Fiction: “Circus of the Damned” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Well, add this title to the growing list of Bad Books Alaina’s Read So You Don’t Have To. And before I figuratively rip this book to shreds, allow me to point out to everyone that, while it’s currently not a vacation, I have flown to Annapolis for training for my new job, and I think everyone knows what it is mandatory for me to read when I’m in an airport. Oh yes, that’s right. Coming up shortly: the next Patricia Cornwell.

Bring it on.

But first, let’s discuss these vampires of St. Louis once more. When we last left Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, she had just cleaned up the mess left behind by a rampaging, man-eating zombie. Now it’s shortly before Halloween, she’s up to her ears in zombie raisings, and a couple of dudes come to her workplace, asking for the daytime resting spot of the Vampire Master of the City so they can go kill him. Except that the Master of the City (yeah, that’s the actual title — and can I say, I would have loved to have seen Spike attempt to be the Vampire Master of Sunnydale. That would have been fun!) is Jean-Claude, the vampire that has given Anita two of the four marks necessary to turn someone into a human servant, and also, Anita kind of has friendly feelings towards Jean-Claude, even if he is a vampire, so she doesn’t want to give up the resting place.

And then there’s some more murders, this time by a gang of rogue vampires following a second Master. And what I’d really like to know is: How does one become a Master Vampire? I mean, what are the qualifications? Do you actually have to have control of a city to be considered a Master Vampire? Is it determined by the number of human servants you have? Or the quality of the animal you can control? For instance, I would bet that being able to control and ‘call’ wolves to do your bidding would put you up higher on the Master path than, say, Labradoodles. Is it simply a matter of how old you are? Is it, like, “Oh, congratulations, Vlad! Not only are you five hundred years dead, but you have also acheived the rank of Master Vampire!” Is it a matter of levelling up? The number of victims you’ve accumulated over the years? Do you need a Master’s degree in Vampirism? What night school offers that type of curriculum? Can humans attend, or must you be the living dead and a bloodsucker to enroll? THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS AND I DEMAND ANSWERS.

Oh god, what else. So everyone wants the resting location of Jean-Claude so everyone can kill him, but Anita holds tight to the information. Meanwhile, her boss, Bert, has hired a new animator: his name is Larry, and he’s twenty. Anita becomes extremely protective of little Larry, because apparently, he’s an innocent and she is not and if she can keep someone innocent from learning of the horrors associated with raising the dead, by gum, she’s gonna protect them. Except Larry doesn’t want to be protected, because he wants to be a Vampire Executioner too.

But then one night, Anita and Larry get ambushed by the Rogue Master Vampire (and now, all I can hear is Cordelia asking Wesley, “What’s a rogue demon?” when he described himself as a rogue demon hunter. What’s a rogue master, and why does he need a vampire?) named Alejandro, and no, I am not making that up. And every time I read the name, two things went through my head: the Lady Gaga song “Alejandro” which I didn’t even like that much, but also my pronunciation of Alejandro, which consists of dropping my voice down into my lower register and trilling the ‘r’ in ‘–andro,’ because I am a ditz. So ANYWAY, Alejandro wants the location of the Master of the City too, because it’s like crack for those people, but when she doesn’t give it up, he gives her the first mark to be his human servant.

And THEN, as if that WEREN’T ENOUGH, ANOTHER vampire that happens to be a million years old — and again, I swear I am not exaggerating for the sake of the story — the novel claims that Oliver (yes, that’s the name) is indeed a million years old. But anyway, Oliver ALSO wants the resting place of the yada yada, and for some reason Anita likes Oliver, so she says she’ll think about it.

But she gets lured into a cave (don’t ask) by Alejandro and Melanie, a lamia, which is not a llama but a half-woman, half-snake and it’s just as gross as it sounds (two things: unlike Fry’s romance with Ambrielle in that underwater episode of Futurama, the snake half is the bottom half and the woman half is on top. And secondly, how cool would it have been if they have a dangerous half-woman, half-llama running around? I MUST WRITE THIS NOW), and on the way out of the cave she gets bit by another lamia, and an hour later she starts bleeding all over the place — including through her eyeballs, if the dialogue is to be believed. And Richard, the guy Anita is thinking she might want to date, takes her to Jean-Claude to save her life, but the only way to save her life is to give her the third mark of a human servant, and apparently that’s what does it, and she gives up the resting place to Oliver, who it turns out was in cahoots with Alejandro all along, and he wants to become Master of the City so that he can have vampires hunt humans again instead of fight for equality legislation, and OH MY GOD REALLY THAT’S WHAT THIS BOOK WAS ABOUT

In the end, Jean-Claude takes the marks away from Anita, which doesn’t make any sense. Also, I know that the third mark is that the vampire has to drink the human’s blood. But nowhere does it say explicitly what the first two marks are or what they’re supposed to do or how one is supposed to get them. Again, are tests administered? What are the requirements? And my biggest question around these types of supernatural canon: does the author even know?

Because, look: I bitched a lot about the Twilight novels. A LOT. But while I may have bitched that the sparkly vampires weren’t real vampires, and that werewolves can’t shapeshift at will, and that their canon doesn’t resemble Earth canon, I can guarantee with almost 90% success that I never bitched that Stephenie Meyer’s canon didn’t hold up to itself. Meaning, yes, Edward sparkles where Angel and Damon do not, but there was never a moment where Edward was in the sun and he didn’t sparkle. Or, that she didn’t completely explain how things worked in her world. The world Ms. Meyer created, love it or hate it, at least had some good continuity. (I refuse to look at the last twenty pages of Breaking Dawn where it’s revealed that Jacob and his clan are actually shapeshifters and not official werewolves, because that just seems tacky and also, I don’t care that much. Look, Ms. Meyer, for once your shoddy craftsmanship is helping me prove a point!) I’m not entirely convinced, after reading three books in this series, that Ms. Hamilton is as sure of what causes what in her world. I’m a bit scared, actually, that she creates things to create drama in the moment, but then can’t go back and explain how those things happen or what the importance of having them happen is.

So there’s that. I’m not sure I have anything to add to that, aside from the fact that Ms. Hamilton still plays fairly fast and loose with grammar. But I could almost — almost — overlook the grammar if the rest of it was making sense. And I’m not sure I can say that it does.

But, y’all know me — you know you’re going to see me read the next one within a year. Because I’m — say it with me now — a masochist.

Grade for Circus of the Damned: 1 star

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