Friday, 15 July 2011
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.