Thursday, July 23, 2009

Skin Trade

There aren't many writers who are able to generate such polarity among readers as Laurell Hamilton. Just take a look at the three reviews below - they are typical of the hundreds of reader reviews out there. I have been a fan of the Anita Blake series from the very beginning - I read the first in the series, Guilty Pleasures, back in the early 1990s, and I've been hooked ever since. The earlier books in the series are more traditional supernatural mystery novels, with Anita hunting various big bads and using her own necromancer abilities to help her. There is a shift in the later books, in which Anita struggles to balance who she wants to be with the person she seems destined to become, thanks to various additional powers that have been foisted upon her. The most troublesome power to her is the ardeur, which has transformed her into a kind of energy vampire or succubus, and feeding that part of her has involved, in the past, some fairly explicit and detailed sex scenes.

In Skin Trade, the most recent installment in the series (#17), the novel's focus returns to the mystery, serial-killer-hunting format of earlier books. Anita receives a package at work, and when she opens it, she discovers a human head inside. How's that for a hook? It seems that Vittorio, the psychopathic vampire she came up against in an earlier book, is planning a bit of revenge for Anita. The rest of the body turns out to belong to a cop who was killed by Vittorio in Las Vegas, and she flies out to help locate the killer. There she is teamed with a team of cops that have their own set of special abilities, but it seems that her reputation for "sleeping with the monsters" means she must constantly prove her professional skills - and that, she knows, is wasting precious daylight. If they can't find Vittorio's whereabouts before sunset, they will have no end of trouble on their hands...

It is not surprising that after seventeen books in a single series, there is an enormous cast of characters, some of whom are rarely seen or not even present in any given book. I'm always happy to see Edward, and he plays a large role in this one, along with the ever-so-creepy Olaf. I missed other characters, of course, but one of the reasons I think the series has had such staying power is that each novel is a small slice of a day or two in Anita's life, and there are always things brewing on the sidelines with other interesting characters that would be fascinating to explore in future books.

There were a few issues here that, in my opinion, prevented this installment from living up to its full potential. The narrative arc was a bit choppy and interrupted by scenes of dialog that, while interesting, in retrospect did not seem germane to the book. The climax seemed way too rushed - after all the build-up about the horrors of the big bad, he was dealt with almost too easily, and the book's ending seemed a bit rushed. I think the biggest problem, though, was that Anita seemed buffeted by events in the book, rather than taking charge and solving things herself, so that the end was not as satisfying as it could have been. Anita has always been such a strong and resourceful character, and I prefer my heroines (and heroes) to be the ones to save the day. Still, given what has been happening to Anita, perhaps her lack of confidence should not be so surprising.

I enjoyed this book. The pacing wasn't as relentless as in many of the others, but still, I whipped through it as usual, staying up late to finish as always, and, when I had to put the book down, I found myself thinking about characters and events, impatient to get back to them. I have spent years of my life with Anita, and I find her a fascinating character. Hamilton has put her through the wringer, and in each book Anita is placed in harrowing situations that are often ethically and morally compromising - but often to avoid them would mean dire consequences for people she loves. She is constantly forced to choose between evils, and then she is left to live with the fallout. And occasionally her actions are literally beyond her control, and when she finds out what she has done without her own knowledge or awareness, she has to live with the consequences of that, too. Anita is left to wonder whether the cops who despise her are right, after all - maybe she should just give it up, stop trying to hold on what little humanity she has left, stop trying to chase the bad monsters and find a different sort of life. She is slowly losing herself as she has unwillingly forged metaphysical - and emotional - ties to more and more people.

I for one am looking forward to continuing with this series - it is fascinating to watch as Hamilton explores new and different directions with these compelling characters.

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

13. Micah
14. Danse Macabre

15.
The Harlequin
16. Blood Noir

17. Skin Trade

Skin Trade (#17 in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series) by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley Books, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
All Booked Up: "There's plenty there for those who like the new, relationship-centric aspects of the story, but she's returned to the crime-solving that attracted readers to the early books as well."
Confessions of a Bibliophile: "And then I was so, so disappointed. If there was ever a book in need of an editor with a sharp red pen, it was this one."
Literary Escapism: "Overall, Skin Trade was such a great novel that I completely lost track of time while I was reading it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had that happen with a novel. There was never a dull moment; the sex was there, but nothing like it has been; and the action was believable more than fantastical."
SciFiGuy.ca: "Laurell K. Hamilton may be trying to shift Anita’s character in new directions, perhaps to put the series on a new and fresher track for moving the series forward out of the metaphysical spiral that it has been in for some time."

20 comments:

  1. Wait, hang on. That can't be an Anita Blake nove - there's no bondage, erotica on the cover!! You lie! This is something else and you're just pretending.

    I gave up on this series around book 11. I STARTED it with Obsidian Butterfly which I LOVED, then started the series from the beginning - OB? Totally different from the rest. The series got way too S&M and pointless erotica for my liking. I wanted the serial killers and demon hunting. Sigh.

    My husband is convinced that even a piece of cheese is stronger that Jean-Claude Master Vampire. haha

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  2. I CAN"T EVEN READ THE REVIEW! NOT EVEN THE FIRST WORDS. I was getting all excited and telling Vince this was out and he was looking at me like "What?" and I rolled my eyes and said that Darla would know what I meant!! :) OMG I HAVE to get this book. I'll read the review once I've read it myself :)

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  3. Cat - LOL! You crack me up. And your husband, too - "a piece of cheese," teehee. I don't know what it is about LKH's writing, but it hooks me every time. I have enjoyed some of the books more than others, but I've been a fan the whole way through. :-) I do get the impression that the series is going to be moving back to more serial killers and demon hunting - I'll let you know when the next one comes out!

    Margo - I do the same thing with reviews when I'm planning on reading the book, too.

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  4. This has more or less become my new favorite for the Anita Blake novels.

    Nice to see another review for it.

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  5. Elena - That's good to hear! I can't believe I missed your review of it - I've added the link. :-)

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  6. I have read # 11 and then started at the beginning at #1. I really enjoyed it and loved the characters. Am looking so forward to #2.

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  7. Heather - I'm glad to hear it. I think reading this series in order is really important because there is so much character development going on, not to mention you can get a better handle on the growing cast of characters. I'll be looking forward to your reviews!

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  8. I've only recently started the Anita Blake series so I haven't gotten into the major explicit sex ones, but I've had many friends tell me that have either really trudged through or gave up all together on the series during her later books. I'm so glad to hear that this one has gotten back to the more 'original' Anita Blake story line!

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  9. Stephanie - I'll be interested to hear your thoughts as you go through the series. I guess I'm one of those apparently rare people who have enjoyed it the whole way through!

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  10. I have read the first 8 in the series and am very much enjoying them so far. I am aware of the shift in focus which I think starts to happen in the next book and I am interested to see what I make of it. I am not put off by erotica so we shall see... You are right though, it is good to see an author explore different ideas in a series and play with the characters. It keeps things interesting even if it splits readers down the middle.

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  11. Rhinoa - My guess would be that you'll continue to enjoy the series, but I'll be interested to see! I agree - I'd rather an author take chances than churn out the same old expected formulaic thing with every book, even if the risks don't pay off for every reader. It keeps things interesting, not stagnant.

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  12. I just saw another book in this series with a similar cover yesterday! I wonder if they are changing them all to this "look" now? I sort of like the lack of erotica photos on the cover. Heh.

    The older ones, back in the day, that had like, celtic crosses and stuff of them are my faves. Then all of a sudden it was people in bondage! Maybe this is why they have the horror section next to the erotica section in the bookstores I visit?

    I know the useless library in this town actually has these books in stock, so maybe I'll get around to picking up where I left off. I gave up buying them because I wasn't enjoying them as much. But this one does sound interesting.

    But I am so over love triangles. Hmm.

    Now I don't know what to do.

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  13. Looks like I'm going to have to start reading this series....Can't believe I haven't read a single book in this series!

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  14. Cat - I hadn't noticed the erotica/horror proximity before, but I'm sure I will now! :-) In the later book it's not so much a love triangle as a love polygon. My old paperbacks have kind of dated-looking illustrations with spooky vampire faces and stuff. It's funny how cover art changes and really makes such an impression about a book. I'll keep a lookout for that other cover - I'm curious!

    Rusvw - Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy the series if you give it a try. It is one of my favorites, and definitely one of the ones I've been following the longest.

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  15. I'm a die hard "single-digit-Anita" fan! You probably know that means I loved books 1-9 but wasn't impressed by the shift into sexual overdrive from book 10 on. But I still read every book that comes out, hoping that the old Anita will peek out.

    I bought Skin Trade the day it came out and have not read it yet - I'm too scared that it will made me sad (yup I'm a wimp) So it's awesome to read your review and see that it's focusing back on the action side of things!!
    Thanks for such an insightful review Darla - I'm going to start reading this one tonight :)

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  16. Joanne - I hope you enjoy this one more than you have the recent ones. I'll be very interested to hear your reaction to this change of direction!

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  17. I still haven't picked this up which is really surprising because I'm usually the first one to pick it up at the store and finish it in only a couple of hours. Guess I'm just a little bummed at how different the "feel" of the series has gotten over the years.

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  18. Ladytink - I'll be interested to hear how you feel about it when you read this one, since it is a pretty major shift toward the style and subject matter of the early books.

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