igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
[Edit to add back the page that fell on the floor before typing and got lost!]


"Bloody Bones" was one Anita Blake book I was specifically looking forward to re-reading; I'd originally devoured it in hectic, compulsive gulps snatched down at three or four different bookshops, nervous all the time that someone might notice I was racing through a single book rather than browsing the stock. I hadn't read it again since, and it had taken me about six months to track down a copy of this volume, so I was really anticipating it.

I remembered this as the book in which Jean-Claude gets to take a major role again; in which Anita holds his hand in the face of approaching dawn and where she allows him to feed on her to save his life, not out of any lust but out of liking and loyalty; the book in which he becomes a person and not merely a monster, and she believes finally that in his fashion he does love her. I remembered admiring the slick use of old legends to provide new -- rather than superpowered -- foes in the shape of fairy magic vulnerable to ordinary bullets but immune to Anita's silver. I remembered crawling for the light with something terrible dragging itself from the coffin behind. I remembered consuming fire.
disappointment )

Interesting features )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
Finally found a library with a copy of "Bloody Bones" in it -- unfortunately I also found a new (to me) Robin Hobb book, read the whole thing in one gulp and got literary indigestion!

Let's hope I can remember enough of where Anita Blake had got to in order to assess the book properly in context...
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
This is the first book so far of the series to disappoint slightly on re-reading; it doesn't really achieve the grip of the other novels until right at the end, in a nail-biting sequence in which Anita Blake is disarmed and imprisoned in the company of a werewolf who is fighting a losing battle not to eat her...

My problems with the book )

There are good points in the book (the discovery of the naga, for example, is a memorable scene) and the usual supply of action sequences, but on reflection I think the story in this case is probably spread across too many different strands to be entirely effective. And while this is clearly a pivotal novel in terms of Anita's private life, I didn't actually find those sequences terribly engrossing this time round; perhaps knowing the future outcome robs the situation of tension?

All in all, a necessary volume if one is to follow the rest of the series, but a bit of a disappointment relative to its predecessors — I hope this isn't an omen for future re-reading...
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
Before I start writing about this book in particular, I'll briefly mention a fan theory I came across on the Internet which goes a good way towards explaining the change in the emphasis of the 'new' Anita Blake books: it may or may not be correct, but it's worryingly plausible.

Laurell K. Hamilton's private life )




If "Guilty Pleasures" was a terrific first novel, then "The Laughing Corpse" is a brilliantly assured follow-up that improves on the original, both stylistically and in terms of plot. This was the slender volume that I casually picked off the library display, twenty or so years ago, and then couldn't put down; re-reading it now for perhaps the first time since, I'm gripped all over again.

I'd meant to savour it over several nights, but made the mistake of taking it with me into the bath only to find I simply couldn't bear to break off — by the end, I was literally shivering in the cooling water, but I still couldn't stop until I'd made it through the final chapter and laid it at last to rest. Quoted excerpts )


Full review )

As an introduction to Anita Blake, this was a good book to go for. Strictly speaking there are a number of unexplained references to the first volume in the series (perhaps unusually, no attempt is made to 'recap' Nikolaos or the whole business of the vampire marks at all), but I don't remember this bothering me at the time, or when I went on to the next book, while I think "The Laughing Corpse" is actually a better novel than "Guilty Pleasures" had been — not to mention the less suggestive title: I probably wouldn't have picked the former off the shelves in the first place! I would certainly recommend it as a supernatural thriller, the only caveats being the high level of horror and/or gore: using a zombie as a murder weapon precludes anything more subtle than the victims being physically torn apart...


Posted via m.livejournal.com.

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
Managed to get hold of a copy of "The Laughing Corpse" by walking out to a branch library -- it does look as if I'll be able to track down all or most of the 'classic' Anita Blake books by trawling between various far-flung branches, even if they aren't so ubiquitous as the newer editions....

Charlaine Harris - True Blood )

What initially hooked me on Anita Blake was not 'paranormal romance' (of which, at that stage, there wasn't any) but the vividness of the world-building, the wry Chandleresque world-view of the heroine, the visceral thrill of the action sequences and the good old-fashioned page-turning narrative: the actual plotline of "Guilty Pleasures", say, may not make that much sense in retrospect (and in fact so far as I recall the detective elements of a lot of the books don't), but every twist as it went along had me desperate to know what happened next. I'm afraid I don't get that out of Charlaine Harris. The Deep South trailer-park setting -- something of which I know virtually nothing, and which could be interesting -- is taken for granted and barely sketched in, while the vampire stuff feels derivative: a character even name-checks Anne Rice, which comes across less as post-modern reference than as a jarring breach of the fourth wall. I did, however, enjoy and appreciate the vampire-Elvis theory (and the way in which the name is never actually mentioned...)



Caught an unscheduled repeat of "The Betty Driver Story" on television yesterday evening: in her pre-Coronation Street career the young Betty had the female lead in the film "Let's Be Famous" in which Sonnie Hale played comic relief, as she describes in her autobiography (reading between the lines, Sonnie, a screen veteran who had been directing films himself only a few years previously, had little patience for the newcomer), and I had been told some material from this film might show up. It did: not only a number of clips from Betty's scenes, plus a a view of the publicity poster with Sonnie's name in large letters across it (clearly, he was still reckoned to be a box office draw), but an actual one-second clip in which he and Betty Driver had a scene together!
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
A sudden jump ahead in the Anita Blake series, according to the random logic of which books I get my hands on -- and things have moved on a long way, chronologically (characters are contacted on mobiles in place of radio carphones), stylistically (there's little of the 'hard-boiled' flavour left) and not least in terms of Anita's complicated extracurricular life: she's now trailing an entourage of wounded, needy supernatural dependants with a high percentage of improbably attractive males among them, not to mention intermittent attentions from the ghost of a sadistic werewolf nymphomaniac she killed earlier...

Put like this, it should perhaps have been obvious that the series was about to disappear up its own metaphorical fundament; but in fact, although "Blue Moon" is by this stage hovering at the edge of what I could accept, Anita -- and the author -- still has things more or less under control. Most importantly it still has an interesting plot and characters you still actually care about...

Reading the online discussion of Laurell K. Hamilton's latest books )

The sex issue in Blue Moon )

Why this is still one of the good books )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
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.
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
The other day I came across a copy of Laurell K Hamilton's first book, and picked it up idly. I'd given up on the Anita Blake books years ago; flicking through this one I suddenly found myself hooked all over again -- and furious.

It was "The Laughing Corpse" that originally hooked me, the sequel to this one, casually encountered on the library shelves one afternoon, and I didn't actually get to read "Guilty Pleasures" for some years, although I worked through most of the sequels as I tracked them down in various libraries. So it wasn't nostalgia that got my goat.

It was sheer frustration at the waste of it all: a great premise, an intriguing set of characters (poor Philip gets such short shrift in the later books that I didn't even remember his existence: those valedictory grave-visits can't have lasted long, I'm afraid), and a stonking hard-boiled film noir style ("Willie McCoy had been a jerk before he died. His being dead didn't change that..." -- an attention-grabbing opening line that wouldn't have put Dashiell Hammett to shame). The author really had something here -- why, oh why, did she end up throwing it all away in what was to become such utterly self-indulgent (and badly written) trash?

Interestingly, there is no romance in this first book. I think it's probably true that it was the Unresolved Sexual Tension between Anita Blake and her rival suitors that gives force to most of the series (and alas, runs absolutely true to form in that once it is actually resolved in both cases, this force loses almost all its effect -- it's no coincidence that the only successful book after this is "Obsidian Butterfly", in which Anita returns to her original abstinence), but in fact "Guilty Pleasures" gets on very well without the slightest romantic, let alone sexual, element. The central love-triangle theme evidently isn't quite as vital a feature as one would assume!

(In fact, the line that got me -- given my own predilections -- was the sociopathic Edward's casual invitation to suicide as a preferred option to being devoured by ghouls: "I'll do you first if you want, or you can do it yourself"...)

With hindsight, the plot is a bit incoherent (again, not altogether uncommon in film noir, where the fast-moving twists of the action don't always tie up in retrospect: who killed the chauffeur in Chandler's masterly "The Big Sleep"? Generations of fans have famously failed to notice and/or care). But Laurell K. Hamilton clearly had a potential winner here, and it's not surprising that sequels followed and accrued fans.

Later books certainly acquired sexual (albeit mainly unresolved) content, to the degree that they became furtive and rather guilty pleasures that I could no longer feel able to recommend in public. Unfortunately within the space of one or at the most two books, the author then apparently decided to drop off the titillation tightrope into full-blown porn -- with the usual tedium and predictably unarousing results. The series became not only embarrassing to read but thoroughly dull... and the quality of the writing dropped off the spectrum.

Did the real Laurell K. Hamilton die in a sinister car accident, to be replaced by a doppelganger? Did she just make the classic mistake of failing to realise when she had gone too far -- 'jumped the shark'? (Or failing to notice that with sex -- as with horror - a long build-up of suggestion is far more powerful than page after page of in-your-face reveal?)


Whatever happened, I gave up; and I didn't think I'd ever be reading Anita Blake again.

But I found myself forcibly reminded of just how effective the series started off to be...... and I found myself back at the library this afternoon, looking for "The Laughing Corpse". They didn't have it -- they didn't have many of the early books, although another three or four have apparently been tacked onto the end of the series(!) -- but they did have the third book, "The Circus of the Damned", and after some minutes of dithering I found myself with the lurid little paperback tucked furtively into my bag just as in the old days. Even more of a guilty pleasure now, with the character a byword for raw porn... but a quick flick across the Internet turns up hints that the latest Anita Blake books may even be going back to the detective format.

So I may even find myself approaching that long line of new titles with the caution of the long-disappointed optimist...

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