Monday, December 15, 2008

Book review: Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

I don't even remember now who suggested the Anita Blake books to me. It took me a long time to start reading them. The first time I picked one of them up, I was totally turned off by the sensual covers--not because I was prudish, but because they looked like the kind of books I didn't go for, which is to say romances. The second time, I was more interested, but after reading a couple of pages I was so frustrated with Laurell Hamilton's writing style that I put the book down in disgust. Why I gave them a third shot I'm not really sure; I think I was just at Barnes & Noble one night, depressed and looking for something not too deep to distract me from my wallowing. That was about five years ago. I believe I finished Guilty Pleasures that night, and was hooked from then on--the year wait in between books is as torturous as waiting for Harry Potter was.

In Guilty Pleasures, we're introduced to an interesting world. Anita Blake lives in Saint Louis, Missouri, in modern times ... but in her world, vampires and werewolves, witches and fairies, and all manner of other things that go bump in the night, are real. Vampires are legal citizens, with the same rights as anyone else--they can vote, they have to pay bills, they can be arrested. But because vampires have super strength, and can bespell humans with their powers, "due process" is a little different for them, and that's where Anita comes in: she's the legal vampire executioner for the state of Missouri and surrounding areas. So when a vampire sucks a nice citizen dry, a judge draws up a warrant, and Anita goes after said vampire--with wooden stakes and holy water, sure, but also a sawed-off shotgun. The vampires call her The Executioner, because she has the highest legal kill count of any vampire slayer.

But Anita does something other than kill vampires: she's also an animator, someone who raises zombies for a nice cushy fee. As part of her job with Animators, Inc., Anita is also on retainer for the Regional Preternatural Investigations Team (RPIT). So when a serial killer starts killing vampires in St. Louis, RPIT calls Anita in to help them find the monster killing monsters. Then Anita gets dragged into the investigation by someone much less civilized: the Master of the City, a 1000 year old childlike vampire named Nikolaos who threatens to kill Anita's friend Catherine if Anita doesn't help them.

Guilty Pleasures is fairly clean--I had no problem letting my fourteen year-old cousin read it. Anita visits a strip club (which is where the title comes from), and also attends a "freak party" with definite sexual content, but there are no outright sex scenes or graphic descriptions. The book reads less as an erotic thriller than a detective story with supernatural characters, and it's more about getting to know Anita and her universe.

In this book, we learn that Anita's mother died when she was young. Her father re-married someone who was the opposite of Anita's mother, which contributed to Anita's apparent low self-esteem regarding her looks. She was raised Catholic, and discovered her zombie-raising powers when she accidentally raised her childhood dog from the dead. Anita at the start of the series is rather emotionally reserved, living alone and working a lot. She doesn't take crap from anyone, sometimes going overboard to prove that being short, female, and well-endowed does not make her lesser than anyone else. There are times I laughed out loud from the sarcastic comments in the narrative, which provide a nice spark of humor amid the violence and mystery.

We meet the sexy and manipulative vampire Jean-Claude, who's got the hots for Anita and who she resolutely shoots down--for now. We also meet Edward, Anita's assassin friend who the preternatural community has nicknamed "Death"--what else do you call someone who goes after the beasties with a flame-thrower? Anita meets with Rudolph Storr (Dolph), head of RPIT, and also his "sidekick", Zebrowski. I think there's a brief glimpse of Anita's boss from Animators, Inc., Bert Vaughn. We get enough of all these characters to see them as real, but don't get to know them completely.

It can be difficult to introduce a lot of characters in a first book without it being overwhelming, but Hamilton manages it. She also manages to make the "Anitaverse" rich and detailed, combining details from reality with little factoids from the fantasy side woven in without being heavy-handed.

All in all, this is one of my favorite books, from one of my favorite series. At 272 pages, it's a quick read, well-worth checking out.

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