The junior high school teacher in me (a very scary part of me, by the way) must tell you all that if you are below the age of majority, you are not allowed to read this article. If you do, you might go blind and various parts of your body will fall off, or grow copious of hair, and then everyone will know that you read this when you shouldn't have.
There, that motherly-myth making done with, we can move on.
Laurell K. Hamilton began writing this series back in 1993. This was the same year seaQuest debuted on your TV screen. (Not relevant I know, but it needed to be said.) It was also a year after the fabulously campy Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie graced the silver screen and Pee-Wee Herman stole my heart with the best death scene ever. It is very possible that Ms. Hamilton was inspired by Joss, although I suspect this series owes more to the Anne Rice than Joss Whedon.
When I first started reading the Anita Blake books, they were adult versions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some vamps, other supernatural creatures, a little mystery and some sexual tension. They were fun, smart, a little creepy and sexy. Very nice for a girl's night at home alone.
Fast forward fifteen books, and boy, have some things changed.
Hamilton has become a publishing juggernaut. Publishers have even hatched a term of "Hamilton-esque" to describe works of Paranormal Romance. She was not the first to delve into that genre. She was not even the first to write paranormal mysteries, as Tanya Huff and Mercedes Lackey did so in the 80s and 90s, and probably other authors before that. However, Hamilton has outsold both these ladies, so she's doing something right.
Anita Blake, the star of Hamilton's dark fantasy novels, is by day (well, night), a zombie animator in St. Louis, Missouri. Clients hire her to raise zombies, mostly to answer troublesome legal questions, like who gets the summer house. She is apparently a very powerful necromancer. On the side she is a licensed executioner of vampires.
In Anita's St. Louis, vampires, werewolves and witches walk the earth and interact with humans. The US Supreme Court has declared vampires legal persons under the law. Yes, they can vote. Clearly Justice Scalia was not on the bench in this world.
The series can be divided into three sections, books 1 to 5, books 6 to 9 and then books 10 on.
Books 1 to 5
Guilty Pleasures, The Laughing Corpse, Circus of the Damned, The Lunatic Cafe, Bloody Bones
These are mystery based. Anita consults on a crime that the police cannot explain away. In the course of these investigations, she usually gets to do some serious magic and butt kicking. Hamilton has stated that she wanted a strong female protagonist who could hold her own. Anita not only holds her own, but is tougher than most of the men.
Lest you think this is just a male fantasy with a female protagonist, there is romance. Jean-Claude, a local high-ranking vampire, tries to woo Anita. Richard, a werewolf and high school teacher, is also interested in being Ms. Blake's horizontal mambo partner. But in this part, there's sexual tension, but no sex.
This section of the series can really be seen as an adult version of Buffy. Some vamps, other supernatural creatures, a little mystery and some sexual tension. They were fun, smart, a little creepy and sexy. Very nice for a girl's night at home, preferably alone.
Books 6 to 9
The Killing Dance, Burnt Offerings, Blue Moon, Obsidian Butterfly
This section sees Anita still solving mysteries, but now the politics of the supernatural segment of the population have begun to interfere. We learn more about how vampire and lycan societies work. Jean-Claude begins to develop into a huge mover and shaker in the Vampire world, while Richard eventually takes over his werewolf pack. And the sex? Let's just say the tension is resolved.
Anita, Jean-Clause and Richard have formed a triumvirate, sort of a trio of magical power. Any one of them can draw power and magic from the others as long as they are within touching distance. Anita also learns more about her own vast supernatural abilities.
Still a lot like Buffy, but after Buffy started having sex. Except without the Angel turning evil and killing people part.
Books 10 on
Narcissus in Chains, Cerulean Sins, Incubus Dreams, Micah, Danse Macabre, The Harlequin
At this point the series takes a huge shift. The mysteries have pretty much disappeared, as has the zombie raising. Instead the focus is on the politics of the supernatural world and Anita's emerging powers. And sex. Lots and lots of sex.
Don't get me wrong, it's still a good book for a girl's night alone, but the only mystery left in this book is what happened to the plot? In book 13, Danse Macabre, in four days Anita has sexual encounters with a shocking number of people. Perhaps people is not the right term. Members of the undead, lycanthropes, not to mention a little girl-on-girl action with a siren/ succubus/ mermaid/ whatever-the-hell-it-was. I don't think Anita has had an "encounter" with a human being in any of the books.
Anita goes from being practically a nun to being the supernatural sex show. The change has caused some booksellers to move the books from the sci-fi/fantasy to the romance or the erotica section. This part of the series has less in common with Buffy the Vampire Slayer but more with the likes of Buffy: the Vampire Layer. Or possibly Bunny: The Backside Flayer, give the S/M overtones that the sex scenes develop as you move deeper into the series. (Pardon the expression).
Hamilton explains the sudden increase in romantic activities by having Anita developing the Ardeur. This condition is a rare power that comes from Jean-Claude's vampire line and its link to sex. When the power rises, it forces Anita to have sex. In addition, anyone in her vicinity has to have sex. Anita is able to use the Ardeur to manipulate others into doing her bidding (just like the real world).
Hamilton has taken a lot of criticism for the shift. The online complaints from former fans has been quite virulent. Hamilton has hit back hard, claiming that much of the criticism comes from people who read the books with the express intent to rip them apart. She also explained that her increasing focus on the sex scenes is related to the violence in her books. Hamilton feels that if she takes time to describe graphic violence, she must also take time to describe the graphic sex. Finally, she has also pointed out that her sales figures have gone up since the shift to more sex.
My explanation for the sudden increase in romantic activities? Anita has become Hamilton's Mary Sue. She bears more than a passing resemblance to the author and shares much of her personal history. She is pretty. All the men want her. She's smart. She's the best shot. She's the greatest necromancer ever. She is tougher than anyone else in the story. Anita is one sex scene with Captain Kirk away from fanfic.net.
It's as if Hamilton is exploring all of her sexual fantasies through Anita. And let me tell you, there are a lot of them. Micah, a wereleopard, enters the scene and he and Anita quickly become lovers. Anita also beds Ashur (a vampire who was at one point Jean-Claude's best friend and lover), Jason (a werewolf stripper), and Nathaniel (a wereleopard stripper) to name but a few.
I wouldn't be adverse to this if we saw Anita develop more as a character. At the beginning, she was a very hesitant about sex. Over the course of the series, she has become an advocate of free-love. But, wait, you say, there are fifteen books. Yes, but they don't cover that much time, a short three years to throw away all of your inhibitions. The only genre where that happens is porn. And not well written porn either, although that may be an oxymoron.
Hamilton does give us a few glimpses into Anita's thoughts, but too many of those deal with “I don't give a -bleep- what people think”. The only book that did give a really good look, was Book 14: Danse Macabre, where Anita may be pregnant. That book had Anita really looking at the consequences of her actions in her thoughts. In between the sex scenes.
There is very little character development. Anita has still not embraced that she is what my mother would call a slut. She pretends to have morals and continues to fight her Hefnerian Destiny, while still flirting and "relating" with almost any XY chromosome with at least two legs that walks in the door.
When I first started reading this series, I recommended it to all my mystery reading friends. Then I hit book six and hoped that one of my mom's best friends, sort of a surrogate aunt, hadn't picked it up. For me it is the first five books of this series that are the best. Smart and tense, the action keeps moving along. Why do I keep reading it then, given the change in focus? Because I keep hoping that Anita will have that character development moment and the whole series will move on.
That criticism being said, clearly there is an audience who wants to read about Anita "doing"
as many vampires, lycanthropes, and what we will call “others”, as possible. Check your wife's bedside table. The books are most likely there. Don't check your mom's table. You can't afford the therapy.