Laurell Hamilton's books are definitely addictive. I've been reading them since the first Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novel (Guilty Pleasures) came out in 1994. And even before then I was reading her fantasy novels. She has honed her craft over the years, creating intricate worlds and fascinating characters who develop and grow through the course of the series.
Anita is a vampire executioner in a world in which vampires not only exist, but are slowly being given legal status in society. So now, instead of just killing vampires on sight, there are licensed executioners who must have a death warrant in order to kill a vampire. Vampires must follow specific laws; if not, they forfeit their rights.
But in her "day job," Anita raises the dead. I know, it sounds beyond belief, but trust me - Hamilton will suck you into her world, and it will all make perfect sense. Anita is able to call the dead from the grave - which is very helpful when, for example, someone dies without a will, or no one can find the will, or there are other important unanswered questions. The issue of her necromancy gains importance because, after all, vampires are technically dead, right?
In the early series books, the plot usually involves a mystery to be solved, or a big bad guy to be vanquished, somehow, against all odds. As the series progresses, Anita is drawn into the world of the "monsters" - forming friendships and romantic relationships with people she had thought were monsters, but suddenly she isn't so sure. Her beliefs about herself, her faith, her relationships, things she was taught growing up, her job - these are all challenged every step of the way.
The books grow increasingly serious, dark, and violent. But at the same time, they maintain a fun sense of humor, and always a love of life. Anita is forced into difficult situations over and over again, and she fights to maintain her humanity in a world that seems determined to take it from her.
Hamilton is a master of creating suspense. Many of the books describe a period of only a day or two, but with action packed in every moment. I find myself reading, thinking, I'll stop at the end of this chapter, or section, or scene; but somehow the narrative momentum just won't let up, and I find myself up way too late reading and reading and reading. Only to be so disappointed that it's over when I get to the end.
The Harlequin is an excellent installment in the series. But if you were to pick it up without reading the others, it would be very confusing. This is one series that absolutely needs to be read in order. Each book is like a chapter in a longer book, and starting with this one would be like opening a book in the middle and reading from there. I highly recommend this series - as well as the Merry Gentry series (which must also be read in order). But they are definitely not for the squeamish!
Books in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series:
1. Guilty Pleasures
2. The Laughing Corpse
3. Circus of the Damned
4. The Lunatic Cafe
5. Bloody Bones
6. The Killing Dance
7. Burnt Offerings
8. Blue Moon
9. Obsidian Butterfly
10. Narcissus in Chains
11. Cerulean Sins
12. Incubus Dreams
14. Danse Macabre
15. The Harlequin
16. Blood Noir
17. Skin Trade
The Harlequin by Laurell K. Hamilton (Penguin Group, 2007)