Friday, 15 July 2011

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton

My name is Anita Blake. Vampires call me the Executioner. What I call them isn't repeatable.

Ever since the Supreme Court granted the undead equal rights, most people think vampires are just ordinary folk with fangs. I know better. I've seen their victims. I carry the scars...

But now a serial killer is murdering vampires - and the most powerful bloodsucker in town wants me to find the killer...

A vampire slayer. Were-creatures. Vampires that allure. We've been here before, right? TV shows. Books. A whole area of the bookshop now dedicated to paranormal romance.

But... Look inside the front cover of Guilty Pleasures and you see copyright Laurell K Hamilton 1993. That is four years before Buffy the Vampire Slayer strode onto our screens (IN THE TV SHOW. I am well aware that the film came out in 1992, a year before, so the concept wasn't exactly brand new - that of vampire slaying by a girl - but I think that Hamilton absolutely put her own spin on matters). That is years before Sookie Stackhouse became a star of page and screen. Ages before Kelley Armstrong and Kim Harrison started producing two of the best paranormal series out there.

Laurell K Hamilton came first. Her inspiration was still Anne Rice and Dracula, and people who wrote "proper" vampires, as opposed to those that sparkle. Nikolaos, the villain of the piece, is a child vampire - evil and chilling. These are proper vampires, that ruffle the hairs on your neck and whose daytime sleeping places have a scent that reminds you vaguely of graves and snakes.

Add into this a truly compelling idea of vampires "coming out" to the general populace of the States, and how that has affected law. Anita Blake might be a vampire slayer, but she needs a document of execution before she can kill them otherwise it counts as murder.

"It had only been two years since Addison v. Clark. The court case gave us a revised version of what life was, and what death wasn't. Vampirism was legal in the good ol' U S of A. [...] All sorts of questions were being fought out in court. Did heirs have to give back their inheritance? Were you widowed if your spouse became undead? Was it murder to slay a vampire?"

Linked to this, Hamilton explores how religion might be affected by the legalization of vampires. She gives us the idea that the Church of Eternal Life is run by vampires, who go door to door to recruit followers (much like Jehovah's Witnesses) but can actually promise eternal life. None of the speculation about what comes after life with this church!

Also, Anita Blake is, first and foremost, an animator - someone who can raise the dead. This voodoo-esque element of the story brings a lot to the table, and will become increasingly important in future books.

There is no overstating the imagination and speculation on show here. Laurell K Hamilton came FIRST - giving us a vampire slayer on retainer with the police, investigating supernatural crimes.

However, the story would be nothing without Anita Blake herself. This is a character with charisma in spades - a short woman who goes to the gym in the knowledge that she has to do *something* to turn over the odds in a fight. A good little Catholic girl with a real mouth on her, that gets her into trouble more times than she can count. She is blisteringly sarcastic and, at times, frighteningly vulnerable. I love her.

She is surrounded by other characters that simply spring from the page. Jean-Claude barely has any page time in Guilty Pleasures, and yet I was so intrigued by this master vampire - achingly beautiful and slightly mischievous in his behaviour towards Anita, and then the switch to something utterly deadly. And Edward - vampire killer, bounty hunter, the aspect of Death. Edward is a mysterious and enormously scary character that the reader will want to hear so much more about.

Guilty Pleasures is an absolute rollercoaster ride - beyond fast-paced. There is not a moment of downtime between killing ghouls, investigating the deaths of vampires and coming face to face with the vampire master of the city. For such a slight book, Laurell K Hamilton absolutely packs in the action.

I would say this is one of the faults. The reader only has time to reflect and take a breath once they reach the end of the novel. Before that, you are compulsively turning pages to find out what happens next. It means that we barely take notice of the clues that we've given about who might be committing the crime of killing vampires. It means that a key character death doesn't have the impact that it absolutely should do.

Another fault is one that Robert Jordan shares - Laurell K Hamilton does love describing clothes: the shorts and sneakers that Anita wears, with the blue piping down the sides; the fishnet shirt worn by Phillip, a vampire groupie; the lace on the shirt of Jean-Claude. Some erroneous details took up way too much page time.

Really, though, Guilty Pleasures is the start of an impressive series that carved the way where so many others have now followed. Laurell K Hamilton gives us the first sassy kick ass heroine in the form of Anita Blake - and I suspect she has never been bettered. Make sure you buy the second at the same time as the first, because you simply won't be able to resist diving into the rest of this series and gulping it down compulsively. Tremendous entertainment - and a little bit of literary history.


  1. A little nitpicking for you: the Buffy movie came out on 1992, so, yes, Anita Blake may have been the starting point for Urban Fantasy or even Paranormal Romance, but the core concept was not that original.

  2. @Juan - thanks for the clarification, have edited the post :-)

  3. Oh dear god, yes, the clothes descriptions! What colour swooshes are on the Nikes today?! :-)

    Have to admit to having something of a love-hate relationship with the Blake books. Loved the earlier ones, despite the minor nitpicks. Woman was kick-ass and it's a fascinating world with all kinds of potential. (And Edward is brilliant!)

    Then came the ardeur and it kinda lost me.

  4. I really tried to review this one without putting in any inflection concerning what comes after. I agree that the books took a turn that I wasn't expecting and didn't appreciate - but Guilty Pleasures was just such a good book, and I want people to read it :-)

  5. You reminded me how much I loved this book. I haven't read anymore of the series, but I will definitely look out for them.

  6. Oh Viv, there are some BRILLIANT novels in the series, seriously! All the way up to book nine they are worth reading for sure :-)

  7. I have been meaning to read this one for ages but haven't gotten around to it yet. I've got a couple of Sookie Stackhouses to finish first. However my favourite is still Anne Rice. Her early books were beautiful.

  8. Yes, the first book was good but I lost interest in the series when all semblance of plot was sacrificed in favour of Anita's sexual exploits. It just got boring!

  9. The first few books were pretty good...until it all got a bit stupid and hamilton started writing about her sex fantasies instead.

  10. @ chasingbawa - I've just managed to pick up Anne Rice's vampire books fairly cheaply, so will be looking to give them a try at some point :-)

    @ Cara - I know, right? Wouldn't have been so bad if Ms Hamilton could write a sexy sex scene, but there is far too much spilling for my liking ;-)

    @ locusmortiis - agree the series went downhill, but have heard reports that Hit List (the latest) involve Edward and is more like the earlier instalments in the series. I'll check it out and feedback :-)

  11. I haven't read these books as I've heard the same thing about the sexual exploits overriding the plot in later books but I may give it a shot. I hear the most recent one goes back to the roots of what made this series great.

  12. Great review, later books aside, this book is awesome. I love the fast paced action and totally agree on the over-description a habit Laurell K Hamilton never breaks out of. I think Anita is one of the ultimate and original heroines of urban fantasy.

  13. I loved the early books (Up to Obsidian Butterfly, I think)so much. Some of the more recent books have been more along the vein of the first ones but this is a series that I've definitely stopped buying in hardback.

  14. @Wonderbunny - Definitely try the first few :-) No sex there! Or very little, anyway.

    Thanks Laura :-) I do get amused in some books from hearing about the entirety of Anita's wardrobe. At least LKH isn't girly about it - she describes the guns in depth as well ;-)

    @ Allisyn - I agree that they are no longer a must buy. I wait until paperback or get from the library. A shame, but there are hardbacks who deserve my cash more!

  15. Ah yes, Hamilton when she was still fun to read. This one is great, but once the Anita's trio began. . . I was SO over them!