First of all, I think I owe 'Ms Blake' an apology: despite my comments in my last post, Philip does in fact get mentioned quite a lot in "Circus of the Damned", a good two books later. The reason why the character rang no bells with me whatsoever the first time through the series was clearly that I hadn't, at that point, yet read "Guilty Pleasures" and thus that the name meant nothing to me at the time; it evidently does mean something to Anita, even after two further action-filled adventures, and my rather snide take on her epilogue was unfair. If he isn't mentioned again -- and to be frank, after this I can no longer be certain on that score either -- then I also feel that the current book introduces sufficient reason why.
As to how much impact the series had on me, second time round: well, it caused me to perpetrate spontaneous fanfic (I use the verb perhaps advisedly...) -- almost invariably significant, and something that hasn't happened since the "Way of the Strong" saga and Edward G. Robinson's scene-stealing performance in "Barbary Coast". (As a character, EGR's Louis Chamalis is a fascinating gift in that he is psychologically perfectly capable of taking advantage of a humane impulse in the woman he does genuinely -- in as much as in him lies -- love, in order to get himself out of a death sentence while leaving her to face the consequences as his apparent accomplice... and yet, subsequently, of spending everything he's got on bribing a somewhat belated rescue-by-proxy while ensuring his own neck is well out of range, and considering that makes everything even. He demands her attention, craves her affection, and yet constantly thrusts her away: everything has to be on his terms, however destructive that may be. "Oh Louis, can't you let me love you a little...?") I do love to write a good amoral anti-hero :)
However, I won't be posting either that one (due to its extreme self-indulgence -- like most of my fiction, it was never originally intended for public consumption, but in some cases the plot is compelling enough to take over; in this case, it wasn't!) or "The Three Deaths of Anita Blake", the title which my latest effort fairly rapidly acquired. Although the latter does have what I suspect is the sole distinguishing feature -- given the nature of the canon, never mind of fanfic in general -- of being the only Anita-Blake-fic with zero erotic content whatsoever: my interest lay in the morbid rather than the lurid.
Unfortunately the plot mechanics really aren't consistent with canon at the point during the first book when it is set, due to hazy recollection and a complete lack of research. In short, the whole thing revolves around a couple of basic impossibilities, despite some nice character insights -- and the final twist, in which it is revealed that the whole thing is a wry narrative written by an Anita Blake who has been herself raised from the dead as a zombie in order to receive a vampire's apology for the necessary deception which had released her from an unwelcome afterlife among the undead, and who is awaiting the appointed hour which will restore her to her grave: "Now if I'd ever thought how my last moment would be, I'd never dreamed it would be on the earth of my own tomb... with Jean-Claude to hold my hand...!"
* * * *
And "Circus of the Damned" itself? Yes, it's good -- good enough to make you want to swear, because you forget just how confoundedly good these early books could be, and what a vivid character Anita was, back before the Monty Haul superpower syndrome hit.
It's also an eye-opener in terms of how far the relationships between the characters were to evolve: within the first few pages of this book, she quite calmly considers having Jean-Claude killed off -- "it would certainly make my life easier" -- a stance that was to shift radically over the course of the series, but which is more or less the theme of this volume. The matter-of-fact nature of this opening appraisal is if anything far more of a jolt than the point at which she does actually betray her egotistical ally in extremis, when she is no longer quite so sanguine as to the prospect.
And while I don't remember any of the Anita Blake books as exactly subtle in their treatment of the villains' motives -- it tends to be a case of allying with the arguably evil in order to put down the arbitrarily evil -- this one is unusual in that in many ways Anita finds herself agreeing with apparent foes. If "Guilty Pleasures" is a PI novel in which the unwilling protagonist and her client end up spending more time threatening each other (and accidentally rescuing the actual murderer) than in trying to solve the crimes, then this is an unusual case in which from Anita's point of view her ultimate antagonist appears to be doing the right thing for the right motives... until she finds out just what methods are intended...
The book is by no means flawless. With hindsight one can identify later issues already emerging at this stage: the beginning of the book is slowed by a tedious and somewhat gratuitous lesbian sexual harassment scene (while it arguably establishes the whole character of Yasmeen as a potentially out-of-control subordinate, this element is never really used, and betrayal comes from elsewhere in the end). Meanwhile the author, having started off with thousand-year-old vampires as the ultimate bogey, has by this stage already upped the ante to include million-year-old primaeval vampires, actual snake gods, and literally immortal (as in unkillable by any means) monsters: it's unsurprising that she was eventually going to have trouble in coming up with bigger, badder and still credible threats (wisely, for the next few books as I recall she would concentrate on more purely human-scale nastinesses). Perhaps unsurprising also that, when it comes to the climax, Anita's bare-handed victory seems a little easy over what have been made out to be such terrible foes.
The most effective parts of the book are the set-piece horror/action-movie sequences -- e.g. the mortuary in the disused hospital and the pursuit in the caves -- plus the world-building sections in which we get to see the details of the protagonist's 'ordinary' working life in the city, quietly raising zombies to solve disputed wills, etc. (This latter element goes missing in later books as Anita's regular job increasingly takes a back-seat to emotional traumas and vampire politics, and the setting loses out thereby.)
The other memorable development, of course, is that this is the book in which Anita starts to get complications involving her love-life as well as her work. It is as an outcome of these events that she is forced to the admission that Jean-Claude -- like Louis Chamalis -- may in fact genuinely love her, in so far as he is able (and it is interesting to note that the character has most appeal, both to the narrator and to the reader, when he is tired and snappish and somewhat vulnerable, rather than when he is doing his irresistible Casanova act); but it is also in this book of the series that the author pulls off the trick of introducing an alternate too-good-to-be-true love interest for her heroine... and managing to make him genuinely likeable. Of course there is a catch -- there more or less has to be by the rules of the genre -- but she has managed to create a character whose appeal we can immediately understand, despite all the clichés; he is a genuinely nice and yet believable individual, who somehow avoids the potential to be inherently annoying: quite an achievement!
So the love-triangle looms: I'm afraid my own instinctive allegiance is always to the first-comer (and Jean-Claude, for all his casually proprietorial airs, is at a considerable disadvantage, and as early as this already knows it), but Anita doesn't see it that way... Eventually this plotline will threaten to take over the books: for the moment, it's just a frisson, and all to the good.