GUILTY PLEASURES (ANITA BLAKE, VAMPIRE HUNTER BOOK 1)- by Laurel K Hamilton

Ah, before the series devolved into badly written polyamory reverse harem porn (while having little idea what polyamory really looks like), there  . Written in the early 90s, and taking strong  The Vampire Chronicles, and being highly reminiscent of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (which it preceded) Anita Blake is one of the grandparents of Urban Fantasy genre. Not only that, but it really stands up well today and is extremely enjoyable, offering one of the few urban fantasy novels that has a heroine take centre of her own adventure, which centers around action and not romance.

The story is a sort of a film noir paranormal fantasy where the supernatural is known to the world (which is quite refreshing). Anita, known as ‘The Executioner’ to vampires (because Hamilton couldn’t call her The Slayer- although this book predates the tv series but not the movie), has a licence to Slay and is the paranormal expert that works with the police. What’s cool is that Anita has a job (shockers) that relates to the supernatural, which is being paid to raise the dead for various reasons- like to settle disputes over wills. This in itself is a really interesting concept, and it’s really great seeing Anita live a daily life- with work, friendships, gym routines, bills to pay- that doesn’t just stop when supernatural problems come a knocking.

In this novel, her central objective is to track down a serial killer who’s targeting vampires, but lets face it, Anita Blake is no Sherlock. She is a really terrible investigator and one of the clues she only happened to find because a plot important event just coincidentally was taking place on the same night and the same time as Anita was investigating a nearby location. She wouldn’t have found out who killed the vampires basically announced themselves with an evil laugh and then did basically the urban fantasy version of leaving Anita dangling above a shark pit instead of shooting her with a sniper rifle. Yeah, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo this book is not, but fortunately it doesn’t matter. There are so many interesting things happening that the central mystery- who is the serial killer who targets vampires- was really the least interesting part of this book. This book was interesting for all its multiple sub plots that come together perfectly in the end (although there are a couple of threads that will remain unsolved for later books).

The vampire serial killer is really small potatoes compared with the menace that is Nikolaos, an insanely powerful immortal child vampire (Claudia expy), or this whole ‘human servant’ thing with Jean Claude (super sexy kind of pansexual french vampire? definately Lestat inspired). Now, she really is a fantastic big bad. She’s devastatingly powerful, and commands fear of everyone around her- including Anita herself and even Jean-Claude- who himself is insanely powerful. Nikolaos was brilliantly built up, and like Dominga and The Travaller to name a few, she stands out as one of the most compelling villains in the genre.

Nikolaos.jpg
This is one creepy child you don’t want to play with

I also like the way that the ‘discrimination’ against vampires is handled. At the beginning, having not read this book in a long time, I rolled my eyes when it went into vampire rights movement. As I mentioned in my list of top 7 gripes against the genre, I hate the way that discrimination against vampire is used as an analogy for homophobia or racism . But Guilty Pleasures avoids this. A vampire tries to use this logic against Anita, he tries to play the victim and claims that she treats his life as nothing, but she strikes back with ‘you killed 23 people’. Go Anita. It does not use this as any kind of analogy for existing prejudice, but treats it as its own unique issue. Dehumanizing them and treating vampires as vermin regardless of their actions is wrong (like hate group Humans Against Vampires did), but they are far from some helpless minority. I liked the way that HAV wasn’t a direct analogue to NOM or the KKK- they went too far in their venom, but because vampires are super powered monsters who seem to operate above the law, a lot of people have very legitimate reasons to hate them.

Of course, they’re still sentient creatures with free will, so it’s not as simple as them being evil hell beasts either. Anita’s Catholic background is also interestingly utilised in this as she hates the idea of vampirism because she believes in the Christian afterlife, and she doesn’t know if a vampire’s soul will go to heaven.

An speaking of Anita, as a protagonist, Anita Blake really is something terrific. At this point (before the Ardeur dragged this series to hell), she isn’t the chosen one and nor is she some super powerful Goddess. She mainly relies on her wits, ferocity and her ability with guns to get out of tough spots. She’s capable, but more so she’s not just ‘grrl power with attitude.’ Her dialogue’s snarky, sure, and I enjoy her remarks, but she’s also compassionate and struggles with moral dilemnas. She struggles with how black her soul is after killing, and she genuinely cares about protecting the lives of innocents, and when innocents are hurt she grieves them.

I also have to mention the side characters who were generally great. Edward – the hitman turned vampire hunter- called Death was a terrifying and brilliant lancer to Anita’s hero, and it’s fascinating how he also represents what Anita fears she’ll become. Then we have Jean Claude, sexy vampire love interest (although he’s so much more than this). We also have Anita’s best friend, Ronnie.

And thank God for Ronnie- Ronnie is Anita’s female friend ( a depressing rarity in this genre) and a private investigator who’s skilled in her own right. Though Anita will eventually become the exceptional woman- the One Strong Woman while all other women are are either weak or evil- Ronnie holds the line of defence against this trope in Guilty Pleasures. Strong, capable, and though still definitely one step behind Anita and her male allies,her role is primarily that of ally and partner instead of victim. I also liked Beverly Chin, an un trope laden Asian woman who’s an ordinary non action woman who was still able to step up and save Anita’s life . They both help to negate the characterization of Catherine, a girly girl who’s into weddings and partying, who only exists to be a victim and to show how uninterested in those feminine pursuits Anita is; and worse still Monica, a woman Anita hates before she’s even done anything contemptible, a girl who’s even sillier and girlier than Catherine and who’s evil and foolish.

It’s sadly rare for an urban fantasy heroine to have important friendships equal to or more important than their relationship to the main love interest, especially if that friend is a female, so seeing Ronnie and Anita hang out was a breath of fresh air.

Also, I liked the portrayal of Rafael, the  Rat King of Mexican ancestry. He doesn’t play a large role in this novel, but he is compelling enough. He commands authority, and although he helps Anita, he does so out of both his sense of right and wrong and in the interests of his own people, so he doesn’t fall into the ‘helpful minority’ role. And speaking of POC, Anita is half Latina- but really, all her Latina heritage does for her is give her cool gothic dark hair to go with her pale skin (it’s so conveniently when your non white mother only passes on the sexy  traits), so I really don’t think she counts.

VERDICT: Even though this book was written in the early 90s, it still holds up well today. Anita is a total badass, who kicks ass and is front and centre of her own story, which is not just a romance. The world is fun and enjoyable, the action sequences were great and it had a fun cast of characters that are definately ones you want to spend more time with.

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