Yes, I’m reviewing the 15th (arguably; I don’t count Micah) volume in a series without reviewing the previous volumes. For one thing, everyone else has dealt with the series quite adequately. Second, I can gloss the plot up to this point in about three sentences. Laurell K. Hamilton arguably perfected the genre of the kickass chick with serious emotional issues who sleeps with various supernatural beings (vampires, werewolves, oh my) with a gun under her pillow. She started writing these books in the early-to-mid-1990s and while the last, say, five or six volumes have been of varying quality, there’s still a new one every year or so. This year’s release is Skin Trade (vol. 16).
Here’s the general setup of the series: We have Anita Blake, the short, assertive, overly-weaponed necromancer (zombie-raiser)/vampire hunter. More under the cut, actually, in case there’s a person left in the world who hasn’t read these books who wants to. Anyway, Anita’s up to something like five or six permanent boyfriends and another dozen rotating ones. The permanent ones include Jean-Claude, Master of the City of St. Louis (i.e., head vampire); Micah, the other head of the wereleopard pack; Nathaniel, another wereleopard; Asher, Jean-Claude’s second-in-command (another vampire); Damian, Anita’s pet vampire (a long story, found in another volume), and, maybe, Richard, the head of the werewolf pack. She now carries about five different strains of lycanthropy, even though she doesn’t shift shapes, and in addition to being the lupa (sort of) of the werewolf pack (and the Bolverk), she’s the queen of the leopards. She’s also arguably got some vampire powers, being that she has managed to ‘inherit’ Jean-Claude’s ardeur, the need to/ability to feed off of sex the way that most vampires feed off of blood. (i.e., she’s arguably a succubus, but not as cool as Georgina.) Because of that, she can make men become addicted to her. She still occasionally hunts things.
So in the current volume, Anita has decided to pretend to be Jason’s girlfriend while Jason goes to visit his dying father. (Jason is one of the rotating boyfriends; also generally just a friend of Anita’s since book 3.) Jason’s family is dead convinced that he’s gay, despite legions of ex-girlfriends, and apparently the presence of a girlfriend might ease the father’s passing. However, everything goes pear-shaped because Jason looks almost exactly like the governor’s son — who is getting married this weekend. Apparently the idea that said governor’s son (named Keith) could be spending time with a pretty brunette instead of his blond fiancee isn’t too far off of reality, and the media gets involved . . . and then Marmee Noir, the biggest, baddest, oldest vampire of ’em all gets involved . . .
The disputed volume in the series is Micah, which came between volumes 12 and 13. At one point, Ms. Hamilton was going to write shorter novels, exploring the relationships between Anita and each of the individual males she’s shacking up with. I think the genesis of this plot was actually Jason’s volume, because, well, she does all she can to get Anita and Jason isolated — in North Carolina, even. (I’ve been there; it really is that pretty, but I don’t remember it being quite that messed up.) She may have changed the ending in order to get in stuff that’s relevant to the overarching plot of the series (such as it is), but basically, this is Jason and Anita and some talk therapy.
It’s sort of become the fashion to bash the Anita Blake books for having too much sex and too little plot, and while there wasn’t much plot in this volume, there really wasn’t much sex, either. Oh, enough, certainly, in terms of number of sex acts had over the course of the three or four days the book spans (I lost count), but most of them are barely described. Nothing like the 14-page epic sex scenes dating as far back as The Killing Dance (vol. 6). I like the mysteries, when they’re real mysteries, and Anita really didn’t have any investigating to do in this book. There was a moderate amount of danger, but if the book has almost no mystery plot and barely any sex, what’s left? Anita chatting with Jason about their respective screwed-up childhoods?
Another flaw of the last few volumes is Ms. Hamilton’s need to find greater and greater dangers. In the third volume (Circus of the Damned), we met and killed the world’s oldest vampire. Apparently she didn’t think about that one too hard, because now we’ve got the Mother of All Vampires, who may or may not be older than the previous guy, but is definitely scarier. This need to find something scarier and scarier in each book is causing her world-building to get more and more unwieldy, as she stretches certain points in order to put Anita in more and more danger. Of course, the more danger Anita gets into, the greater her powers have to be in order to handle that danger, and that’s why Anita apparently joined the Power of the Month club. (No, I didn’t originate that phrase. I can’t remember who did, though. Sorry.) In this book, she grabbed another animal to call and discovered that because of a combination of powers she already had, she’s even more powerful. I’d yawn, but it’s too tedious even for that.
Also, and this is a comparatively tiny nitpick, there’s a really, really simple explanation as to why Jason’s family thinks he’s gay, but she never used it. She did tell us that his sister swore she saw him having sex with another man, but he tells us he was somewhere else. So who did the sister see? Oh, well, the answer’s sort of there between the lines, but she never states it. It sort of felt like a loose end to me.
Why do I keep reading these books? Heck, until Blood Noir, I was BUYING them, in nice expensive hardbacks. Well, it’s because they’re addicting. Anita’s love life, and frankly even her professional life, is a trainwreck, but you can’t look away. Ms. Hamilton’s somewhat choppy writing style just sucks readers in, as if they haven’t left the world for over a year (as I did). The sex, when it’s present and Ms. Hamilton is writing in full form, is hot. It really is. It’s almost as euphemistic as romance novels and sometimes involves numbers and combinations and scenarios that might push the boundaries for some readers, but it’s still hot. Her characters are compulsively interesting, even if they’re all unnaturally beautiful and their flaws are of the sort that make you think they’re even more perfect. Anita has a thing for hurt/comfort sort of scenarios, and all the men in her flock seem to be broodingly gorgeous with deep pools of pain in their souls. They almost make me want to write bad emo-goth poetry, but fortunately I’m not fourteen, the way I was when I read the first of these. But they’re still hot.
Anyway, if you’re sort of insanely addicted, this might provide a decent hit until you can get a copy of the latest volume, which I’ve heard has a real plot and investigating and all that stuff, but it’s absolutely not worth it if you aren’t already hooked. I’m not sure the book even deserves a rating. The series overall started at 4/5 and has devolved to maybe in the 2.5 or 3-star range. I will say, though, that the first few volumes are pretty good, but I caution against reading them because it may make you compulsively want to read the rest of them, and then you’ll smack up against Micah, for which I’d like that hour of my life and $7 back, and Incubus Dreams, which may have had a plot but I’ve forgotten in between all the sex, and this one, which, as I’ve noted above, isn’t quite plotty enough to be decent and doesn’t have enough sex to be interesting in that way.