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
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."