The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack

Subtitle

Laurell K. Hamilton

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter

I’m going to try something different on this series page than I have in the past. Generally, when I do a series page, I simply review each book in a series, often as I read it for the first time. This time, I’m going to use each book to explore the series as a whole, so there may be a few spoilers in the reviews.


When Laurell K. Hamilton published Guilty Pleasures in 1993 there weren’t a lot of other books like it out there—now the urban fantasy genre is packed full of tough female protagonists who go toe-to-toe with the undead and other supernatural beings on a regular basis. With Guilty Pleasures and the following books, Hamilton helped to establish the modern urban fantasy subgenre. The first novel and its immediate sequels has all of the components generally thought of as urban fantasy. The setting is a recognizable United States of America with the big change being that supernatural creatures are known to exist and society is trying to wrap its head around the implications that result from that. There’s a touch of romance, but the basic story is about our heroine, Anita Blake, and a mystery/adventure involving the supernatural side of her world. The stories are gritty and often very violent with much of the excitement being the uncovering of this alternate world.


Urban fantasy series are not static and Hamilton’s Anita Blake has evolved tremendously since its ground breaking beginning—an evolution which has pulled her far away from her “I don’t date vampires, I kill them,” beginnings. The middle part of the series involves Anita being infected with a supernatural condition called the ardeur and needing to feed succubus-like on lovers to survive. She also gets increasingly confused as to whether the vampires and the werewolves are all bad guys. By the final third of the books, she’s become something the Blake of Guilty Pleasures would have hated, but the world is not black and white to Anita anymore.


I started reading these books in 2001 just before Hamilton made her first shift in the direction of the novels. Like most authors (maybe all of them) a good book/series gets me thinking about how I would do a spin off, or what character I would insert into this world to add some excitement without stealing the thunder from the main already-established characters. More important yet, Blake’s adventures made me seek out a lot more urban fantasy novels and eventually led me to write a bunch of urban fantasy books myself. I can’t give the Anita Blake series total credit for that interest, but it certainly greatly strengthened my appreciation for and love of the genre.


When Hamilton’s interest changed, my enjoyment in the series diminished. By my memory, it happened right after Obsidian Butterfly (which I recall as the single best novel of the series). The love triangle and the mystery/adventures that had dominated the first books just didn’t seem to interest Hamilton anymore and so Anita Blake got infected with the ardeur and suddenly needed to have sex with seemingly every man she met. If she didn’t feed, really bad things happen. Since Anita Blake had always been interested in monogamous relationships, this new power was emotionally difficult for her to handle, but handle it she did and book after book became much more about sex and the emotional baggage that came with it than how she would defeat the latest threat to St. Louis and the world. Frankly, I found the change disappointing and off-putting. These passages always felt like distractions from the plot of the story and I always felt like the novels would have been better if the actual sex had happened behind closed doors. But, based on reviews I was reading, I did what most people did. I skimmed through Hamilton’s new obsession as I sought out the nuggets of plot that had originally attracted me to the series.


It’s my impression that Hamilton evolved the series again after a few books, letting the sex take up a smaller percentage of the story and focusing primarily on plot and relationship. Some of those relationships were really important to the series, and some felt like watching a soap opera and wondering why the editor hadn’t cut half of those pages from the story. In either event, the series was rebounding and making me happier about reading it again.


Or at least that’s how I remember it happening. I guess I’ll discover if my memory is playing tricks with me as I work my way through the series again starting with Guilty Pleasures. I’m going to do each review in three pieces: the cover, the story, and recurring characters.

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 1 Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Cover:

Let’s start with the cover to the October 1993 Ace paperback edition. Perhaps the kindest thing to say about this cover is that it is cheesy. It seems to be built upon an idea that was circulated in science fiction for a long time—that readers didn’t care about the cover. That is patently untrue. A good cover really helps book sales and there is nothing about this cover that would attract anyone to read the book. In fact, my sister-in-law saw me reading the novel and said that she would never read a book with a cover this bad. I wish I remember why I tried this first one, because I absolutely do not recall. All I can say is that I read it despite the cover.


The Story:

Guilty Pleasures is a great book from the first page to the last—a masterful way to open one of the premiere urban fantasy series—one that helped to establish the now-archetypal tough as nails female investigator/practitioner of supernatural crime. Anita Blake is both an animator—a person cursed with the ability to raise corpses from the grave—and a vampire hunter in an America in which the Supreme Court has just given civil rights to the bloodsucking undead. Now vampires are out of the closet and viewed by many as an exotic tourist attraction—dangerous, but safe—right? Because the Supreme Court wouldn’t have given them rights if they really hurt people, would they? Except that sometimes vampires still kill people and the normal legal authorities can’t handle them. So, judges issue a writ of execution and hunters are set loose to try and kill the rogue before it kills other people. Anita Blake is so successful in this trade that the vampires have nicknamed her the Executioner, but it has come at a heavy cost. Her body is a mass of scars and there is clearly psychological trauma as well.


The novel opens very effectively with a vampire, Willie McCoy, trying to hire Anita to look into the illegal murders of several vampires in St. Louis. Willie is the first person Anita knew as a human before he became a vampire. The difference between live Willie and undead Willie is the vampire scares her. Anita can’t even risk meeting his gaze lest he mesmerize her. Anita refuses to take the job and Willie sadly warns her that her answer will anger powerful vampires setting the stage for the main plot of the story.


The novel kicks into high gear a few chapters later when Anita is dragged to a bachelorette party for her friend, Catherine, at the vampire strip club, Guilty Pleasures. Multiple important elements of the story and the series are introduced in the next few chapters. First, and most important, Hamilton introduces Jean Claude, the sexy master vampire who will play games with Anita for the rest of the series. He is very powerful and clearly enjoys flirting with Anita. She, on the other hand, understands he is a monster but clearly is attracted to him just the same.


We also learn that there is a Master of the City who controls the other vampires and meet two particularly bad undead creatures of the night. Aubrey illegally ensnares Catherine as a lever to be used against Anita. Catherine is now under his complete control and can only be released by his death. Valentine is a vampire who almost killed Anita and her mentor, Edward. They thought he was dead, but he survived with disfiguring holy water scars across his face. Both Aubrey and Valentine are only waiting for Anita to finish her work for the Master of the City before coming after her to kill her. We also learn that the Master of the City is a terrifying thousand-year-old vampire who looks like she’s twelve. She needs Anita to figure out whose killing her vampires but definitely gives the impression that she plans to break Anita rather than let her go afterward. It’s a terrible situation made all the worse by something magical that Jean Claude does to Anita before the Master turns on him in a dominance struggle that he clearly loses.


Anita barely escapes, returning home to find her mentor, the assassin, Edward, waiting for her in her apartment. Edward is the best character in the series—a stone cold killer who started hunting vampires, lycanthropes and other supernatural creatures because mere humans weren’t a big enough challenge. Edward has accepted a contract to kill the Master of the City and wants Anita to tell her where she sleeps during the day but Anita is worried that if she gives him the information, Catherine will suffer.


With this, we have all the pieces in place. Anita is trying to investigate the vampire killings, but the Master is crazy and she and her vampires keep interfering with the task they are forcing Anita to pursue. It took me a while to figure out why, but the death of her vampires, many of them master vampires, has disrupted the Master of the City’s reign and she fears that all of this is a play to dethrone (i.e. kill) her. And Jean Claude’s games with Anita have created a bond between them that is preventing the Master from punishing him in her traditional fashion (locking him in a coffin and letting him go mad from his unsatisfied bloodlust). Add to that her crazed need to dominate and break everyone she meets and Anita is in terrible trouble. What the Master doesn’t understand is that Anita isn’t the sort of person who lays down and dies. When she’s terrified, she strikes back, setting up a phenomenal ending with Anita and Edward going after the Master of the City on her own turf.


It’s just hard to say too much good about this novel. It establishes the urban fantasy reality of the series. Gives us important information on vampires and introduces animators, lycanthropes, and ghouls to the reader. Everything fits together very nicely. And, of course, the ending begs for a sequel without actually giving us a cliffhanger.


Recurring Characters:

Series aren’t series without their recurring characters and Guilty Pleasures gives us a lot of them. I’m going to mention them here so we can check up on them from book to book.


Jean Claude

The new Master of the City is the most important character in the series after Anita, herself, and he may be the only one who appears in every book. There is obviously a romantic connection being created between Anita and Jean Claude although it’s a long way from being acted upon in this first book. On the other hand, Anita did have a chance to kill him and chose not to.


Edward

Edward is the best character in the series hands down. He’s a sociopath and a cold-blooded killer who respects Anita and likes killing monsters with her. At the same time, he clearly wonders who would win if they went up against each other. (I don’t think Anita wonders. She thinks Edward would win.) Still, what starts as an intriguing and frightening man will develop into the most interesting person in the entire series.


Ronnie

Ronnie is a private investigator and Anita’s best friend. She’s tough and courageous and the only person Anita can confide most of what is happening in.


Bert

Bert is Anita’s boss. He basically cares only about money and is very good at raising it. He’s the guy who took the animator ability and figured out how to turn it into a profitable business. He’s not an animator himself, but his constant desire to increase profits will put Anita into a lot of uncomfortable situations.


Catherine

Catherine is one of Anita’s closest friends, but she has a civilian’s naïve view of the undead. She doesn’t understand they are dangerous and sort of serves as a reminder of how vulnerable most people are in Anita’s supernatural world.


Monica

Monica is a partner at Catherine’s law firm who sold her out to please the vampires. She’s definitely sold her soul to the vampires and Anita has threatened her in very final terms if something happens to Catherine. She’s the other side of humanity. She wants what the vampires have and will do whatever they want as she hopes to get it.


Dead Dave and Luther

Dead Dave is a cop who got kicked off the force because he turned into a vampire. He runs a bar in the Vampire District in St. Louis. Luther is his human bartender. They’re basically a source of information for Anita.


Cops

Sergeant Dolph Storr

The police force has created an underfunded unit to deal with supernatural crimes. Dolph is the cop in charge of it. He doesn’t have much of a role in Guilty Pleasures but he’s an important part of the supporting cast as the series progresses.


Zerbrowski

Zerbrowski is a comic relief cop who teases Anita mercilessly but always gets the tables turned on him. Like Dolph, he becomes a fuller and more important character as the series progresses.


Vampires

Willie McCoy

Willie was a two-bit hood in life and is a vampire-two-bit hood in death, yet he tried to warn Anita twice that she was in trouble with Master of the City. He confuses the picture of vampires because he accepted a terrible punishment to try and do what any human would believe was the right thing.


Malcolm

Malcolm is a master vampire who runs The Church of Eternal Life. It’s basically a church who turns its converts into vampires. Malcolm preaches against violence. He and his church will be important in later books.


Robert

Robert is one of Jean Claude’s vampires. His role in Guilty Pleasures was small—he failed to protect a human from the minions of the Master of the City. Therefore, he looks weak. We’ll see more of him.


Animators Inc.

Bert

Bert is Anita’s boss. He basically cares only about money and is very good at raising it. He’s the guy who took the animator ability and figured out how to turn it into a profitable business. He’s not an animator himself, but his constant desire to increase profits will put Anita into a lot of uncomfortable situations.


Jamison Clarke

He’s an animator who loves the vampires and money. It’s not clear if the problem is that he doesn’t believe the vampires are dangerous or just loves the money. Either way, he doesn’t come off looking good.


Friends/Contacts

Ronnie

Ronnie is a private investigator and Anita’s best friend. She’s tough and courageous and the only person Anita can confide most of what is happening in.


Catherine

Catherine is one of Anita’s closest friends, but she has a civilian’s naïve view of the undead. She doesn’t understand they are dangerous and sort of serves as a reminder of how vulnerable most people are in Anita’s supernatural world.


Monica

Monica is a partner at Catherine’s law firm who sold her out to please the vampires. She’s definitely sold her soul to the vampires and Anita has threatened her in very final terms if something happens to Catherine. She’s the other side of humanity. She wants what the vampires have and will do whatever they want as she hopes to get it.


Dead Dave and Luther

Dead Dave is a cop who got kicked off the force because he turned into a vampire. He runs a bar in the Vampire District in St. Louis. Luther is his human bartender. They’re basically a source of information for Anita.


Irving

Irving is both a reporter and a werewolf. He occasionally trades info with Anita.


Cops

Sergeant Dolph Storr

The police force has created an underfunded unit to deal with supernatural crimes. Dolph is the cop in charge of it. He doesn’t have much of a role in Guilty Pleasures but he’s an important part of the supporting cast as the series progresses.


Zerbrowski

Zerbrowski is a comic relief cop who teases Anita mercilessly but always gets the tables turned on him. Like Dolph, he becomes a fuller and more important character as the series progresses.


Vampires

Willie McCoy

Willie was a two-bit hood in life and is a vampire-two-bit hood in death, yet he tried to warn Anita twice that she was in trouble with Master of the City. He confuses the picture of vampires because he accepted a terrible punishment to try and do what any human would believe was the right thing.


Malcolm

Malcolm is a master vampire who runs The Church of Eternal Life. It’s basically a church who turns its converts into vampires. Malcolm preaches against violence. He and his church will be important in later books.


Robert

Robert is one of Jean Claude’s vampires. His role in Guilty Pleasures was small—he failed to protect a human from the minions of the Master of the City. Therefore, he looks weak. We’ll see more of him.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 2 The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton


The Cover:

This is another cheesy cover—possibly more cheesy than the terrible Guilty Pleasures cover. It does give more information than the first cover as it indicates that there will be a lot of zombies in this book—not surprising since Anita Blake is a vampire animator.


The Story:

Anita Blake has three significant problems at the start of The Laughing Corpse. One, a flesh eating zombie appears to be stalking St. Louis. Two, she’s managed to tick off a woman who is quite possibly the most powerful vaudan priestess in the country. And three, a mob-connected millionaire wants to force her to raise a zombie so old that only a human sacrifice will make it possible. That means that in the second novel in the Vampire Hunter series, the zombies are coming after Anita and it promises to be a thrilling chase.


And that’s what makes this book such a great novel. Guilty Pleasures was all about the vampires, but The Laughing Corpse gives us a chance to understand much more intimately who Anita Blake truly is. She is filled with a power that lets her raise the dead from their graves and put them back again and now we get to see both the dangers in her vocation and what true evil can be done with the powers at her command.


Not that the vampires are completely missing. Jean Claude is now Master of the City and he hasn’t forgotten that Anita is his Human Servant even if she denies this and wants him to suffer a bit of amnesia. Around the edges of the story, we see Jean Claude begin to tighten the screws on Anita as he strives to assert his dominion over all the vampires of St. Louis. You see, he has tied Anita to him and he can’t afford to look weak by not forcing her to act his servant—but Anita would quite literally prefer to die than be his slave. Not that Anita is the sort of person who lays down and dies—she makes it very clear that she’s willing to kill Jean Claude to get him back out of her life even if he is the sexiest man she’s ever met.


The vaudan priestess, Senora Dominga, is one of the scariest villains Hamilton has yet created. She’s human—but she could give the monsters graduate courses in how to be evil. And unlike Anita, she feels absolutely no constraints to follow the law. If she sees profit and thinks she won’t be caught, she will do anything.


The storyline satisfyingly ties together the disparate problems confronting Anita at the beginning of the book, and in the resolution, Anita gets the first glimpse of the power that has attracted Jean Claude to her. Anita might be one of the good guys, but if she’s a paladin, she’s one who fights in shadows not the brilliant light of day. It’s a lesson Jean Claude needs to take to heart as well. Push her hard enough and she’s capable of doing a whole lot of terrible too.


Recurring Characters:

Jean Claude

Jean Claude, the new Master of the City of St. Louis, makes a strong appearance, but he’s really not important to this book. He serves more to set up future problems for Anita. Important as the zombies are to her character, vampires are still driving the main story.


Edward

Edward remains my favorite character, but unfortunately this is one of the few books he doesn’t appear in.


Animators, Inc.

Bert

Bert is Anita’s boss. In Guilty Pleasures we’re told that he basically cares only about money and is very good at raising it, but in this novel we learn that there are limits. When he learns that Anita would have to make a human sacrifice to raise the power necessary to raise a zombie a client is willing to pay a million dollars for, he turns away from the deal. It’s an important humanizing moment for a minor character.


Manny

This is the man who began Anita’s training as a vampire hunter. He’s old fashioned and uses a hammer and wooden stake. His wife made him get out of the vampire part of the business when he and Anita were nearly killed two years previously. Too all appearances, he is a good man who loves his wives and kids. But in his past he was Dominga’s lover and assistant and Anita is horrified to find out that he participated in human sacrifice. He’s a fascinating and very well drawn character.


Charles Montgomery

Large and imposing in appearance but a pussy cat at heart. He seems to be completely controlled by his wife Caroline. He serves primarily to give us yet another angle from which to see Anita’s fierce independence.


Jamison Clarke

Very minor appearance in this book.


John Burke

John Burke is a major animator from New Orleans who comes to St. Louis investigating the death of his brother. He believes the police are incapable of handling supernatural crimes and got himself on the outs with New Orleans law enforcement because they suspect him of taking the law into his own hands.


Friends/Contacts

Ronnie

Private Investigator Ronnie helps Anita out of another unexpected jam. She’s still tough and courageous, but she’s also not nearly as ruthless as Anita is. It’s a good contrast.


Catherine

Catherine’s wedding (specifically the fittings for the bridesmaids dresses) continues to be a minor subplot. Weddings occur a lot in this series—possibly because Anita feels so uncomfortable about them.


Monica

Monica doesn’t appear in this story.


Dead Dave and Luther

Dead Dave and Luther pass on a message to Anita from the Master of the City and then try to stand up for her. She doesn’t let them, but it showed good character.


Irving

Irving the werewolf news reporter gets a bigger role this time as he tries to pressure Anita into introducing him to the Master of the City. She accidentally does, but it’s not clear this is good for Irving.


Evans

Evans is a touch sensitive who gets visions about what’s happened to a person by touching something they owned. He gives us a peak at Anita’s less sensitive side. He’s barricaded himself in his trailer home and won’t go out but Anita bullies herself into seeing him. Forces him to do what she wants, then notes he’s a wreck and suggests he get help without ever realizing that she and her murder investigations are the problem.


Cops

Sergeant Dolph Storr

Dolph makes a mistake early in the book because he thinks he’s starting to figure out the undead. People die as a result and we get a good look at how much he cares about saving people’s lives. The investigation is a particularly ugly one but he never flinches.


Zerbrowski

Zerbrowski continues to serve a comic relief cop who teases Anita mercilessly but always gets the tables turned on him. One thing that is clear in this book, Anita and Zerbrowski are friends.


Perry

We don’t see a lot of this officer yet. He’s unfailingly polite and it’s difficult to see what he did to get stuck on the supernatural squad.


Merlioni

He’s a jerk who gets into a disgusting who is tougher challenge with Anita as they examine a victim’s remains.


Vampires

Willie McCoy

Willie McCoy has advanced slightly in the vampire world as a result of his support for Anita who is (even though she doesn’t want to be) the human servant of the new Master of the City. He is still newly undead enough to humanize the vampires a little. He is currently managing the comedy club, The Laughing Corpse.


Malcolm

Malcom is referred to but doesn’t appear in this book


Robert

Robert doesn’t appear in this book.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 3 Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton

Cover:

This is the worst cover yet. Remember, I have read this book at least twice before and I had a lot of trouble figuring out who the cover is supposed to depict. Is it Jean Claude snarling on the cover or is he the person fleeing with the woman? Add to that that the paintings are just bad and this is another example of what you shouldn’t do to sell a novel.


The Story:

Vampires are back on the menu in the third book of the Anita Blake series. Jean Claude is increasing the pressure on our heroine to begin to publicly (at least publicly in the supernatural world) acting like she is his human servant which she refused to admit she is. To make her obey, Jean Claude permits a master vampire named Yasmeen to manipulate Anita into a fight with her own human servant. Anita comes close to killing both women and to getting herself killed because she won’t give Jean Claude the public acknowledgement he desires.


While all of this is happening, a pack of vampires is killing humans, and an anti-vampire group has produced a militant wing which decides to go after Anita when she won’t identify the master of the city and his resting place for them. As if Anita’s life isn’t complicated enough, Bert, CEO of Animators Inc., hires a college student to take up some of the slack since Anita’s police liaison responsibilities are cutting into her zombie raising time. The new guy, Larry, has a decent amount of power but no experience and he almost gets his clients killed when he fails to control a zombie.

Throw in a cobra so large its fangs are like sabers and it can swallow a person like an anaconda, a million year old vampire, a whole bunch of lycanthropes, the rogue pack killing humans that the police are looking for, a lamia, and everyone’s favorite cold-blooded assassin, Edward, and we have more than enough elements for a rousing good tale. And that’s before we introduce the first romantic possibility in the series that Anita will actually agree to go on a date with.


This novel is packed with action from beginning to end, but it also pushes Anita hard to determine where her boundaries truly are. How much does she value her soul and who is she willing to kill to keep it? Circus of the Damned builds brilliantly on the first two books in the series from first page to pulse-pounding conclusion.


Recurring Characters:

Jean Claude

Much of this book is about Jean Claude as the plot revolves around a challenge to his right to be Master of the City of St. Louis. We see that he is much fiercer than he wanted Anita to know, but he’s also in a very tight place and his inability to control Anita may well get him killed.


Richard

At the end of this book, we find out that Richard, Anita’s new love interest and junior high school science teacher, is a werewolf. He’s the third critical piece in the love triangle (Anita, Jean Claude, and Richard) that will dominate so much of the plots of the next several books. This novel shows only the earliest beginnings of that triangle, but there are signs that it’s going to be a problem in the future.


Edward

Edward is back and he’s just a wonderful character. He wants information Anita has but she won’t be bullied. Yet, when push comes to shove, he’s there for her.


Animators, Inc.

Bert

Bert’s role in these books is to hassle Anita about her job and create problems for her. He does that here as well but without looking like a total jerk.


Manny / Charles Montgomery / Jamison Clarke

No appearances, although Manny is mentioned a couple of times.


John Burke

John Burke makes a brief appearance. Apparently he and Anita tried to date but he can’t stand her being better at his job than him. He was never that good of a guy and he’s sliding deeper into jerk territory.


Larry

Larry’s a breath of fresh air. Overconfidence makes him a little stupid, but not in a bad way. His lack of experience gives us the chance to learn more about the animator profession. Since he also wants to be a vampire executioner, we’re going to learn more about that too.


Friends/Contacts

Ronnie

Ronnie continues to make small appearances, using her PI skills to help move the story forward.


Catherine

Now married, Catherine is throwing a Halloween party which produces some social angst for Anita.


Monica / Dead Dave and Luther

Don’t appear in the story.\


Irving

Irving is regretting meeting the master of the city. It turns out that Jean Claude’s animal to call is a wolf and he has no inhibitions about exercising his power over Irving.


Evans

Doesn’t appear in the story.


Cops

Sergeant Dolph Storr

Dolph is a solid supporting character who brings Anita into problems and treats her with respect that is obviously too rare.


Zerbrowski

Zerbrowski shows he has courage as well as a good sense of humor.


Perry / Merlioni

Don’t appear in this story.


Vampires

Willie McCoy / Robert

Don’t appear in this book.


Malcolm

Malcom is referred to but doesn’t appear in this book


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 4 The Lunatic Café by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Cover:

This is the first good cover in the series and it’s actually one of my favorites even though it shows nothing of the urban fantasy nature of the story. The arch is the most prominent feature, firmly placing the story in St. Louis which is the clearest message any cover has so far. I may be biased by having gone up in the arch a couple of times in my life, but Hamilton works hard to make the St. Louis setting real in her stories and I liked the fact that the cover artist reinforced that.


The Story:

The Lunatic Café is an (almost) all lycanthrope story. Shapeshifters have appeared in the series before, but this is the first time that we start to peek into their peculiar and highly disturbing society. From the opening pages when Anita is hired to find a man’s missing wife (she happens to be a werewolf), to her discovery that her boyfriend, Richard, is in a life and death struggle for control of his pack (a struggle he does not seem to be able to credit is really life and death), to the discovery that many other shapeshifters have gone missing, to the remains of a body ripped to shreds by a werewolf, Anita is confronted by lycanthrope-centered problems at every turn (and that doesn’t even mention the highly disturbing snuff film). She also begins to learn a little about the problems each of the lycanthrope species have both with each other and simply surviving in a world that is extremely hostile to them.


At the same time, a two-hundred-year-old vampire has set her sights on capturing the love of Jean Claude and she sees Anita as competition even though Anita is desperate to be rid of the Master of the City. She seems to think that the best way to be rid of Anita is to kill her—and she’s crazy enough that Jean Claude’s threats only seem to motivate her to do the job more quickly and brutally. Oh, and did I mention that everyone’s favorite assassin has returned to St. Louis on a job that even the most devoted adherent to law and order will cheer him on to complete?


This novel has two scenes that have often recurred in my mind over the past nineteen years since I first read it—that’s always a sign of powerful writing. It also has a very disturbing relationship evolving as Jean Claude—fearful of losing Anita even though he has never actually had her—forces her to begin dating him on an equal basis with Richard to give him a “fair chance” to win her heart. If she doesn’t, he kills Richard. I know that Hamilton wants this love triangle to come into full existence, but this stalker behavior is really troubling and I’m frankly surprised Anita doesn’t decide to simply kill Jean Claude after he makes the threat. (Edward would gladly help her do it.) She justifies her decision not to off this threat to her life and happiness by saying that a twisted part of her loves Jean Claude, but in no other part of the series thus far does Anita allow herself to be bullied except here. It’s the first significant characterization weakness I recognize in the plot. It’s almost like Hamilton was reading those 1990s romances in which the man has to utterly humiliate the woman early in the book so she can hate him before she falls in love with him. It didn’t make sense then and it still doesn’t now.


There’s also one other character who I thought was poorly drawn. There’s the legendary swan prince, a hunter so callous that he was cursed to turn into a swan to make him learn to be gentle and kind. This fails, but the hunter should have become a super-hunter in his human form. He seems to have given up this side of his personality, when I would argue that being able to recover from any wound would have enhanced his ability to pursue his martial endeavors.


All of that being said, this book is simply packed with action and will keep you racing through the pages from beginning to end.


Recurring Characters:

Jean Claude

Jean Claude really ups his nefarious game to win Anita’s services in this book. He comes off as a demented stalker, and frankly, while it accomplishes what Hamilton wants (i.e. a coerced love triangle) it also damages Anita’s credibility with the reader. It’s really hard to believe that the woman we’ve followed for the last three books would put up with this. Far more likely that she would have teamed up with Edward and killed Jean Claude.


Richard

Richard and Anita’s romance heats up and engagement is discussed, but even as she’s becoming more and more smitten, it is increasingly obvious that Richard and Anita are not well-suited to each other. He wants to believe that the world is a nice place and everyone is a boy or girl scout. He’s in a literal life and death struggle for control of his pack and doesn’t understand that his opponent wants to kill him. He also is hugely troubled by Anita’s violence. Yet, Anita clearly wants to believe in that nicer place Richard pretends he lives, or she’d have dumped him in the middle of this book.


Edward

Edward returns, this time intelligently trying to recruiting Anita’s aid to find the bad guy. He’s supposed to kill two lycanthropes involved in a snuff film and for some reason, Anita won’t give him the name of one of the lycanthropes. It’s bizarre.


Animators, Inc.

Bert

Bert’s continues to annoy Anita and that’s about it.


Manny / Charles Montgomery / Jamison Clarke / John Burke / Larry

No appearances.


Friends/Contacts

Ronnie

Ronnie continues to make small appearances, using her PI skills to help move the story forward.


Catherine / Monica / Dead Dave and Luther / Evans

Don’t appear in the story.


Irving

Irving is a pawn in this story and serves to show how truly horrible lycanthrope society is. It’s a might makes right type of world.


Cops

Sergeant Dolph Storr

Dolph continues to be the stellar cop we’ve come to expect, even when wounded.


Zerbrowski

We see Zerbrowski’s softer side when he’s talking about his wife. He gets hurt very badly, reinforcing that the police who deal with preternatural creatures do not get good support.


Perry / Merlioni

Don’t appear in this story.


The Lycanthropes

A whole bunch of lycanthropes are introduced in this book. This list has gotten way too long so I’m going to minimize it by talking about only three:


Marcus and Raina

The reigning alphas of Richard’s pack they are might-makes-right predators. Marcus wants to be a human who can turn into an animals, or in other words, civilized. But Raina embraces her beast and is something of a psychopath. You just know that Anita and her are going to have problems with each other.


Rafael

The king of the wererats makes another appearance and once again renders aid to Anita.


Vampires

Gretchen

Is a 200 year old vampire who is obsessively in love with Jean Claude who probably made her. She is out for Anita because Jean Claude is obsessed with Anita.


Willie McCoy / Robert / Malcom

Don’t appear in this book.



Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 5 Bloody Bones by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Cover

This is the best cover yet in the first run of the series. It’s a simple but creepy image of a stone headstone formed by a Celtic cross in the wilderness beneath a crescent moon. No poorly painted melodramatic figures—just a headstone which holds a ton of foreboding for the threat Anita will face in this book.


The Story

Anita is recruited for a specialized zombie raising for which she is possibly the only animator in the United States that has a chance of performing the job without a human sacrifice. Bulldozers preparing the ground for a luxury hotel have uncovered and spoiled an ancient cemetery possibly proving that a recent court decision awarded the land to the wrong family and therefore making the sale of the land invalid. Anita’s job is to raise the cemetery and ask the zombies if any of them belonged to the Bouvier family. It’s a fascinating problem, immediately made more complicated when the lawyer who has hired Anita tries to bribe her to give the answer he wants.


Then the fresh corpses begin to be found and Anita gets called away from the paying job to consult with police who are afraid she’ll grab the headlines if they let her anyway near their case. Teenagers have been killed in terrible ways and Anita has never seen anything like it.


Then—all in the same night—a vampire kills a young woman in her home and Anita—legal Vampire Executioner—is pulled into the night hunt for the most dangerous predatory creature on the planet.

Things just go down hill for Anita from there and I haven’t even mentioned the fae connection to the case, or the negotiations with a new hyper-powerful vampire who is ruling the territory next to Jean Claude’s. This is an intense novel which expands the scope of the series to the land near St. Louis. It also teaches the reader some new and horrific things about vampires, and of course, there’s the whole fae thing again.


The conclusion pushes Anita further than we (or she) knew she could go for a fully satisfying story.


Recurring Characters:

Jean Claude

Jean Claude was really one of the bad guys in the last novel, but here he endangers himself to help Anita and it does a lot to rehabilitate the vampire. He’s a still a monster, but he’s not nearly as horrific a monster as others that appear in this book. One might even begin to think that he has genuine feelings for Anita, not that he can ever stop politicking long enough to make you confident about the person behind the monster.


Richard

Richard makes only a small appearance in this book—seen in his classroom among his middle school students. He looks very human—which he wants to be.


Edward

Doesn’t appear in this story. It’s a shame. He would have enjoyed the challenges.


Animators, Inc.

Bert

Bert only has a small role in this story, setting up the job for Anita. It shows, however, that he is a savvy business man and that he recognizes and respects Anita’s abilities.


Larry

Larry takes a big step forward to becoming a vampire executioner this book and the job stops being fun for him. He grows a lot and begins to truly understand the stakes for the first time.


Manny / Charles Montgomery / Jamison Clarke / John Burke

No appearances.


Friends/Contacts

Ronnie

Ronnie gets her named dropped but doesn’t appear.


Catherine / Monica / Dead Dave and Luther / Evans / Irving

Don’t appear in the story.


Cops

Sergeant Dolph Storr

Dolph has several conversations with Anita over the phone, continues to show how much he’s come to respect Anita. This unusual treatment is in stark contrast to the way she’s treated by other cops and the FBI.


Zerbrowski / Perry / Merlioni

Don’t appear in this story.


The Lycanthropes

Don’t appear in this story.


Vampires

Robert

Has a small role over the phone when Anita reaches out to Jean Claude.


Gretchen / Willie McCoy / Malcom

Don’t appear in this book.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 6 The Killing Dance by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Cover

This is another good cover. The arch is back, grounding the image on the St. Louis skyline. The red full moon hints at lycanthropes and there are the nice eerie eyes in the mist. Those eyes don’t have anything to do with the story, but it gives the cover a strong urban fantasy flavor.


The Story

There are three major storylines in the sixth novel in the Anita Blake series. First, a vampire (Sabin) and his human servant come to Anita begging help. He is suffering from a horrific wasting disease that he contracted when he tried to give up drinking human blood to make his lover happy. His body is corrupting, but it’s not going to kill him. They are hoping that Anita’s necromantic powers, combined with the centuries of necromantic knowhow of the human servant, can reverse the disease.


Second, Edward warns Anita that someone just offered him a half million dollars to kill her—and kill her fast. It’s a serious threat, and he’s returning to St. Louis to help guard her. It’s also an unusual problem for Anita. These aren’t monsters, but human hitmen, a problem she is less prepared to handle.


Third, the power struggle between Anita’s sweetheart, Richard, and the pack leader, Marcus, is heating up and about to explode, and Richard still thinks he can win without killing Marcus. This is really the main storyline, as Anita gets pulled deep into pack politics, finding herself gaining status in the pack because she’s Richard’s girlfriend and (much more importantly) she is willing to kill to protect her friends.


Add to that, Jean Claude and Richard are still fighting over who gets Anita—the love triangle that Hamilton spent the first five books of the series setting up pops with new surprises. Anita may hate the monsters, but she also finds she’s unwilling to just walk away from them. Her black and white world is now almost totally gray.


The action never stops in this book. Block a lot of time to read because you won’t want to put it down. The threats come from every direction, and because she survives the attempts on her by the hitmen by killing them, her friends on the police force are also getting unhappy with her. It turns out that cops really don’t think highly of people who have contracts taken out on them and claim (honestly in this case) that they don’t know why.


Strangely enough, Anita has always been fairly comfortable with the violence, but doesn’t know how to handle the social problems which accompany Jean Claude “outing” her as his girlfriend. Sergeant Dolph is angry that she’s dating a monster. Her parents (who don’t appear) now know. And, of course, it only makes things more difficult with Richard.


The ending to this one sets the stage for a few dozen more problems for the next book, but it’s a good ending, with a totally satisfying conclusion.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 7 Burnt Offerings by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Cover

This may be the best cover yet. St. Louis’ skyline (complete with arch) is burning while a monstrous image hovers in the sky.


The Story

This novel caught me in the first couple of pages and kept me reading at a furious pace. A firebug (a pyrokinetic) has come to St. Louis and St. Louis’ bravest want Anita’s help in catching him. Frankly, had this been the whole plot of the novel it would have been fantastic. Hamilton almost immediately veers off in other really exciting directions (and fire still plays a major role in the story) but I almost regret that she didn’t make this whole book about tracking down the firebug.


The real plot of the novel has two threads—representatives of the Vampire Council have come to town to investigate (completely false) rumors that Jean Claude is trying to set up a rival council and Anita has to deal with the fallout in two lycanthrope communities that came from her actions that damaged their leadership. The first are the wereleopards who are totally bereft without Gabriel at their head. Gabriel was horrible, but without an Alpha, the others don’t seem able to function. The man trying to become the new Gabriel (Zane) is pimping his pard members out as Gabriel did, but he can’t protect his submissive subordinates from the truly sick individuals buying their services. At the same time, Richard is having a mental breakdown and is ripping his pack apart in bursts of rage. Anita finds herself stuck in the middle of both messes and getting pulled deeper and deeper into the society of monsters.


The Vampire Council plot is equally interesting as vampires bearing old grudges are trying to use their “investigation” to gain vengeance on Jean Claude. Best new character in the book is Warrick—hard not to be fascinated by a vampire who still worships God.


I raced through this book, fully enjoying the various twists and turns and exciting moments. The only weakness that bothers me is that Anita (who could be honestly described as prudish in sexual matters) gets mighty free with her kisses in the final confrontation with the vampire council. I didn’t find it credible, but I realize, having read the rest of the series, that Hamilton is laying the groundwork to connect Anita’s powers to sex.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 8 Blue Moon by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Cover

Another strong cover and the last before there is a thematic change in cover design. This time we’re clearly out in the wilderness where the tree line has been painted to look like a werewolf. A blue moon hangs over head.


The Story

Anita and Richard’s relationship was kind of messed up when he turned into a werewolf on top of her. Yet she continues to have feelings for him and is tied to him through the mystical triumvirate she forms with Jean Claude. So when she gets a call from his brother telling her that Richard is in jail five nights before the full moon, she drops everything and goes to help him. It doesn’t hurt that the charge is rape, something she believes her boy scout of an ex-boyfriend would never commit.


From this foundation, Hamilton develops one of her strongest Anita Blake novels. Richard has been framed for the rape and it quickly becomes apparent that the reason is a pack of trolls whom he and other scientists have been studying. The group have recently split into two with one of the groups moving off protected federal lands onto a nearby farm. A mysterious buyer needs to get rid of the trolls so he can buy the land, but why this is so important is not clear. What is clear, is that the mysterious buyer has money and he’s bought the local law.


Add to that that Anita is the human servant of Jean Claude and the local master vampire is convinced that the Executioner has come to pick him off so Jean Claude can expand his territory. Add to that there is a local werewolf pack with its own politics—oh, and Anita is still acting as both Lupa of Richard’s clan (even though he’s angry at her and she’s only human) and she’s still in charge of the wereleopards she sort of inherited in the last book. There’s just a ton of complications in this book, but they work together to build a lot of great tension.


As one would expect in a Hamilton novel, there is a lot of very good action scenes and a very powerful encounter with a supernatural creature that she hasn’t introduced before in the climax of the story. Hamilton is doing everything right in this one—mixing politics, threats, and personal ties and obligations to build a very exciting adventure.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 9 Obsidian Butterfly by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Cover: This is the first of what I think of as the “sexy covers”. The publishers went back and redid all the others (which they have done more than once). I have to admit that I preferred the ones with the St. Louis Arch (although this novel happens in New Mexico so it wouldn’t have been on there anyway.)


The Story: I think this book is hands down the best of the Anita Blake series, so it’s surprising that it is totally separate from the carefully crafted setting in St. Louis with all of Anita’s friends, enemies, and romantic interests. In fact, the only person who has appeared before in this novel is Edward, the assassin who trained Anita to survive being a vampire hunter. Edward, who’s legal name in New Mexico is Ted Forester, is a cold-blooded sociopath who’s only pleasure in life comes from killing things. The tougher the kill the more he likes it. Or at least that’s what Anita always thought of Edward. Then she meets his flower-child fiancé and her two children and everything she thought she knew is overturned. The problem, she fears, is that she wasn’t wrong in her first assessment. Edward has gotten himself into a social problem he can’t extricate himself from and she’s worried it might end up killing these three innocents.


But that isn’t the problem that brought her to New Mexico. Someone—the feds think it’s a serial killer or two—is murdering people by chopping some of them up and skinning the others. The true horror comes from the fact that the skinned people are all still alive. They can’t talk, but they can move, and sometimes bite, and no one can figure out how this horror was inflicted upon them. This is a fate that is much worse than death and Hamilton does a wonderful job at showing how the possibility of ending like this is unsettling some of the hardest killers in the world. She also does a great job of unfolding the mystery, laying out the clues that show how Anita, with her peculiar background as an animator, can contribute to these major investigations despite tremendous hostility toward her as a woman, a civilian, and a “zombie queen”.

As if all of that wasn’t great enough, Hamilton introduces two more of Edward’s associates: a bounty hunter, and Olaf—a serial killer almost as disturbing as whatever is killing these people—and these two—especially Olaf—really ratchet up the tension as we come to realize that Anita fits this disturbing man’s victim profile.


Yet, even this isn’t enough, because Edward’s pacifist fiancé has gotten herself into some trouble of her own with a biker gang that threatens to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back in this adventure—and I haven’t even mentioned the super spooky master vampire whose name is also the title of the book. She a thousand years old and think she’s an Aztec goddess and she brings oodles of additional drama into an already extraordinary tale.


If you’ve ever read an Anita Blake novel and enjoyed it even the tiniest bit, you should make time to read this one. If you’ve never read one, I think you can come into this novel fresh. It does build on what’s happened earlier in the series, but because all of the action is outside of Anita’s usual stomping grounds, I think this one makes a good standalone book for anyone wondering what all the fuss is about.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 10 Narcissus in Chains

The wereleopards are back in the tenth Anita Blake book, and they are still in trouble. Anita hasn’t been able to find them an alpha to take over their pard and so she has to go get them out of their mess. Nathaniel, a true submissive, is being abused in a club that caters to violent fetishes, but what’s really happening is a powerplay Anita doesn’t understand and her serious injuries may just have given her lycanthropy.


This is a transitional novel in the series. Hamilton has been becoming bored with the idea of a mere love triangle and increasingly interested in depicting scenes of sex. Here she stops playing around and puts several graphic scenes involving Anita into the book. She justifies this by giving Anita at least one (possibly two) new powers. The important one is called the ardeur and it essentially is turning her into a succubus who must feed during sex. If she resists, she loses control with the potential of starting an actual orgy with no one really being free to choose. In this novel, the power is a problem for Anita, getting in the way of her trying to resolve the very serious threats to the lycanthrope community in St. Louis and the complete mess that Richard has made of his pack. Fortunately, the plot continues to be the primary focus for Hamilton in this book and the ardeur a mere distraction.


Hamilton also has Anita begin to deal with her Jean Claude/Richard problem, even as she brings a new-love-interest, Micah, into the story. And she adds some depth to Anita’s deteriorating relationship with police sergeant, Dolph, in a way that really boosts the novel. These sorts of relationship problems help considerably with the realism of the series without distracting from the overall plot.


Finally, the big bad guy, Chimera, is one of Hamilton’s most interesting villains. His kind of crazy unnerves the reader, but he’s such a great threat that you really wouldn’t mind if he got away to cause problems another day.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 11Cerulean Sins

This series went off the rails with this book. It starts out well, with Anita agreeing to raise a dead man for a contract killer but quickly devolves into several hundred pages of vampire politics and sex that frankly bored me to tears. It felt like we’d seen the politics before and there was nothing new in them. And the sex did nothing to advance the plot while do everything to finish demolishing one of the things that made Anita Blake such an interesting person. Sex and the relationships she wanted to go with it were very important to her through most of this series—so much so that it was a driving force / obstacle in her love triangle with Jean Claude and Richard. But Hamilton apparently wants to write big sex scenes and since this is a first-person narrative, that means she has had to fundamentally change Anita’s personality. To justify this Hamilton introduced the ardeur—a vampiric need to feed through sex—but I don’t believe that it improved the storyline at all. What’s more, Anita’s need for sex takes up a ton of pages that would have been far better spent developing a more traditional Anita Blake mystery.


That being said, there are some good things about this book. About halfway through the novel, the emphasis returns to plot and the story improves rapidly. There is a new vampire threat in the person of the vampire who made Jean Claude and there is a new serial killer in town that proved to be an interesting challenge.


Even better, Anita’s relationship with policeman, Dolph, finally collapses as his personal problems combined with Anita’s intimacy with a growing number of “monsters” drive him into a breakdown. I’ve always liked Dolph and watching Anita and Detective Zebrowski work their way through this Dolph problem was often touching. The serial killer and Dolph storylines save the novel.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 12 Incubus Dreams by Laurell K. Hamilton

This is hands down the worst novel in the series so far. It starts out fairly typically, with Anita investigating the death of a woman bitten by multiple vampires, then veers into a four-hundred-page detour that is mostly focused on Anita having sex with her multiple partners and talking about all of her relationships. Hamilton also creates a new excuse for Anita to have sex with people—she can now heal people through sex—but mostly it is simply a long and tedious digression with about fifty pages worth of plot enhancement. After that, things improve slightly, returning to the main investigation with further time taken out for yet more sex and relationship talk. Overall, the investigation is not enough to save the story.


Not all of the relationship talk is bad—it just needed to be seriously cut down through the editing process. For example, Anita has a heart-to-heart with her best friend, Ronnie, the private investigator. Ronnie’s problems fit her character and helped to develop her. Developing a second triumvirate also has importance for the series, but again the book needed substantial editing.


Hamilton has the right to write the books she wants, but it seems a bit unfair to readers to change the series so dramatically. To be blunt, if this was the first Anita Blake book I read, I would never have read another one. I’m only holding on because the first ten books were so enjoyable.


Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 13 Micah by Laurell K. Hamilton

After two very weak books, Hamilton got herself back on the right track again with this short novel, Micah. The novel could have flopped. It has many of the features that hurt the previous two novels. Anita is still driven by the ardeur and a lot (maybe too much) of the book focuses on sex and Anita’s relationship with Micah, but because she has narrowed the sex and relationship issues to just one of her lovers they were less distracting from the overall tale.


The plot is simple but it works. Anita has to step in for fellow animator, Larry, to raise a zombie as a witness in a federal case. But it’s fairly obvious to the reader from the beginning that something is wrong and as Hamilton teases her way through the story this feeling grows. This isn’t a mystery, just a straight forward plot that quickly reaches a satisfying ending.