Sunday, April 28, 2013

Anita Blake in Review

You're only as much monster as you choose to be.

That seems to be the theme of the Anita Blake Series. The series isn't over, of course, but I'm waiting for the next few. Kiss the Dead will be out in paperback at the end of May, and Affliction is coming out in hardcover this year. I just don't do hardcover. So, I'll have to wait for more of the series.

There are some halves out now. Strange Candy is a collection of short stories by various authors; as are Cravings and Bite. Strange Candy is what Anita Blake without the Vampire Hunter might have been like. It's short and fairly...limp. It's not boring, but it's not really great either. Good thing Hamilton added the Vampire Hunter part. I wouldn't really recommend their purchase, unless you're a) into the other authors or b) really love short stories. Well, the Anita Blake story in Cravings is just the beginning of Incubus Dreams, about Larry's wedding, so...  Bite is it's own story, and takes place between Blue Moon and Obsidian Butterfly, when Anita is still trying to distance herself, and falls off the wagon after seeing Jean-Claude, but for me it wasn't worth the purchase. Finally, Beauty, which can be purchased as an ebook and comes between Hit List and Kiss the Dead. It's basically just a sex scene between Anita, Jean-Claude and Asher.

So, for me, the series is over for the moment. Therefore, I thought I'd talk about the series in general: pros, cons, and thoughts.

As I said, the overall theme of the series seems to be the idea of monster is as monster does. The themes of tolerance, discrimination and bigotry are consistent  Even Anita is fairly bigoted in the beginning, thinking that what makes a monster is how you were created and what you can do. But it comes out pretty quickly that being a human doesn't preclude you from being a monster. This probably becomes prominent first in Bloody Bones, which I didn't review because I read it before starting the blog. Basically, a human lets out a bad fey that eats children, all so that he can get some land. Greedy bastard. Olaf, the sadistic serial killer, is another human monster.

Dolph, Anita's police contact, is another example. He and Anita agree about the monsters in the beginning: the only good monster is a dead one. Anita evolves, Dolph devolves. He starts as Anita's mentor and father figure, and becomes one of the most bigoted characters in the series. Mostly because he is consistent  There are other bigoted characters, but they tend to come and go. Dolph is always around to manhandle Anita and call her a whore.

Along with this racism...or is it speciesism? Well, no, they started human, so they're not really another species. Right? Whatever. We'll stick to racism. Along with this racism is a heavy dose of sexism and misogyny. "Why both?"  you ask. Well, sexism is just discrimination of the opposite sex. Misogyny is actually hating women. I've talked about this in several of my reviews under the label Feminist Corner.

Anita encounters situations in every book that highlight the way men and women are viewed differently, including sexism and misogyny. But what I think best highlights these issues is when they're turned on men. Nathaniel is a good example of this, though all the strippers are. The women who know them as strippers think that somehow entitles them to the men's bodies. I don't mean to imply that men are never the victims of sexism, but it's rare and not usually thought of. By highlighting the issue this way, it almost feels more wrong - it's just not what we think of. Portrayals of male strippers tends to make them out as loving their jobs because they can have as much sex as they want. Hamilton shows some of them like this, but mostly as regular people who have a less common job. Which they are. Nathaniel in particular gets it a lot, partly because he's a more regular character, but also because he was a prostitute. The idea that he was a child prostitute doesn't seem dissuade people from thinking they're entitled to him.

The idea of "monster is as monster does" is highlighted in the main characters:

Anita finds herself gaining power faster than she can learn to control it. She starts to question if the powers she has mean she's not human. I guess another way of putting the theme is to ask: What is human? The way her powers change her, and her choice in friends and lovers make the "humans" around her question her humanity and her loyalty. When it comes out that she has multiple kinds of lycanthropy, a medical impossibility, the desire is to take her badge; to keep her from police investigations; to persecute her gets even stronger. Eventually she evolves to the point where she's comfortable with her powers and knows it's only her conscience keeping her from being a monster. She has back up though. She's made the Wicked Truth, the great vampire warriors and brothers, promise to kill her if the power ever makes her the monster.

Richard contracts lycanthropy from a vaccine meant to protect him from it. He believes it's made him a monster, but what he really worries about is that he was always a monster. His learns through the series to start accepting himself, though he's an asshole while he does it. He still struggles, and part of his struggles keep him from being the monster he feels like. You can see this especially at the end of Bullet, as he cries for enjoying the deaths of the assassins sent to kill him. He knows now that you sometimes have to do things you don't want to for those you care about, for those you protect.

Jean-Claude has been a monster for centuries. Until recently he could be killed on sight just because he's a vampire. He's done things he's ashamed of, been forced to do things he hates, but he still tries to be the person he wants to be. He tried to be the master he always wanted. He doesn't force his people to do things, but knows he must be ruthless at times to keep the peace and safety he's managed to create. Still, he knows becoming what he's been trying to protect himself against is always a possibility. So, he asks Anita to kill him if he ever becomes what he fears. She does, and later she asks the same of Wicked and Truth.

Many of the other characters go through these kinds of issues. Nathaniel is probably the only one who's happy with himself and what he is. That's probably because he's had the most therapy. Stephen and Gregory are two that struggle, but not because of their beasts, but because of the sexual abuse of their father. They fear they will be like him. They too are using therapy to deal with their issues.

As a strong proponent of therapy, I was really glad that it played a part in the series. Too often characters suffer with their issues until some major event pushes them to a breakthrough. While I don't devalue those events that make people see things differently, like hitting bottom, I also believe they come a lot faster and have more impact if therapy lays some of the ground work. I was pleased to see the characters getting therapy, and not just pushing through. Furthermore, some issues just can't be worked through without guidance. Anita is the only slight exception to this. She works with Marianne who acts as a therapist, though isn't one for real. However, as so many of Anita's issues come from or are enhanced by her powers that it makes more sense for her than a psychically "blind" psychological professional.

I'd like to talk about some of the criticisms I've seen of Hamilton's work and this series in particular. One of the primary criticisms of Hamilton's work generally, and this series specifically, is her writing style. I will admit that she tends to get very detailed, even when it doesn't matter. Like the color of the Nike swoosh on Anita's sneakers. I find that once you get into the books, the detail only adds to the narrative. It helps suck you in.

Another criticism is her grammar and syntax. Well, as you can tell from my reviews, I don't sweat the small stuff. I know I have incomplete sentences now and then - basically I write like I talk unless I'm writing academically. Maybe that's why her style doesn't bother me. Her sentences can be choppy, especially during dialogue. Plus, there are quite a few rhetorical questions. I can see where this may not be appreciated by some readers, but I certainly wouldn't say it's a reason to avoid the series.

The amount of sex in the books is another point of contention for some readers. If you don't like sex scenes, especially those which include some kink, these are not the books for you. Though, I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey yet, so I can't make a comparison. The first 5 books, till the Killing Dance, there was zero sex. For the beginning of the series, Anita is trying to resist her urges. She was raised Catholic and told that sexual touching is bad, dirty even. When she does start having sex, it's like all those years of celibacy need to be made up for.

The polyamorous nature of her love life may also ruffle a few feathers. She's not just having wild monkey sex with one man, she's having wild monkey sex with a dozen. At least. And she always seems to be adding more. The idea that she collects men is pointed out in the books more than once.

One of the things that I find a bit annoying is the continuity in the books. It comes from small things like using character A's name when the context clearly means it's about character B. Or confusing timeline information. In Beauty, Anita says she's been dating JC on and off for 7 years. That math just doesn't seem to work right. I'm not saying I'm totally right, but it just seems off. There are other examples. At the beginning of  Obsidian Butterfly, Anita says she's been gone for 6 months. At the end it's a year. She definitely wasn't in New Mexico for 6 months. It's a small thing, but it's enough to pull me out of the stories.

The last thing that bothers me are the titles. They. Are. Terrible. The only one that seems to actually fit with the story is The Harlequin. Maybe Bloody Bones and Micah. Most of the names seem to be the names of a place in the book. Unfortunately the place seems to barely make it into story, like Incubus Dreams, which was a club at the very end.

Still, despite any or all of these criticisms or annoyances, I like this series. Is it one of my favorites? No. But I'll keep reading them when they come out. Maybe I'll do another marathon and read a bunch at once in a year or two. Maybe I'll read them as they come out. I don't know, but I will read them.

For now, I'll read something new. I don't know what yet, but I have plenty to choose from.

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, by Laurell K. Hamilton

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