I am profoundly aware that I often read books in the wrong order. I’m not referring to books in a series here though – I always prefer to start from the beginning with them; instead I’m talking about influence.
This means for instance that it was forty years before I came to We by Yevgeny Zamyatkin (my review)- the 1924 Russian dystopia that so profoundly influenced Orwell’s 1984. I was really glad to have read both, and actually would probably have found 1984 derivative if read in the publication order. In this case, reading the influenced before the influencer allowed me to revel in both future visions.
Then for my first Season of the Living Dead on this blog back in 2009, I managed to read Twilight before LK Smith’s The Vampire Diaries (my review). The Vampire Diaries arguably paved the way for subsequent teen high-school paranormal romances, but didn’t grab my imagination the way Twilight did.
Which brings me to Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton. I was prompted to read this book when a copy of Affliction was sent by the publisher to me. Affliction turns out to be the 22nd (!) in a series of vampire novels featuring Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. Good for me then, that I just happened to have the first, the aforesaid Guilty Pleasures in my bookcase, as I couldn’t possibly dive in at volume 22.
But first, a caveat: I have read and loved some of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels set in the deep south (my review of the first here). Apart from all the vampire blood and gore, there is a rich vein of humour in these books, and Sookie is a kooky and lovable heroine. It didn’t take much research to find that the first Sookie book didn’t appear until eight years after Guilty Pleasures, which also predates Buffy. With Anita being a sort of paranormal Private Investigator, I thought there may be similarities too with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files (my review of the first two here), but again The Dresden Files didn’t start until 2000.
Obviously I’ve read these books in the wrong order again, as Hamilton can probably claim to be the first in this particular sub-genre of paranormal urban fantasy writers. So how does Anita Blake hold up to those that follow …
I don’t date Vampires. I kill them.
My name is Anita Blake. Vampires call me the Executioner. What I call them isn’t repeatable.
Every since the Supreme Court granted the undead equal rights, most people think vampires are just ordinary folks with fangs. I know better. I’ve seen their victims. I carry the scars.
But now a serial killer is murdering vampires – and the most powerful bloodsucker in town wants me to find the killer.
Anita Blake lives and works in St Louis, Missouri. Her primary job at the agency run by Bert is as an Animator – she can raise zombies, or put them to rest again. She’s also an expert in vampires. We don’t know the detail, but we know she bears a grudge against the bloodsuckers. Her expertise in these areas though is very useful to the police; she’s on retainer and is often called in to murders where undead have been involved.
When vampires start being murdered, against her better judgement, she reluctantly agrees to investigate for the vampire grandmaster. She’s better placed than most investigators to to this, for she is partially immune to the effects of a vampire’s gaze. She still knows better than to look them directly in the eyes.
It’s not clear whether it’s a vampire killing vampires, or one of the human anti-vampire activist groups. Anita’s first port of call is to the club, Guilty Pleasures, run by vampire Jean-Claude – who has a definite attraction to her. I suspect that Jean-Claude, who does remain alive at the end of the book, will play a big role in subsequent novels.
Jean-Claude, although masterful, is not the grandmaster of the vampires. That is Nikolaos – a thousand year old child vampire, whose powers are strong indeed. This evil girl is determined to let Anita know that the only reason she is alive is to solve the crimes.
Anita’s investigations also take her to a ‘freak’ party, where she masquerades as a new human vampire junkie – addicted to having some blood sucked from her. Her escort for the night is Philip, a junkie trying to kick the habit. He is strong and noble in protecting her, but things go wrong, the party is attacked and they escape. From there, it all gets terribly complicated between all the factions involved, the vampires, the hate-groups, the human servants, and the internal rivalries between the vamps. Anyone who associates with Anita is at risk too.
We know that Anita will survive to tell at least another 21 tales, but how many others are going to die along with the way with her? Frankly, it was all a bit grim, and there’s no let-up, no pause for breath. All the action takes place over just a few days and you wonder how Anita has the stamina for it.
Anita is a typical heroine. Super-tough and feisty, also petite – she has to punch above her weight being small. We get few details about what she does off-duty – this is a gal that lives for her job. She narrates the story in a noir-ish style which, it feels, allows every noir cliché ever coined to be adapted to the world of vampires.
What Anita lacks though, and hence the book, is a sense of humour. That’s what the other books I mentioned above have, and it allows us to take a breather from the action, and absorb all the complexities of the plot. With Anita, it’s all bam, bam, bam – no pauses for a cup of joe with a friend, no chance to let off steam and allow another side of her personality to come through. Actually, she’s a bit whiny (mostly at herself, it must be admitted), but I didn’t warm to her the way I did Sookie. It’s just non-stop action, with a few hours sleep to recover from the mounting number of injuries Anita accrues along the way. The amount of pain this gal can sustain is superhuman – oh – maybe she is one?
Also, I without the device of Harris’s Tru-blood – the synthetic blood that allows vampires to live alongside humans without the risk of bloodlust killing them all, even if vampires were real, they couldn’t be given equal rights to live alongside humans safely. Given all their superhuman powers, unless the blood thing could be resolved, Anita’s world can’t exist – they have to remain underground. That’s what makes the later series work.
While this first novel in the series did keep me reading until the end, I didn’t bond enough with Anita to want to read more of this series. She does have legions of fans though. Do let me know if you think I should give her another chance. (6.5/10)
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton, Headline paperback, 327 pages.
Affliction (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter 22), pub July 2nd, 2013, Headline hardback.