Fiction: “The Killing Dance” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Killing DanceI have had this draft saved in my draft folder for approximately ten days. That is how little I want to review it. But my backlog is starting to push double digits, and that’s a thing that cannot stand. So – into the fray I must go.

Because seriously – I am starting to wonder why I continue to read this series. I can officially say: With The Killing Dance, Ms. Hamilton is starting to turn her corner into supernatural erotica, and I am not looking forward to the journey down that road.

So — *pfft.*  Okay. Anita returned from Branson, Missouri (at the conclusion of Bloody Bones), and she is continuing to date both Richard the Shapeshifter and Jean-Claude the Master Vampire. Why is she dating both of them? Because Jean-Claude is making her.

No, really.

See, Anita thought she was falling in love with Richard a couple of books ago — even after she found out he was a shapeshifter. (I keep wanting to call him a werewolf, but I’m 90% sure the term Ms. Hamilton uses is “shapeshifter.” I say “90% sure” because I’m not really sure, but I also can’t be arsed to look it up, even though the book is literally three inches away from my knee right now.) And Jean-Claude has always lurrved Anita, even though she’s a vampire hunter and he’s — well, a vampire. Anita finally admitted recently – maybe as recent as this book, I’m not sure if she mentioned it in previous books, and again: not looking it up – that she is attracted to Jean-Claude sexually. At the beginning of the series, Anita was able to recognize Jean-Claude’s physical beauty, much like I am able to recognize the beauty of, say, Channing Tatum, and not have a single iota of sexual attraction related to seeing his face.

Congratulations, ladies – he does absolutely nothing for me. He’s very pretty, but he’s all yours.

Also, and the real reason why she’s dating both Richard and Jean-Claude: Jean-Claude told her he would kill Richard if she didn’t. Because Jean-Claude sees Anita’s willingness to date “one of the monsters” (i.e., Richard) as a slim chance that she could look past Jean-Claude’s own monster-dom and find her way to dating him. So he has ultimatum’d her into dating both of them, until she can make up her mind as to which one she prefers.

Because there is absolutely no way in heaven or hell that that could end badly.

So in The Killing Dance, Anita is enjoying her time spent with both Richard and Jean-Claude, and she is finding it harder and harder to resist either one of them. But before we dig even deeper into this stupid triangle, the plot must be dealt with.

Anita starts the book by having a meeting with Jean-Claude, another old-as-fuck vampire, and the old-as-fuck vampire’s human servant. The old-as-fuck vampire gave up drinking human blood as a way to try and keep his lady love from leaving him, but all it left him with is a disgusting, decaying body. Because apparently, switching from human to animal blood gives vampires leprosy? And to be clear, it’s not really leprosy – it makes entire limbs rot off and slime away. When Anita meets the old-as-fuck vampire, he’s levitating because he doesn’t have any legs. Because of the Slime Leprosy. It’s really gross.

And I don’t know about this whole “animal blood turns vampires into Slime Lepers” thing; this information has never been brought up before. And also, that’s not how it happens on The Vampire Diaries. Or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although if it were true, it would really turn Twilight into something a bit more interesting.

I mean, what happens to Edward’s sparkles when he’s overcome with Slime Leprosy?

Speaking of Edward, this is a not-so-great segueway into talking about Anita’s only friend, Edward the Bounty Hunter. Edward the Bounty Hunter calls Anita when she’s going out with Richard to let her know that someone has put a $500,000 price on her head, and she’s got to survive the next 24 hours without being assassinated. But she has no idea who would want to kill her, besides the usual suspects, and the usual suspects don’t have the Disposable Boat kind of money. So, she’s at a loss. And what does she do? Not leave town, that’s for fucking sure!

Because Richard is having a crisis with his pack! There are these two members, Marcus and Raina, and they like filming shapeshifter porn, which is just as out there as you can probably imagine it to be. It is not pretty, it is extremely violent, it is not sponsored by Pornhub. (Oh god, I hope my mentioning Pornhub won’t bring people seeking supernatural porn to my blog … because they are going to be horrifically disappointed.)

So on their date, Richard gets called out to the porn shoot to rescue one of his pack members who had been shanghaied into appearing in this film against his will, and Anita has to tag along because she’s the first-person narrator and she doesn’t think it’s a big deal if she shows her face in public with a bounty on her head. While rescuing the meek shapeshifter, Anita displays dominance by vowing to protect … Whatshisname (never looking it up), and now Richard has a power problem in addition to the porn problem.

And Anita still has to go on her date with Jean-Claude the next night, because that’s how everything fucking works. So they go to the opening of Jean-Claude’s new club, SomewheresVille, and Anita lets her guard down for a minute and almost gets iced in the ladies’ room.

So now she’s forced to stay in Jean-Claude’s apartments under the Circus of the Damned until she can accompany Richard to the Killing Dance, where he is finally going to attempt to kill Marcus, the leader of the pack, after many, many, many discussions with Anita and how relatively easy it is for Anita to kill people, versus Richard’s fight for life. But Richard, Jean-Claude and Anita all join forces and are able to share their respective powers between each other, but in the end Anita can’t really face Richard as he shapeshifts, and she goes back to Jean-Claude’s apartment to clean up, and she and Jean-Claude have sex, and so she breaks up with Richard. But then she gets kidnapped by Raina and the rogue members of Marcus’s pack, and it turns out that her assassination attempt was orchestrated by the female human servant of the Old-As-Fuck Vampire (remember him? of the Slime Leprosy?), and it was just an attempt to conquer Jean-Claude’s hold on the City.

So that’s it. That’s the plot. Just as jumbled as they’ve been since at least Circus of the Damned, and it’s starting to wear on me. Not enough to make me stop reading them, mind you; look, at some point, I bought the majority of the novels, so since I own ’em, I’m going to read ’em.

And if I know me like I think I know me, I’ll pull out the next title in the series next January. I’m not sure why I always end up returning to this series in January; maybe it’s because January is already so fucking miserable, I might as well just add an acid-dipped cherry to the shit sundae that is January in Maine by reading the next Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novel.

So, that’s a thing that’ll be happening next year.

Grade for The Killing Dance: 1 star

 

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Fiction: “Bloody Bones” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Bloody BonesHappy New Year! … One month late, because that’s how I roll. But let’s all forget about my tardiness, roll up our sleeves, and gargle with some warm carbonated water, because it’s time for … THE RANT SONG

*deep breath*

Anita Blake’s fifth outing in her own series takes her out of St. Louis and into the ‘burbs of Branson (which I will always believe is like “If Ned Flanders ran Las Vegas”) for a client who wants her to raise a cemetery’s worth of three-hundred-year-old zombies. As Anita has reluctantly acknowledged her necromancy powers (because Anita does everything reluctantly), she agrees to look at the site and see if she can do it, but she doesn’t agree to take the job. So she and her apprentice Larry take a helicopter ride out to the Branson Burbs and the guy who wants her to raise the zombies wants to raze the cemetery and turn it into a condo complex (or something; look, I read it a month ago and I never really pay too much attention to these books as it is) and the ownership of the land is being contested. Developer Guy says he bought it outright, but this old family (the Bouviers? I think it was the Bouviers, but I’m not going to look it up even though the book is literally three inches from my knee) says it’s their family plot and wasn’t for sale.

Look, I don’t read these books for their interpretation of zombie-related property law; I read these books to see how infuriated Anita’s attitude is going to make me. If she could go for one page without complaining about something, look, I will bake a batch of cookies and air-mail them to Ms. Hamilton at my own expense. But enough about empty threats. Anita has her magical way of getting involved in, like, three different big events in this book and while they all end up being connected, Anita’s “oh no I have to get involved again and it’s only my responsibility to save everyone but no one listens to me so you can’t expect me to have feelings about any of this shit so when can I go home and get some sleep” shtick is really starting to wear thin.

Also, no lie, she started to sound like Sandy from Daria in my head a bit there.

While Anita’s scoping out the cemetery, she gets called to a murder scene as part of the St. Louis Preternatural Squad. She tells her client that she’ll be back at full dark to raise a couple of zombies for him. Then she goes to the murder scene and gets into a spitting match with the detective working the scene. Then she and Larry go to Bloody Bones, a restaurant run by fairies (not joking) to have dinner. While they’re eating, Anita gets called to another murder scene. At this house, the daughter of the family has been killed by a vampire and possibly turned**, and so Anita waits for the sheriff and some other people to go on a search. They search the woods and don’t find the vampire, but the vampire finds them and kills like, two of them. Then, she decides to call Jean-Claude to come up and visit because she needs his master vampireness to get her in with the master vampire in Branson, and because he lurves Anita, he of course agrees to fly up on his private jet, whateverTHEN, Anita and Larry head back to the cemetery to try and raise a couple of zombies and end up raising like, forty, which doesn’t usually happen, but apparently Anita’s necromancy has super juice powers or something, and then the fairy from Bloody Bones shows up and Anita’s client tries to straight-up murder the dude, but Anita and Larry stop them and the fairy gets away, and then Anita and Larry head back to Branson to pick up Jean-Claude and his werewolf pet Jason from the airport but someone stole Jean-Claude’s coffin as a prank, and finally – FINALLY – Anita gets like, maybe, four hours of sleep.

THIS WHOLE THING TAKES PLACE DURING ONE NIGHT. ONE. NIGHT. ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SEVEN PAGES WERE ONE NIGHT. WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK.

Okay so anyway. Anita orders Jean-Claude to come out and help her out, and she hates every fucking second of having to do it. Because while she’s still dating Richard, in order to maintain peace between the werewolves and the vampires, she also has to date Jean-Claude. Which, holy shit, you guys, that is one heaping piece of whatever bullshit pie. And Jean-Claude keeps trying to seduce Anita, but Anita’s too much of a bitch (a smart bitch, because what kind of self-respecting vampire hunter would let herself get seduced by the very thing she’s hunting, Buffy) to let herself fall for him, but the lady doth protest too much, methinks. Then the whole “raising a cemetery for clients” thing goes by the wayside as Team Jean-Claude gets into a war with some ultra vamps from Branson (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type) and the fairy is involved somehow, and in order to save everyone, Anita turns herself into a human servant of Seraphina, the master vampire of Branson, but she’s able to use her necromancy or whatever and turn a vampire into a zombie for a brief moment in time and that allows her to escape, and the whole thing ends abruptly with almost everyone dying except Team Jean-Claude, who go back to St. Louis and their tale of apathetic relationships.

Also there’s a brief subplot about how Seraphina was able to hack into Anita’s wants and desires through Anita’s Dead Mommy Issues, but I’m not going to get into it because you guys, I’m really kind of depressed right now. 2015 IS THE DARKEST TIMELINE.

I had so many problems with this book. The fact that so much action occurs in such a short span of time threw me. I think, when all was said and done, the book only covered about three days. The book is almost four hundred pages long! And Anita’s life doesn’t have many spots where the action slows down so we can catch our breath; in fact, that’s almost a detriment. Because there are tons of things I still don’t understand about this world that Ms. Hamilton has created, and I’m afraid that she hasn’t explained them fully in order to keep the plots of her books moving right along.

**FOR INSTANCE, how the fuck does a vampire turn a human in this fucking series? I miss the days of Buffy where they suck your blood, you suck their blood (it’s all one big sucking thing), then the vampire snaps your neck, you die, and then you rise in three days only to see Buffy’s amazing late-90s footwear and The Slayer herself twirling a stake amidst her Ring Pop-covered fingers, waiting for you patiently with a smile and a pun. Apparently, in the Anita-verse, the older a vampire is, the more powerful he is. Unless you’re a master of a city, in which case there’s a shitload of protocol to follow, and even when they follow the protocol, the masters never play nice with Jean-Claude, for some fucking reason (REASON: the author is a drama queen). That almost makes me wish for the well-thought-out democracy the Vampire Nation had in True Blood, but while I type that I must disclaim that I’ve only watched up through season three and I have no idea what happens after that, please don’t spoil me, I only want to know when I’m right.

And I know that at some point, this series of books is going to take a hard right from horror/mystery and skid right into the supernatural erotica sphere, and I’m afraid that I’m not going to get the answers I seek before that happens.  ALL I WANT IS A FLOW CHART FOR VAMPIRE TURNING AND ALSO ONE FOR THE VAMPIRICAL HIERARCHY, IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK

Here are a couple of things I actually found funny:

Why take the legs? A trophy? Maybe. Serial killers took trophies, clothing, personal items, a body part. Maybe a trophy? [p. 43]

Oh, at one of the murders (I can’t remember which one and I can’t be arsed to look it up), the Feds get called in. One of them is named Agent Bradford, but since it was a last name I wasn’t going to say anything. But then, on the sixth page from the end of the fucking book, this happened:

As agent on site, Bradford was in charge. Special Agent Bradley Bradford, yes Bradley Bradford, seemed to think I knew what I was doing. [p. 364]

WHAT. WHAT THE FUCK. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. That is the LAZIEST SHIT I have EVER SEEN, and I just want you to know that I could make a joke about a faulty toilet right here (and I really really want to), but I have my parents coming over on Sunday and I don’t want them to get any ideas about my housekeeping skills or lack thereof. WHO THE FUCK NAMES A CHARACTER BRADLEY BRADFORD. That’s like … I don’t even know what it’s like, Mulder! Except that it is the worst. It’s stupid; it’s lazy, and I hate it.

Because look, as someone who imagines herself to be a writer, I take care with the names of all of my characters, no matter the word count attributed to their dialogue. I like to make sure the names sound well, and appropriate, and all I can think of in this instance is that Ms. Hamilton decided to make Bradley Bradford’s parents horrible people. What kind of mother (because I don’t know about y’all, but in the event I actually end up having kids, the rule in the house will be “Whoever pushes the largest object out of the smallest orifice gets to name the baby”) whose last name is Bradford would look at her husband/partner/whatever and say, “Honey, let’s name him after my father, Bradley,” and her husband/partner/whatever would look at her and go, “Honey, that’s a great name, I love it” and they wouldn’t realize it until they get the birth certificate that reads BRADLEY RUTHERFORD BRADFORD and instead of immediately grabbing the nearest bottle of Wite-Out and yelling DO-OVER, the parents just shrug and say, “Meh. He’ll be fine. He won’t grow up to be maladjusted whatsoever.”

It’s STUPID. IT’S STUPID, AND IT’S LAZY, AND I HAAAAAAAAAAAAATE IT.

And then there’s Anita. Surly, bitchy, “can’t be bothered to care but then cares too much and whines about it” Anita. I mean, what other reason is there besides convenience to make Anita have to date both Richard and Jean-Claude? Sure, it’s apparently to maintain peace in the city, but if Anita doesn’t like Jean-Claude as much as she proclaims, then it shouldn’t be too difficult for her to say “nah bro, fuck off.” (Although this book is the first time in my recollection where Anita actually admits that she found herself attracted to Jean-Claude. She’d never denied his overall attractiveness, but she did deny how it affected her. No denial allowed in Branson, apparently.)

Overall, Anita’s still a bitch – always quick with a deflecting quip and armed almost literally to the teeth, projecting swagger like a badass to make up for the fact that she feels like a weak little girl, except … except she’s not a weak little girl. Anita is strong, and she can take care of herself; yes, Bradley Bradford is right, she does know what she’s doing. And I think what I would love to see happen in this series is for Anita to own up to that, and not constantly deprecate herself and her abilities. I think, if Anita liked herself a bit more, I might be able to like her more.

Nah, bro; that’s never gonna happen.

Grade for Bloody Bones: 1 star

Fiction: “The Lunatic Cafe” by Laurell K. Hamilton

lunatic cafeToday’s been a weird day. It was our first official Snow Day at the store, which is awesome for me on a personal level — not so awesome at the fact that Winter Storm Nemo may have just screwed us out of having a good week for once. But on that mythical, personal level, it was my first Snow Day because the place that I worked closed, and I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself aside from dancing in my pajamas for about ten minutes.

So I set myself up for a couple of goals: I wanted to finish reading this book today; I needed to shovel off my deck, as it’s the way to get in and out of my apartment; and I wanted to watch Die Hard II: Die Harder, because DIE HARD FIVE COMES OUT THIS WEEK AND I WANT IT SO BAD I MEAN CAN I GO SEE IT NOW

Good news – I accomplished one and a half of my goals!

I’m not sure why I picked up The Lunatic Cafe, aside from I remember saying it as an option for a future book while I was reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I guess I was just looking for something that was the complete opposite of that book? I succeeded!

So. When we left off, Anita was starting to date Richard, who is a legit werewolf. This is pissing Jean-Claude off, because he lurves Anita and wants her for himself. The good news is that Jean-Claude isn’t in the book much, so I don’t have to bitch about how frequently Jean-Claude calls Anita ma petite, italics included. Because I really fucking hate that.

Richard is a member of Marcus’s pack, and there’s a power struggle that Richard doesn’t want Anita to get dragged into, but Anita doesn’t want Richard to make decisions for her. Also, there are some shapeshifters and/or lycanthropes missing. And Anita is also looking into a murder that may have involved a werewolf in another county, and the investigation is being run by a couple of Teutonic twats. (Yeah, I said that. I am using that word to describe men. Also, it’s a quote. Name that movie.) Uh, what else. Oh, one of Jean-Claude’s minion vampires is insanely jealous of Anita, so much so that halfway through the book she attacks Anita, takes away her guns, and forces Anita to tell Jean-Claude that she’s engaged to Richard, which becomes a whole big thing, and basically, this book suffers from Too Many Plots, Not Enough Depth.I have to say that the writing and grammar seems to have improved in this title versus the other three I’ve read over the past couple of years. So there – I said something good about it!

Now back to the bad stuff – because much like approximately one million people and Smash, some people just like to hate-watch. I hate-read: picking apart a series is what gives me pleasure about reading the series. Yeah, it means I’m bitchy, but you gotta admit, sometimes my rants are hilarious.

Oh, PS: even though I’m not going on an airplane any time soon, I may find myself dragging out the next Patricia Cornwell.

Anita keeps up her little trend of always needing to be right, or the most dominant, or in control, or whatever you want to call it, but it is so annoying, and in some cases, actually life-threatening for her:

“Let her acknowledge your dominance over her. Acknowledge that she needs your help.”

Marcus stared at me. “Acknowledge my dominance, and I will call Jason off.”

“If he starts to shapeshift, I’ll kill him. You know I’ll do it, Marcus. Call him off.”

“If I am to give you my protection, you must acknowledge me.”

“Fuck you, Marcus. I’m not asking you to save me. I’m asking you to save him. Or don’t you care about your pack members?” [103]

I mean … if I was being attacked by a werewolf and the only way to save my hide is to either assert that the pack leader is dominant or shoot an innocent person with a shapeshifting disease in the face, I’m gonna go with lifting my hands in supplication and saying “Hey, man, you’re the boss, call Taylor Lautner off and I’m your boo.”

Apparently, when I’m in werewolf danger, I become strangely urban. (I may have to stop rewatching Dark Angel?)

Here’s what happens when Anita leaves a voicemail for Edward, a coworker:

A long, low beep sounded. “This is Anita. What the hell are you doing in town? Call me soon.”

[…]

The phone rang before I’d gotten warm. I waited for the machine to pick up; after the eighth ring I gave up. I’d forgotten to turn on the machine. Great.

“This better be important,” I said.

“You said to call soon.” It was Edward.

I pulled the receiver under the blankets with me. “Hi, Edward.”

“Hi.”

“Why are you in town? And why were you at the Lunatic Cafe?”

“Why were you?”

“It is nearly six in the freaking morning, I haven’t been to sleep yet. I don’t have time for games.” [111]

*deep breath*

YOU CALLED *HIM*, ANITA, AND ASKED HIM TO CALL YOU BACK *IMMEDIATELY*. JESUS.

Her need to be Whatever (I have no name for it besides that) also affects her relationship with Richard:

“I don’t need your protection, Richard. I don’t even want it.”

He leaned his head against the headrest and closed his eyes. “If I play the white knight, you’ll leave me.”

“If you think you need to play the white knight, then you don’t know me at all.”

He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at me. “Maybe I want to be your white knight.” [197]

Actually, let me back up for a second, because while in this scene Anita is being incredibly stubborn and borderline bitchy, I must admit that I am not sure I wouldn’t react any differently. I pride myself on being very independent, and while every once in a while I would like to have a man about the house, I must also admit that I haven’t needed one to be a white knight for anything. I mean, I could have used one a few months ago when I couldn’t get a window unstuck on ‘open,’ but then one night I realized that if you put a flathead screwdriver in between the frame and the jamb to unstick the swollen paint, that gets the window unstuck. So, suck it, dudes, I guess I’m all set for now.

But it would be really nice to have a guy want to be my white knight. Just sayin’.

Okay, maudlin moment over. Let’s get back to the mocking, shall we?

Something that I kind of laughed at is how Anita suddenly had family …

“Maybe I’ll find Josh something there.”

“How old is he now, thirteen?” Ronnie asked.

“Fifteen,” I said. “My baby brother was my height last year. He’ll be gigantic this year. Judith says he’s outgrowing his jeans faster than she can buy them.” [116]

What … I mean, where did that tidbit come from? I remember learning in The Laughing Corpse that Anita had a stepmother, but I don’t remember any mention of siblings.

And in the Too Lazy To Go Look It Up category, I’m pretty sure this story has changed its tune since Guilty Pleasures:

“I was always a good girl. I didn’t sleep around. In college I met someone, we got engaged, we set a date, we made love. He dumped me.”

“He’d done all that just to get you in bed?”

[…] “His mother didn’t like my mother being Mexican.” [142]

Okay, first off, I’m pretty sure that in the first book, Anita hadn’t slept with anyone. And secondly, I think she may have mentioned that her mother was Mexican, but … wow. Racism is apparently in effect in St. Louis, the home of vampires and werewolves. The fuck?

And this is a beautiful segueway into this quote:

I also wouldn’t have chosen my boyfriend’s old lover for backup. What had Richard been thinking? Or maybe Raina hadn’t given him a choice. Her coming today, not the sex. I still wasn’t sure how I felt about that. All right. I knew how I felt. I was pissed. But I’d slept with someone else. Glass houses and all. [294]

YOU SLEPT WITH ONE OTHER PERSON. HE SLEPT WITH ANOTHER WOMAN WHEN HE WAS YOUNGER. YOU’RE JUST PISSED BECAUSE SHE’S A BITCHY WEREWOLF WHO DOESN’T LIKE YOU. SHUT UP, ANITA.

Believe it or not, there’s a little more, but I don’t want to keep talking about this book. I’m currently reading two historical romances, but my Lunch Break book is going to turn into The Runaway Jury very quickly, because … I have jury duty coming up this week. Be sure to follow me on Twitter [@WillBeFunOrElse] to stay up-to-date with my inevitable disappointment that my jury duty does not descend into Franklin & Bash-style antics.

Grade for The Lunatic Cafe: 1.5 stars

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

Fiction: “The Laughing Corpse” by Laurell K. Hamilton

I’m not sure if I’m suffering from Book ADD or just overall ennui, but after finishing Guilty Pleasures, it seemed ‘good enough’ to continue with The Laughing Corpse.

One of the reasons I’ve read Guilty Pleasures so often is because I keep trying to get back into the series, but I’ll get about fifty or sixty pages or so into The Laughing Corpse and give up. [In fact, you’ll notice that I was attempting to reread this particular title back in 2009.] Why? A number of reasons. Boredom, for one. Mainly because this entry in the series is particularly gory, and gruesome in ways that it probably didn’t need to be. After completing it again today, I would like to add a third option: her writing skills don’t improve.

But let’s talk about the plot first. Anita Blake is still an animator for Animator’s Inc., and this book begins with her and her boss, Bert, meeting with a potential client. The client, Harold Gaynor, is an old man in a wheelchair that wants her to raise a 300-year-old corpse, and he agrees to pay her and her company one meeeeellion dollars [/Dr. Evil]. Except that in order to raise such an old zombie, Anita would have to sacrifice ‘the white goat’ – human sacrifice. And to quote one of the great philosophers of my generation, Homey don’t play that.

She continues on her merry way until there is a massacre of a family in town. She is called in for her expertise on the Spook Squad (a division of the St. Louis police department that investigates supernatural crimes), and … it’s brutal. How Ms. Hamilton was able to give that level of description without horking all over the place is beyond me. Turns out the culprit is a flesh-eating zombie, and when I say ‘flesh-eating,’ I mean ‘there’s not too much body left to discern that it was human before-eating.’ It’s kind of gross.

Anita proposes that the only animator strong enough to raise such a zombie would be Dominga Salvador, a voodoo priestess so scary that even Anita is afraid of her (but more on that tangent later). Dominga wants Anita to join her in her zombie making factory: Dominga has figured out how to raise zombies and put their souls back in the bodies so the corpses won’t decay. Anita (rightly) sees it as a desecration and refuses to have anything to do with it. She offends Dominga Salvador with her bravado and refusal to bow to threats, and now she has the threat of a very pissed off voodoo priestess coming after her, in the guise of two zombies attacking her in her home.

As the book continues, she ends up with another problem: Jean-Claude, the vampire from Guilty Pleasures, wants her to capitulate and become his human servant (she already bears two of the marks, whatever that means – he bit her or imprinted on her in the first book to bring her under his power, but it’s never very clearly defined). Of course, she wants nothing to do with him and refuses, but that shakes his new power in front of the rest of the vampires, and also, he lurves her.

In the end, everything comes together (as it always tends to do). Anita is able to figure out why the zombie killed the families without provocation, she is able to dispatch both Dominga Salvador and Harold Gaynor, and she’s even able to continue to keep Jean-Claude at a distance. What I experienced in this novel was a continuation from Guilty Pleasures around Anita not wanting to do something, really not wanting to do something, but then being forced to do it anyway — and she knew she was going to be forced! If you know you’re going to be forced to do something, why do you continue to bitch about it?

Speaking of continuing to bitch: here’s something that will continue as I continue through the Anita Blake series. {“But Alaina! Why are you continuing to read this tripe if you are complaining about it so much?” [turns to a non-existant audience, a la Craig Ferguson] “Irony is not my strong suit!”} Remember how I said that Anita does things she doesn’t want to do? And she bitches about it constantly? I almost think it’s a direct result of being paid by the word. Because there is no reason for some of this repetition.

Here’s a classic scene. I apologize for the length of the quote, but I feel it’s necessary to make my point:

“You slew the white goat for me, more than once.”

I turned towards Manny. It was like that moment in a movie where the main character has a revelation about someone. There should be music and camera angles when you learn one of your best friends participated in human sacrifice. More than once she had said. More than once.

“Manny?” My voice was a hoarse whisper. This, for me, was worse than the zombies. The hell with strangers. This was Manny, and it couldn’t be true.

“Manny?” I said it again. He wouldn’t look at me. Bad sign.

“You didn’t know, chica? Didn’t your Manny tell you of his past?”

[…]

“Shut up!” I screamed … She stopped, her face thinning with anger. Enzo took two steps into the altar area. “Don’t.” I wasn’t even sure who I was saying it to. “I need to hear from him, not from you.”

The anger was still in her face. Enzo loomed like an avalanche about to be unleashed. Dominga gave one sharp nod. “Ask him then, chica.”

“Manny, is she telling the truth? Did you perform human sacrifices?” My voice sounded so normal. It shouldn’t have. My stomach was so tight, it hurt. I wasn’t afraid anymore, or at least not of Dominga. The truth; I was afraid of the truth.

He looked up. His hair fell across his face framing his eyes. A lot of pain in those eyes. Almost flinching.

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?” My skin felt cold. “Answer me, dammit.” My voice still sounded ordinary, calm.

“Yes,” he said.

“Yes, you committed human sacrifice?”

He glared at me now, anger helping him meet my eyes. “Yes, yes!”

It was my turn to look away. “God, Manny, how could you?” [58-59]

Having typed this all out, all I can see in my head is an atrocious “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” sketch on SNL where Anita Blake is played by Kristen Wiig, and all she does is keep asking Manny if he committed human sacrifice, in increasingly annoying voices, and not believing it even when he proves it in front of her by slitting Andy Samberg’s throat.

I do like how Anita creates her world. For instance:

“I hope you appreciate how many dragons I had to slay to save that seat for you,” [Irving] said. […]

“Dragons are easy, try vampires sometimes,” I said.

His eyes widened. Before his mouth could form the question, I said, “I’m kidding, Irving.” Sheesh, some people just don’t have a sense of humor. “Besides, dragons were never native to North America,” I said. [97]

Dragons! In North America!

Here we see her like me: making rules for everyday things:

Rule number three hundred sixty-nine when dealing with unfamiliar magic: when in doubt, leave it alone.

I left it alone. [52]

And right on cue, here’s my problem with this: Why would “leaving something alone when in doubt” NOT be RULE NUMBER ONE?

She also gives advice to the readers regarding how to deal with supernatural beasties, but I seem to feel that she may not be the expert that she claims to be…

Important safety tip with most of the spiritual world: if you ignore it, it has less power. This does not work with demons or other demi-beings. Other exceptions to the rule are vampires, zombies, ghouls, lycanthropes, witches … Oh, hell, ignoring only works for ghosts. But it does work. [120]

Is it me, or does it sound like Ms. Hamilton had a good solid thought, but then her own logic and worldview fucked it up? Or, rather, it’s like when I try to name my favorite movie. “Die Hard. And Back to the Future. But my favorite Bond movie is Goldfinger. And Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is never Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, by the way. And also Empire Records. Wait, only one favorite movie?”

Her problems with grammar continue, as well.

The night sky was a curving bowl of liquid black. Stars like pinprick diamonds gave a cold, hard light. The moon was a glowing patchwork of greys and goldish-silver. The city makes you forget how dark the night, how bright the moon, how very many stars. [114]

This one needs an adverb in the last sentence, or something. No — it needs the main part of a helping verb.

There are more instances of this, but this was apparently the only one I dogeared. Ms. Hamilton definitely has a problem with question marks:

I really didn’t know what you did to repair bullet holes? [147]

In context, she’s not disbeliving of herself – she’s actually stating that she really doesn’t know what one does to repair bullet holes. Ms. Hamilton just thinks a question mark belongs there.

And this one wins the Stephenie Meyer Dust Moat Award. I refuse to dignify it with a response; I’m just going to let this sit here in the ether:

I use to come to the morgue fairly regularly. [222]

Finally, the whole zombie thing. In this universe, the only way to create a zombie is to raise another from the grave:

The paramedics warned me to get a tetanus booster. Zombies don’t make more zombies by biting, but the dead have nasty mouths. [140]

So, good to know that there won’t be a mad zombie apocalypse brewin’ in this iteration of St. Louis. But, it brings up the thought that was this year’s topic of supernatural discussion at New Year’s: Resolved: The threat of a zombie apocalypse would create an uneasy alliance between humans and vampires. And I’m no longer talking about Anita Blake’s universe: I’m talking about ours. I believe that to be true. In the event that zombies rise up and begin chasing after us, looking for brains, I have to believe that an uneasy alliance will be formed between humans and vampires. Humans will have to rely on vampires for their preternatural strength, and vampires will rely on us for food. Once the zombie threat is eliminated, humans and vampires will most likely go their separate ways (unless romantic relationships have formed, in which case, sign me up for the Mystic Falls chapter). There’s a lot more I could get into, but I’m crossing my fingers that eventually, a zombie uprising will occur in these books so I can dig into it at that point.

The best piece of advice I can give a reader of this blog who might be looking at this series is: it is not for the faint of heart nor for the weak of stomach. Some of these murder scenes are particularly gruesome, and I had to fast-read a few paragraphs to move along. I can’t recall what any of the other books are like, but this title always stood out as one of the goriest. So: caveat lector.

Grade for The Laughing Corpse: 1 star

Fiction: “Guilty Pleasures” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Not sure if everyone’s aware, but I’m kind of into vampires. And by ‘into,’ I mean ‘know a lot about them.’ Having cut my teeth on The X-Files‘s episode “Bad Blood,” starring Luke Wilson as a sheriff who may or may not have buck teeth and may or may not be a vampire but certainly has David Duchovney singing the theme to Shaft, I progressed rather quickly through Dracula and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, it was due to a blurb’s description of this novel as “An R-Rated Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that I purchased this book in the first place, back in November 2003.

Since then, I have read this stupid book three times (this is numero tres). You’re probably asking yourself, “why has she read this three times if she calls it stupid?” Well, let me refer you to my statement at the beginning of the entry for when I attempted to read Wideacre: I am a masochist.

And really, here’s why I chose to read Guilty Pleasures again: a), I had just finished reading Jane Eyre and wanted a little more substance in my brain dessert than the Regency romances I usually frequent in these instances; b) I found myself in the Border’s romance aisle giving serious contemplation to a vampire/human romance (why? WHY???); c) The Vampire Diaries has been on hiatus TOO FUCKING LONG; d) I never actually finished reading this series the last time round, back in 2006 — hell, I didn’t even get to the part where Ms. Hamilton starts transitioning the series from a horror-filled private detective series into a supernatural midwestern philosophy series.

And where else to start, but at the beginning?

Anita Blake is an animator for Animator’s Inc., a supernatural help-center of sorts in St. Louis. Animators are those that can raise zombies. So yeah: Anita’s job is to raise the living dead. It’s kind of gross, killing chickens and feeding the zombies blood, but there’s not a lot of zombie-raisin’ in this book. (The Laughing Corpse, however, is all about zombies. That’s the next title.)

Anita also freelances as the city’s Executioner – she is responsible for the legal execution of vampire criminals. See, in this series, vampires have been ‘out of the coffin’ (same as in the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series, but meaner and more evil) for a couple of years, and are pretty much regarded citizens of the United States. Meaning, vampires are the legal undead — they just can’t vote. St. Louis is a hotbed of vampires, including the Vampire District, where tourists can mingle with honest-to-goodness vampires. Guilty Pleasures is actually the name of a vampire strip club, owned and operated by Jean-Claude No-Last-Name, a vampire who has a special connection with Anita. Mainly, he enjoys pissing her off by calling her “ma petite.” Because she’s short. Which we hear a lot. (Jean-Claude lurves Anita, be tee dubs.)

So Anita goes to Guilty Pleasures as the designated driver for the small bachelorette party, thrown for her friend Catherine, who is getting married. When she’s called out to a crime scene (murdered vampire) and returns, Catherine has been compelled by a vampire as blackmail for Anita to find the vampire murderer. For under the current new laws, vampires are people too, and killing a vampire is murder, not protection (Buffy would have been screwed). So Anita agrees to look into the murder to save her friend. But she’s not happy about it.

Other characters: Phillip, the sweet man who has a thing for being bitten by vampires; Edward, who if Anita is the Executioner, then Edward would be Death himself to vampires – a former hit man who now gets his jollies by killing vampires; Ronnie, Anita’s private detective friend who looks into a red herring for her; and Nikolaos, the vampire master of the city, who is apparently a 1,000-year-old child vampire. So, y’know, Kirsten Dunst in Interview of the Vampire, but even more awful and sadistic. And she scares the shit out of Anita.

Here’s what I like about Anita: she’s tough, and even when her instinct is to run and hide, her … whatever it is takes over. In this snippet, she’s trying to sanitize a vampire bite with Holy Water (look! a vampire story that involves Holy Water and other Catholic artifacts as weapons!), and it’s akin to pouring acid on herself:

If we hadn’t cleansed the wound with enough Holy Water, the cross would burn me, and I’d have a fresh scar. I had been brave above and beyond the call of duty. I didn’t want to play anymore. I opened my mouth to say “No,” but it wasn’t what came out. “Do it,” I said. Shit. I was going to be brave. [222]

But here’s what I don’t like about Anita. And really, I guess, it’s not something about Anita I don’t like, but how Ms. Hamilton writes. I haven’t been bothered to look up to see if this was her first novel (I don’t think it was), but what she does here is try really, really hard to make it sound like a pulp fiction, hard-boiled detective novel. But what happens is that she fails miserably.

Here’s an example:

Valentine was instantly there, kneeling by the body. “What have you done?” He couldn’t see the knife. It was shielded by Aubrey’s body.

“I killed him, you son of a bitch, just like I’m going to kill you.”

Valentine jerked to his feet, started to say something, and all hell broke loose. The cell door crashed inward and smashed to bits against the far wall. A tornado wind blasted into the room.

[…(later on down the page)…]

[Nikolaos] shrieked. “Look at me!”

And I did. I fell into the blue fire that was her eyes. The fire burrowed into my brain, pain. Her thoughts cut me up like knives, slicing away parts of me. Her rage scalded and burned until I thought the skin was peeling away from my face. Claws scrapped the inside of my skull, grinding bone into dust. [214]

So, so many things wrong up there. So many things.

And then there’s just grammatical errors:

We were standing just below a landing, a turn in the stairs. There have been times when I wished I could see around corners. This was one of them. The scrape of cloth against stone, the rub of shoes. [72]

This paragraph could be fixed with a semicolon, and a couple of verbs. Because what did the scrape of cloth against stone and the rub of shoes signify? Were they heard? Were they the precurser to, I don’t know, someone following them up the stairs?

This one bothered me from its pure laziness:

Theresa strode over to us in a swish of cloth. “Enough of this, animator. He can’t do it, so he pays the price. Either leave now, or join us at our … feast.”

“Are you having rare Who-roast-beast?” I asked.

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s from Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You know the part, ‘And they’d Feast! Feast! Feast! Feast! They would feast on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast-beast.'” [155]

I just … what’s the point of going through the whole spiel? I can see being a wise-ass and asking about rare Who Roast Beast, but going through the actual lines from the show? If you’re so damned scared of that vampire, Anita, why are you running your mouth off about random shit? It just bugged me. (Obviously.)

I’ve already started The Laughing Corpse, and the writing is kind of better. Not by much. But the book is longer than Guilty Pleasures, so we’ll see.

To get back to the vampires: these vampires are legitimately scary. Their powers aren’t completely divulged in this book, but: they can compel humans to do their bidding; they can create human servants by progressing through a series of bites and other rites that are kind of skimmed over; they can control their appearance to others using mind-control (having typed all these out, I see that these vampires are more mental and telepathic than ‘normal’ vampires); they enjoy doling out pain and using humans to satisfy their needs.

In short: they don’t fucking sparkle.

Grade for Guilty Pleasures: 2 stars