have to give Hamilton credit for providing us with a feisty heroine who makes difficult—often wrong—choices and then tries to live the best life she can as she deals with the consequences of those choices. 

                 NOVEL 21:  Kiss the Dead                 
     After her rousing exploits with Edward in Hit List, Anita is now back in her St. Louis world of constant sexual adventure, although by this time her bedroom scenes are more clinical and rote than they are adventurous. Throughout the past dozen or so books, Anita has done it all, and been done by all, so frequently and ceaselessly that those scenes are, at this point, redundant.

     The thin plot that ties together the sex scenes begins with the disappearance of a 15-year-old girl, apparently taken by a gang of rogue vampires. As Anita and her partner, Zerbrowski, investigate, they discover that the vampires in question are part of a vampire freedom movement. They don't want to pledge themselves to a Master; they just want to be free to do their vampire thing however they see fit. Eventually, innocents (including police officers) are killed, threats are made, and some of Anita's "sweeties" (as she calls them) are in danger of losing their lives.

     In between crime scenes and sex scenes, Anita muses at endless length about how beautiful her men are—particularly the multi-hued colors of their eyes. She is also obsessed with her own body size, referring to her petite, tiny, shortness over and over again as she compares herself to the various men in her life. Anita also spends a lot of time in rambling interior monologues brooding about the fact that people should accept other people's differences, for example, the fact that she and her men are heteroflexible—the new word they use to describe themselves. She still can't understand why her fellow cops think she is a slut, even though at one point in this story she admits that she's having regular sex with more than 15 men and that she shares her bed every single night with at least two of them. Hmmm...Maybe she just doesn't know the definition of "slut." But if she's happy with her life, why not just own up to her sluttiness and embrace it?

     Towards the end of the book, Anita begins to have second thoughts about her job. "Was I a U.S. Marshal, or Jean-Claude's human servant? Was I a Marshal, or Michah's Nimir-Ra/ Was I a police officer, or Nathaniel's sweetie? Was I an officer, or Nicky's master? Was I a cop, or the new Mistress of Tigers of Sin, and Dev, and Jade, and Ethan, and Crispin, and...Could I keep being a cop and be everything else? I sat there on the edge of the bed and, for the first time, really thought the answer might be no." (p. 299) So...it's the usual unfortunate formula: lightweight criminal plot, overload of graphic and repetitive sex scenes, and lots of self-centered thought sessions. 

     If you love to watch Anita make out with her lions, leopards, vampires, and whatever, you'll love this book. If you're looking for a plot and interesting characters, you might want to skip this one and wait for Hamilton's next Edward story. Lately, those are the only ones that catch and hold my interest. 

             NOVEL 22:  Affliction             
     The action begins as U.S. Marshall Anita Blake gets a phone call from Bea Morgan, Micah Callahan's mother, who explains that Micah's father, Sheriff Rush Callahan, is dying in a Colorado hospital. Micah is one of Anita's two live-in were-leopard boyfriends, the other being Nathaniel. Micah has been estranged from his family for years, but his mother wants him to come home to make peace with his father. Anita, Micah, and Nathaniel, along with their bodyguards, are soon off to Colorado to check out the situation, which turns out to be dire indeed. Rush has been infected by a rotting vampire, a vampire whose bite infects its victims with an internal rotting of the organs that is generally fatal. As it turns out, Rush isn't the only victim. The area is soon swarming with new victims as well as increasing numbers of zombies and rotting vampires. Anita is soon forced to switch from being Micah's supportive fiancée to being the Exterminator. These zombies aren't like any zombies Anita has ever met, so at first, she doesn't have a clue as to what is going on. As Anita investigates, she figures out that an ancient master vampire is at the root of the problem. From that point on, it should be just a matter of searching for clues as to the vamp's identity and location. But this vamp has some nasty tricks up his decaying sleeves, and it takes Anita most of this very lengthy book to finally come up with some solutions.

     In the meantime, Anita suffers through her usual confrontations with the misogynistic local cops. Those repetitive encounters take up many, many pages of the text. Another chunk of the book is given over to endless conversations between Anita and her lovers as they discuss various aspects of their relationships and wonder about the true meaning of love. Anita's primary lover in this book is Nicholas (Nick), a were-lion who admits to being a sociopath but who also loves Anita. Jean-Claude shows up for a shower scene, and Nathaniel is the third man in a dom-sub bedroom scene with Anita and Nick. Anita keeps wondering why her fellow law enforcement professionals think that she's a slut, but what does she expect when she constantly (and publicly) fondles and kisses her multiple bodyguards and is never without several male escorts. At one point, Anita gripes that "I have to have sex before I can go fight crime." (p. 269) Anita also spends a lot of time in interior monologues thinking about her men and her reputation, and she just can't see what the problem is—why the world can't get over the fact that she and her men are polyamorous. Oh, one more thing: Anita picks up another animal to call in this book. How many is that now—wolves, lions, tigers, bears, etc., etc.


     Another small part of the story involves a pair of bible-thumping relatives of Micah's, who scream invectives at Anita and her men and generally make life unpleasant every time they appear in a scene. Anita and Micah are worried at first that his parents won't accept their ménage-à-trois life style, but they soon learn that the family is finemore than fine, in factwith both threesomes and same-sex relationships. Who would have predicted that there would be swingers in small-town Colorado?


     The book is saved (for me, anyway) when Edward (aka Ted Forrester) shows up after Anita is severely injured in one of the zombie battles. He and Anita swing right into their usual deadly partnership roles, and you know right then that everything is going to turn out all right. Even though Edward is a cold-hearted sociopath (but with a heart and a sense of humor), he blows into each of his appearances like a cleansing breath of clean air. Edward doesn't profess to understand Anita's situation with her men, but he doesn't dwell on it like the other males do. Edward, like Anita, is all about the job—get out the automatic weapons, grab your flame throwers, and let's go after those zombies!


     This year is the 20th anniversary of the series, and I've been reading them from the beginning. One surprising fact that surfaced in this book is the length of time that Anita and Jean-Claude have been together. In one of their infamous shower scenes, she tells him, "I still marvel that you want me, that someone beautiful as you wants me after six years." (p. 280). How can 22 books take place within a six-year period? It hardly seems possible, but I guess it's true. Early on, I loved the series and the original Anita Blake character of the first six books, but since the ardeur entered the picture with its continuous ménage-à-many BDSM scenes, my love has turned, not to hate, but to "Meh." The only books that really hold my interest any more are the books in which Edward makes an appearance, so this book was O.K. for me as soon as he showed up. 


     This is a doorstop of a book: 570 pages. It could have been edited down to a more manageable length by deleting the lengthy, detailed descriptions of every single man who appears in the story—from eyes to hair to lips to musculature to clothing, we get it all, every time for every man. The males' descriptions are generally positive, but the women don't fare nearly as well.


     Towards the end of the book, Anita has a few instances in which she is suddenly and violently nauseous, which has Nick gazing at her thoughtfully. Maybe I'm just making more of this than there is, but in my experience, every time an urban fantasy heroine starts running for the bathroom with her hand over her mouth, there's a baby in her future. If that's the case, DNA tests will definitely be the next order of the day for Anita.


               NOVEL 23:  Jason                
    Apparently Anita's constant nausea in Affliction was not caused by a pregnancy because there is no sign of it in this book. In Jason, what we have is basically a clinical manual for mildly rough sex, lesbian sex, and bondage, with Anita at the center of it all, as usual. Hamilton should change the name of this series to ANITA BLAKE, SEX JUNKIEThe book has absolutely no plot, and the only action that occurs involves the never-ending antics in the bedroom. Really, that's all that happens in the entire bookone coupling after another with Anita always in the middle of the cuddle huddle. I'm not sure why Jason is the titular character because after the first two chapters, he doesn't play much of a role

    Instead of a plot, Hamilton gives us two sex-oriented story lines, if you can call them that. In the first, Jason asks Anita to help him convince his human girlfriend, J.J., of the importance of rough sex to his life. The silliest dialogue on that topic comes from Nathaniel as he gives J.J. a food analogy: that for close-minded, unimaginative people who don't know what they're missing, plain vanilla sex is the meat and rough sex is the spice, but for sophisticated, open-minded sensualists (like Anita and her crew), rough sex is the vegetables, and if they don't eat their vegetables, they won't be happy and healthy and "would sort of die inside." All of them nod their heads wisely as they totally agree with this freaky comparison. It's the most unintentionally funny scene in the book.

     In the second sex-themed story line, Anita's bedroom buddies teach her how to enjoy sex with women. At one point, Jason says, "It's like a lesbian tutorial." Yes, it isvery clinical, dispassionate, uninspired, and repetitious. After awhile, even Anita begins to tire: she "felt the beginnings of a charley horse in my tongue." Why on earth is Anita adding females to her polyamorous mix, an action that requires her to learn a whole new set of bedroom skills? Anita's explanation is that she has absorbed so many of Jean-Claude's sexual memories that, metaphysically, she sometimes feels like a man, but without the proper equipment. 

     In the first two chapters, the group (which at first consists of Anita, Nathaniel, Jason, Domino, and Envy) discusses various aspects of rough sex and why it is so extremely important to their personal lives. The proponents of bondage (everyone but Envy), come across as preachy and intolerant of those who don't accept their sexual philosophy. They view all disagreement as a challenge; if you're not with them, you're narrow-minded and prudish. In chapter 3, they drop off Envy (the lone dissenter), add J.J. and Jade (the prospective converts) to the group, and head off to the big beds at Circus of the Damned (Jean-Claude's nightclub), where they engage in various forms of unimaginative, monotonous group sex. Once again, Anita is the all-important center of everyone's attentionconversationally, emotionally, and sexually.

     All the way through the book, Anita whines that she just doesn't have time to take care of all of her many, many lovers. At one point, she thinks about how her weretigers are pressuring her: "A near-constant push to have more of me, more time, more love, more sex, and there just wasn't any more of me to give to anyone. The sex was great, but I couldn't be the emotional caretaker of this many people…" Just the thought of Anita being an emotional caretaker for anyone is kind of scary. 

     The group dialogue and Anita's condescending, pretentious, self-centered interior monologues are cringeworthy. By this point in the series, Anita is an egotistical, sex-obsessed, intolerant bore, and her friends are her enablers. Just as in every other book in this series, Anita's interior monologues also include endless descriptions of the characters' physical beauty, hair colors, hair lengths and styles, eye colors, and clothing. 

     One new piece of information that we learn is that Jason's life-long number of lovers is in triple digits, while Anita claims that hers "was still under thirty lovers." Hard to believe that it's such a low number (low being relative to the characters in this series), but I'm not going to go back and count them up. The weirdest thing is that all of them call this "dating."

     You could save yourself some money by reading the Wikipedia bondage entry and imagining Hamilton's characters speaking the words and/or demonstrating the concepts. I am so glad that I borrowed Jason from the library instead of buying it. Otherwise, I would be furious at wasting my money. From now on, I'm going to follow my instincts and read only the books that feature my favorite character, Edward, because those books always have great action plots, and they rarely include Anita's sex life.

     The book includes an excerpt from the next bookDead Icewhich will feature zombie porn. Oh, goodie. (Not!) Click HERE to go to the Jason page on amazon.com where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt or click on the "Listen" icon to hear an excerpt.

               NOVEL 24:  Dead Ice                

    Why, oh why, do I keep reading the ANITA BLAKE series? I guess that I just keep hoping that Hamilton will eventually find her way back to being the good writer that she once was and that she will write a novel that allows Anita to involve herself in something resembling a plot. It is definitely time for another Edward (aka Ted Forrester) story. Those are the only books that actually have solid plots and very little sex, mostly because Anita generally leaves her boy toys behind when she and Edward head out for a real adventure. Unfortunately for readers, Dead Ice is not an Edward novel.

    Because Hamilton has a no-edit clause in her contract, she has produced a cumbersome, disjointed 566-page book that comprises two zombie-related story lines along with chapter after chapter of relationship melodrama. Unfortunately, Hamilton crams the zombie plot lines into just a few chaptersless than a third of the bookwhile she dumps in multi-chapter blocks of sex-related dialogues, sex-related arguments, sex-related physical fights, and actual sexual acrobaticsall very repetitive and all very monotonous. In an unusual move, Hamilton has her characters talking about sex more than doing it, which makes the book even more tedious than usual. (The first sex scene doesn't come until chapter 7.) The weirdest sex scene is a creepy three-way that involves an open woundtalk about disgusting!

     Here's the soap opera situation as the book opens: Anita and Jean-Claude are planning to get married, but additionally, Anita, Micah, and Nathaniel will be getting rings in a commitment ceremony to show that they are also married to Anitajust not legally. Then the clan tigers force their way into the discussion. They believe in a prophecy that the Mother of All Darkness will return if one of them isn't included in Anita's commitment group. Now, Anita and her bed buddies must decide which Tiger will get the ring, so they discuss the pros and cons over and over again. Most of the candidates are men, but a few women are also in contention, giving Anita a chance to practice her woman-on-woman kissing skills. Adding a "Ewwww" factor to the proceedings is the fact that one of the tiger candidates is Cynric, a high school senior. (Remember, Anita is 31 years old at this point.) And then there is Asheralways an extremely unpleasant characterwho takes some sexual actions that outrage all of Anita's allies, even his best friend/lover, Jean-Claude. Anita and her groupies discuss and argue about these issues for hundreds and hundreds of pages. They are like a bunch of jaded swingers whose lives are so narrow and limited that they spend all their time hashing and rehashing the same old tiresome relationship issues that we get in every ANITA BLAKE novel.

     Here is part of a paragraph that mirrors many, many others in its barrage of ho-hum details: "Micah, Jean-Claude, and I ended up sitting at the far end of the oval with me in the middle so that I could lay a hand on Jean-Claude's thigh and hold Micah's hand. Jean-Claude's arm was across my shoulders so that his hand rested on the back of Micah's shoulders. Dev sat beside Micah, who he wasn't that close to, but tonight seemed to huddle near him, not touching, because Micah didn't let just anyone touch him casually, unless they were part of our pard. Other flavors of animal had to earn the right to casual touching from Micah. Come to that, neither did Jean-Claude and I, but Dev was on my touching list. Domino and Crispin were on the side by Jean-Claude but had given themselves a seat between so they weren't crowding him. Dev was as close to Micah as he could get and not touch him…" And that's just half the paragraph; it goes on and on in this same vein. Dead Ice is stuffed (OVER-stuffed, actually) with this type of repetitious blather. A good editor would have red-penciled this entire paragraph out of existence because, really, who cares about the minutiae of the seating arrangements? We already know that Anita will the centerpiece, surrounded by her sex-obsessed lovers.

     The first zombie story line involves zombie porn movies. This story starts out strong and at first I had my hopes up because I thought that it would be the heart of the book. Someone is using voodoo to raise beautiful dead women as zombies and then coercing them into horrific sexual antics that are filmed for profit. The most horrible part is that these zombies appear to have retained their souls, so the women know exactly what is happening to them. This plot line harks back to The Laughing Corpse when Dominga Salvador, a voodoo priestess, tried to kill Anita when Anita refused to help her raise zombies to be sold as sex slaves. You should be able to figure out who is raising the zombies about half-way through the book because Hamilton throws in some fairly obvious clues. This should have been the main plot. Unfortunately, it nearly disappears into the melodramatic morass that is Anita's life.

     The second zombie story line features a centuries-old dead man Anita raises as part of her Animations Inc. business. Usually, the zombies are passive and biddable, but this one asks questions, looks like a live human, and appears to possess emotions. Anita knows that the zombie's unusual behavior and appearance won't last, but one of the clients has developed a sexual attraction to the zombie and refuses to believe that he will soon turn into a rotten mess. Anita has never raised a zombie like this one, and she's not sure how it happened. This story line reads like a short story that was accidentally plopped into this book solely because of the zombie factor. It should have been published separately as a novella.

     One astonishing factoid (on p. 44 of the hardcover edition): When their jeweler asks Anita and Jean-Claude how long they have been dating, they agree that it has been about six years. Anita agreed to date Jean-Claude back in book 4, Lunatic Café, so that means that all of the adventures in the next 20 novels have taken place over a period of just six years. Hard to believe. 


     At this point in the series, you get what you expecta bloated mishmash of melodramatic relationship babble and promiscuous sexual debauchery interspersed with a handful of underdeveloped plot elementsa glimpse of what might have been. The cast of characters has gotten so large that most are completely undeveloped. I found it impossible to keep track of each one's supernatural heritage: Vampire? Werehyena? Wererat? Weretiger? Who cares? Click HERE to go to the Dead Ice page on Amazon.com where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Susan Grant: THE LOST COLONY

Author: Susan Grant
Series: THE LOST COLONY (Romantic Fantasy)
Ratings: V4; S4; H3
Publisher and Titles: Harlequin: The Last Warrior (2011) 

     According to my own definition, this series is not paranormal fiction, because it takes place in a make-believe land rather than in a relatively realistic modern world. Instead, let's call it romantic fantasy. The action is set in a faraway galaxy in the land of Tassagonia. According to their ancient book, the Log of Uhrth, Tassagonia was settled generations ago by humans who arrived in arks that traveled across the stars from the mother land, Uhrth (Say "Uhrth" out loud and you'll have a clue as to their actual planet of origin. Another clue is the mention of a Dr. Seuss book.) The humans are divided into three rivalrous groups: the Tassagons, the Kurel, and the Riders. An early king decided that the ills of the colony were the fault of technology, which he denounced as sorcery. Since the Kurel were the intelligentsiathe scholars of science, literature, and technologythey were exiled and forced to live in the isolated Barrier Peaks, far from the Tassagons. Eventually, some of the Kurels returned, but they are still required to live in a ghetto outside the city gates. The  Tassagons and the Kurel have a kind of geek-jock relationship. The Tassagons value power, strength, and victory, while the Kurel value education, history, and science. The Tassagons are illiterate and primitive and proud of it, while the Kurel look down their noses at the warlike, book-hating Tassagons. Meanwhile, the Riders (think Old West cowboys) live out in the wilderness, traveling on horseback, stealing cattle, and keeping away from the other two groups. There are two more groups in this land, and both are enemies of the humans. The Gorr, who are wolf-like, barely sentient monsters, arrived by ark shortly after the humans and immediately started a war that decimated both groups and pushed the humans' civilization back to a more primitive time. The second anti-human group is the Sea Scourge, a gang of pirates who rule the seas.

     As The Last Warrior begins, King Xim sits on the Tassagonian throne soon after the death of his father. Xim's queen is Aza, and her brother is Tao, general of the Tassagonian army in the field. In the opening scene, General Tao is returning home to great public adulation after a long series of victorious battles against the Gorr. Xim is insanely jealous of Tao, seeing him as a threat to the throne, and Beck, head of the home guard (who also hates Tao) encourages Xim's fears. Meanwhile, Elsabeth ("Beth"), a Kurel is the tutor of the royal children, and she has been secretly teaching the queen and the children to read, which is an illegal act. Almost as soon as Tao returns, Xim arrests him for treason and Beth helps him escape, with the additional aid of the sympathetic Field-Colonel Markam, who is Tao's long-time friend and Aza's wannabe lover. Got all that? 

     The remainder of the book follows two threads. First and foremost is the progression of the romance between Tao and Beth. The second thread follows Xim's attempts to track down and eliminate Tao. The overall theme of this book is the importance of tolerance and understanding, as each group takes a few small steps toward peace.

     Grant has built her world carefully and impressively, and it is elaborate enough to have plenty of room for additional love stories and inter-species conflict in future books. The relationship between Beth and Tao is more complex than the usual SMR romance. The lovers come from two entirely different cultures, and it is interesting to watch them begin to understand and then to love one another. The villains are also relatively complexnot completely and thoughtlessly evil, but instead, allowing tragedies in their past to turn them into bitter, suspicious haters. So far, this is a good series for romantic fantasy readers.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Last Warrior.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Virna DePaul: PARA-OPS Series

Author: Virna DePaul
Series: PARA-OPS Series
Plot Type: SMR
Ratings: V4; S4; H2
Publisher and Titles:
     Wraith's Awakening (free e-story)
     Chosen by Blood (2011)
     Chosen by Fate (10/2011)

     This blog entry was updated and revised on 11/5/11 to include a review of the second novel in the series: Chosen by Fate. That review follows this overview of the series so far:  

     If you know your military history, you know that one of the first things that you do to weaken your enemy is to cut off his food supply. Without a means of nourishment, the enemy can't fight at full strength. What if your enemy is a vampire? How do you apply that strategy? You cut off his supply of pure, fresh blood, of course.

     DePaul has come up with an inspired and extremely creative idea here. In her world, America has recently ended its Second Civil War—this time between humans and supernaturals (aka Otherborns). As a means of defeating the vampires during the war, human scientists invent a drug that changes human blood so that it no longer provides vampires with the nourishment they need to remain strong. That forces the vamps to the treaty table and ends the war. Now, however, in the post-war world, vampires are losing their powers and fading away from malnourishment. Government scientists have been working on an antidote to the blood drug, but the head scientist has just been murdered and the formula for the antidote is missing, as are all the samples. 

     The story arc for the series involves the machinations of the earth goddess, Essenia, who believes that humans and Otherborns have made such a mess of their lives on earth that they deserve to be destroyed. She makes a bargain with Kyle Mahone, leader of the FIB's Special Ops Tactical Unit, that she will allow everyone to live if his group of humans and Otherborn can work together as a unit as they investigate crimes that keep the humans and Otherborns apart.  

     In Chosen by Blood, Kyle Mahone (who has a history with the vampire queen mother of this book's hero) determines that North Korea is involved in the theft of the antidote, so he puts together a team of Otherborn and humans to retrieve the drug. The team leader (and the hero) is Knox Devereaux (dharmire: half vamp/half human), leader of a large vampire clan. As the story begins, Knox is married to Noella (a full vampire), but has been head-over-heels in love with Noella's BFF, Felicia Locke (human FBI agent), ever since he met her (which was after he married Noella). Knox's marriage is not a true love match. As he says, he "loves" Noella, but he's not "in love" with her. In fact, Noella is aware of the Knox-Felicia attraction and has given her approval for the two of them to hook up. Felicia, however, won't go to bed with Noella's husband. Even when Noella dies (very early in the story), Felicia stays away from Knox. She knows that he will marry another vampire so that he can produce more vampire children. Knox is somewhat protected from the malnourishment that affects full vampires, and he feels that he is obligated to procreate with a vampire female so that his clan will remain strong into the next generation. Early on (after Noella dies), Knox makes plans to wed a European vampire, but he wants Felicia as his full-time lover. Needless to say, Felicia turns thumbs down on that idea, even though she loves Knox to distraction.

     Back to the antidote plot thread: Felicia becomes a member of Knox's team along with a werewolf, a wraith, a mage, and a psychic. We are introduced to all of the team members in book 1, but we are not told all of their personal secrets. Those will come in later books. After the team goes through the painful process of unification, they head off to North Korea to steal back the antidote. The remainder of the book follows the team as they do their retrieval thing. By the end, Knox is faced with new information about his father's death and the betrayal of one of his Vampire Council members. He must also come to terms with his long-term prejudices against humans if he is to win over Felicia.

     I have to say that this whole vampire-blood-drug concept is one of the most fresh and inventive ideas that I've seen in paranormal fiction in a long time. I just wish that DePaul were a better writer. I couldn't get interested in the lead couple—particularly Knox. He is so stereotypically alpha that his every word and action are absolutely predictable. Although we are told over and over again how "in love" each one is with the other, their love story stays at just that shallow level. We never are told (or shown) exactly why they love one another, except on a very basic lust level. What is that love built on? Seemingly, just physical attraction.

     Unfortunately the plot of this book is so filled with inconsistencies and melodrama that it's a head-shaker rather than a hold-your-breath read. If I were to explain all of the inconsistencies, I'd be giving away spoilers, but here is one example: At the very end, a brand new set of villains pops up from absolutely nowhere (10 pages from the end). You'll see other examples of plot oddities for yourself if you read the book. I do plan to keep reading the series for now in the hopes that the story-telling improves.  

      Chosen by Fate tells the love story of the living-dead Wraith, and the psychic shaman, Caleb O'Flare. They were the most colorful and interesting characters in Chosen by Blood, so I was looking forward to reading their story. Click HERE to read a free prequel e-story (Wraith's Awakening) that provides background on Wraith's tragic past. In this world, a wraith is a ghost with a corporeal body. Wraiths are generally humans who have died and then risen as platinum blond, blue-tinged creatures who have absolutely no memory of their human lives. Probably their worst trait is that they feel extreme pain if their skin is touched by a human or an Otherborn. Wraith sees her life as having only two options for avoiding pain: complete isolation or complete addiction to pain-killing drugs. Instead, Wraith has chosen a third option. She has learned to enjoy pain in a perverse way, and can no longer experience pleasure unless pain is there, too. Wraith and Caleb were attracted to one another from the moment they met (in book 1). Caleb is a human shaman with powerful healing skills and the ability to communicate with his ancestors and walk in the realm of Essenia, the earth goddess who is manipulating all of the action in this series. Caleb is eaten up with guilt over the death of his friend, Elijah, during the great war between the humans and the Otherborn. Caleb was, of course, not responsible in any way for Elijah's death, but he blames himself and so does everyone else, particularly Elijah's feline family. The love story between Caleb and Wraith is the main plot, but there are many more plot threads, all of which place numerous obstacles in the road to the couple's HEA. The plot kicks off when the para ops team is assigned to solve the rapes of several feline women in Los Angeles, which is Wraith's old stomping ground and where one of her former S&M lovers still owns a sex club. Coincidentally (or not), one of the rapes occurred at that club. Watching this plot grow and develop is like watching a load of brightly colored clothing spinning in a clothes dryer. They spin and spin, tangling themselves together in many different ways. Then the dryer stops, and someone pulls each piece out, shakes it, and folds it up neatly. And so...the plot threads in this book build up, intertwine themselves in labyrinthine ways, and then grind to a halt. After the quick climax and speedy resolution, the characters sit around and unfold the story, speculating and explaining to each other (and to the reader) who did what and why they did itand there are so many "whos" and "whys" that it takes more than one conversation over several pages to lay them all out in neatly stacked piles. A mysterious character is introduced briefly near the end of the book so that she can act as a kind of deus ex machina: a female vampire named Jesmina Martin. Jesmina will no doubt show up in the next book, perhaps as a love interest for the werewolf team member, Dex Hunt, since there seemed to be a spark of attraction between the two of them.

    This book was more enjoyable for me than the previous one, but it was definitely over-plotted. The extremely high level of angst in the romance was unbearable at times. These two thrashed around emotionally to the point that it was surprising that they could actually follow through on their team's mission.