Retro Review: The Harlequin / Blood Noir

The Harlequin (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter #14)

Laurell K Hamilton

Orbit (Hachette Australia), 422 pp

I’ve been an Anita Blake fan for a long time. I’ve read many of the complaints by readers as the series – and indeed – the main character, changed significantly over the course of the books. I’m not sure I agree with all those complaints, but I have had my concerns about the growth of the character, which has been exponential to the length of the series. The concern has been about the sustainability of this growth. Every time she comes up against a more powerful creature, Anita seems to gain some new power in order to defeat the enemy. How long can this go on? Anita is a supernatural being herself, but she doesn’t fit any of the “rules” that other supernatural creatures adhere to. She has also lost many of her inhibitions and now “dates” at least six men, and has sex with more, sometimes MANY more, in the course of the novels. Some of the past few books have been more about the sex than the story, and readership has supposedly dropped off because of it.

Interestingly, in this story, Anita is trying to come to grips with a more emotional block, as opposed to the sexual ones that we’ve been bombarded with in the past. The plethora of sex that has been a concern to many fans, is wound back a bit in this novel (although there is a bit of girl on girl for what I think might be the first time), and the character development takes a step forward. And Edward is back – yay! He’s one of my favourite characters, and I love how his relationship with Anita has changed – I read him like a big brother figure to her, although I’m not entirely sure I should.

But now I have another concern. There are so MANY central characters in the story now that some of them are becoming a little superficial. This was most noticable in the Micah character in Harlequin, and Asher was almost totally sidelined. At different times, characters become very two dimensional, and while this book was probably the best one in a while in terms of plot and character, this issue detracted from my enjoyment. We’ve gotten to know these characters well over the past few years, and when there’s simply not enough room in the book to feel their “realness”, it’s a great loss.

I’m not sure there is any way to counter this, and I’m not sure Hamilton should. Anita is still a great character, totally flawed, hugely powerful in the supernatural, and yet still so human. What is interesting is that not only is Anita human, but all the non-human characters are too. That might not make much sense unless you’ve read some of the books, but it’s true nonetheless. I recommend this book to people who’ve read the series, especially those of you who have almost given up on the story. It’s back, and I really enjoyed it.

Blood Noir (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter #15 

Orbit (2008)

ISBN: 9781841496924

These days, reading Laurell K. Hamilton is somewhat akin to watching soft porn. There’s a kind of storyline that’s really only there as an excuse for sexual encounters. The Anita Blake series didn’t start out this way. In the beginning, Hamilton gave us a fascinating world peopled with edgy, deep characters undertaking unusual supernatural jobs and solving paranormal mysteries. At about book six or seven, the sex started to take over, to the detriment of character development, story and any semblance of sense. I had some hopes, after reading Harlequin, that Hamilton might be taking steps to bring back plot over sex-escapades. Unfortunately, in Blood Noir, not only does the story drop out again, but the sex does too after the first few chapters, so there’s disappointment all around.

The first four chapters of this book are one long sex scene between main character Anita, and two guys; one of her live-in boyfriends, Nathaniel, and her long-time friend, occasional sex partner and “food”, Jason. There’s a lot about this that bothers me. Anita’s reversal from almost prudish morality about sex to complete amorality and indiscrimination about who gets to jump her bones doesn’t seem like character development anymore; it has become just a device to permit more, and more varied, sex. Some readers would suggest this happened quite some time ago, but for me, it has really been brought home in this book, particularly in this encounter.

I’ve written in other reviews about the problems with the cast of thousands that this series has inevitably accrued, but taking the series completely away from the established plot and placing it in a completely unrelated setting and new group of characters seemed just plain weird. Surely the ongoing conflict with Marmee Noir and the vampire council and various other problems already established in Anita’s world (even, just for a change, a bit of zombie raising let’s say? It used to be Anita’s bread and butter…) offer enough material for Hamilton to work with, without resorting to these sorts of digressions.

In some ways, it reminded me of the novella Micah from a couple of years ago; more of a side piece than a worthwhile novel on its own. I think Blood Noir would have worked more effectively at novella length, perhaps released in a volume with Micah or another diversionary piece. It really doesn’t function as a novel-length addition to the ongoing worldbuilding and overarching plot Hamilton has established.

Overall, I was disappointed with Blood Noir. The circular nature of Anita’s relationships with men, her inner conflict with herself over the way she is treated or treats others, is tired and stale, and annoying to read. I’ll be honest, I read this twice though, and on the first hard-and-fast read, it was okay. It wasn’t until I tried to go back for a second round that I realised how much it bothered me that there was no plot progression, very little interaction with my favourite characters and settings, and a whole heap of boring in the actual novel storyline. So if a hard-and-fast read is what you’re after, sure, Blood Noir will work for you. But if you, like many loyal fans, are keen for Hamilton to come back to what worked really well in the early books (great pacing, plot and characterisation), you will, like me, be disappointed.

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