“I am the Executioner, and I don’t date vampires. I kill them.”
If you’ve ever browsed the archives of this blog, you can probably tell that I’m not the biggest fan of Laurell K Hamilton. I think her behavior in response to negative feedback is childish, and I find her approach to writing melodramatic and pretentious. Having said that, I wanted to be fair and look at her writing- preferably not the stuff that came when she jumped the shark and had her heroine begin living out an absurd sex fantasy. The earlier books in her Anita Blake series are what helped establish Hamilton as a writer, and it’s for that reason I wanted to examine these rather than the later stories. She has a fanbase; I’d like to know why.
So I read Guilty Pleasures. And though the writing was very rickety in many places, I can see why people would enjoy this book. It’s no masterpiece- it’s rather poorly written, as a matter of fact- but the story itself was interesting, and Anita’s narrative voice fun. It’s the kind of book that would make a good beach read, if you like your beach reads with vampires, violence, blackmail, and a few disturbing images. And I liked it for that reason (hey, I read The Dresden Files. This book had nothing on Storm Front in terms of disturbing images).
The premise of the story is fairly simple. Vampires have just been recognized as legal citizens in the United States. This makes for interesting times in law enforcement now that undead creatures who are quite potentially dangerous now receive the full benefits of the law, and can no longer be slain on sight. But vampire slaying is still sometimes a necessity, and that’s where Anita Blake comes in. She’s a licensed vampire executioner, someone trained to take out the undead should they take it into their heads to break the law. And she does her job fairly well- or so we’re told.
This book suffered a bit from not doing enough showing with regard to Anita. I liked her as a character in this book, but I wasn’t shown enough her slaying vampires to justify the fact that all of them seemed to be afraid of her, addressing her as “the Executioner” and generally showing her a bit more deference than I would have expected from mind-manipulating undead creatures. I’m not saying that their respect for her couldn’t have worked- but I would have liked to have seen a bit more of her vampire slaying skills showcased, much as her animator abilities- the ability to raise the dead was.
That ability of hers was shown and it was really cool to see how the ability to raise the dead had changed things about the modern world. Someone could be resurrected to clarify a poorly worded will, or to give testimony in a murder case- sometimes his or her own murder. Anita worked at raising the dead as a side-job of sorts, and I loved seeing how this version of the world had turned that into a business practice. Even the reactions of this world to these things were realistic- Anita comments drily that the Catholic Church had excommunicated those who raised the dead, and since I am Catholic, I could see this happening and even imagine what various doctrines and articles would have to say about it. I wanted to see more about how the supernatural had been incorporated into the modern world, and though I did find the notion of powerful vampires having various were-creatures at their beck and call interesting, I would have liked to see more about how the ordinary people in this world functioned.
The main reason I would have preferred more world-building is that frankly, Guilty Pleasures isn’t the greatest detective story. The idea- someone killing vampires- is a good one, but it’s not really very well-set up or arranged. There’s a mess of characters and there’s too much happening that isn’t really relevant to telling us whodunit. In a good detective story, the author has to make the reader pay attention to every detail, since each different detail might lead to the identity of the perpetrator of the crime. Guilty Pleasures really doesn’t do a very good job of this. There are some details there, but they’re buried in so much action and side scenes that they don’t tie in well enough to the identity of the killer. As a result the revelation feels a bit rushed- not the sudden enlightenment that comes from a culmination of details that make sense.
Despite Guilty Pleasures’ failures as a detective tale, it’s a decent enough urban fantasy book. And that makes me lament the fact that the Anita Blake series took a belly-flop into pornographic insanity. There are a lot of intriguing possibilities, both in the world and the characters. Anita shows herself to be a character capable of dealing with the horrors of her world, such as when she’s trapped in a dungeon with a pack of were-rats (easily one of the freakiest and best-written scenes in the book). Jean-Claude makes a good villain, charming but still very much not to be trusted. The fact that this series gets run into the ground is made even more depressing by the fact that there’s a decided dearth of strong female characters in the urban fantasy. If Anita had been allowed to develop and grow from how she’s presented in Guilty Pleasures, she could have been a good example of one. As it stands, she begins strongly in this book, but I can’t take pleasure from it knowing what happens to her character in Narcissus in Chains, the book plunged the series into nothing but an orgy.
That said, this book alone wasn’t a bad read. It’s not great, but it’s certainly tolerable, and has a lot of promise. Which makes it such a shame that the series took a merry leap over the great white– but that said, it’s still possible to enjoy the earlier books. Just be prepared to have a drastic tonal shift after the first few books in the series.