01/05/2009. Contributed by Jennifer Howell
pub: Orbit. 536 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-319-0.
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net and www.laurellkhamilton.org
It's not exactly a secret that the 'Anita Blake' series hasn't exactly been at its best for the past few books. I'd go so far as to say that author Laurell K. Hamilton (LKH) had forgotten precisely what made the first nine books quite so readable, as book ten onwards have descended into an unedited, sprawling mess of self-indulgent supernatural sex scenes in search of a plot. This is in addition, of course, to the other series she created seemingly just to write plotless supernatural sex scenes, but at least the 'Merry Gentry' books are up-front about it.
The Anita Blake books used to be snappy little urban fantasies (and by snappy, I mean short and seriously plot-driven). The last book in the series weighed in at 658 pages and still managed to be totally plot-less.
So the first major surprise on reading 'Danse Macabre'? The page count has dropped for the first time in years to a manageable 500-plus. Secondly, there was actually a narrative thread running all the way through. Thirdly (and shockingly, in the latter-day Anita-verse), there were consequences for the characters for some of their incredibly stupid decisions.
Personally, I was also stunned to find that I did actually want to keep reading to find out what happened, although not so much with the sex scenes still, which seem to be trying to set a world record for how many were-species they can involve in an orgy at any one time. Yawn!
The two plot strands aren't quite complementary. On one hand, Anita needs yet another new lover to feed the ardeur she gained from Jean-Claude. As all her many, many other boyfriends keep inconveniently becoming part of her various power triumvirates, some fresh blood (as it were) is needed to keep things going.
Now she's (literally) tried everyone out in the local were-packs already, other Masters of the Cities from around the country are visiting with their own candidates. It's all politics and power games (and crazy mermaid/vampire marriages and their offspring) but Anita being Anita, she just can't make up her mind.
Obviously, the more pressing problem that she might be pregnant (don't even ask who or what the father might be; the candidates are endless) is distracting poor Anita from the matter at hand. Finally, an actual interesting storyline!
Of course, the reaction of most of her current partners is suitably predictable: Micah and Nathaniel's creepy little were-leopard Stepford Husband double act kicks into gear immediately. Whatever Anita wants to do is fine by them, but they're thrilled as she's perfect and always right and they adore her, etc, etc.
It's all tediously familiar from every single other situation they've ever appeared in. As per usual, there is absolutely no fun to be had reading a romance where one partner is totally perfect and always agrees with the other, no matter how much of a petulant bitch she gets to be. Excusing it as 'pack' behaviour is, quite frankly, a bit of a cheap cop-out.
Everyone else, whether they know about the possible pregnancy or not, just wants to have sex with her, preferably all at the same time and so it goes on. The point where she does have sex with just one of the gang by himself, nearly kills her. Obviously, LKH is trying to tell us something here.
The most fun from the rest of the book comes from the hospital visit, complete with most of the potential fathers and bickering bodyguards from every type of were-creature they can lay their hands on. Anita is also 'miraculously' infected with every type of lycanthropy they can think of, but doesn't actually need to shape-shift. She does need to 'channel' each beast into another were-creature when they try to rise, however, leading to fun and games all round.
The book starts going down interesting roads when the nice gynaecologist starts talking about the various birth defects possible if the father is a were or a vampire, namely, Mowgli Syndrome or Vlad Syndrome. When both are detected in Anita's blood, the possibility of twins carrying each syndrome suddenly arises. Not that supernatural birth defects are a particularly pleasant topic, but for a while there the series looks like it's harking back to its darker roots, when it deserved to be shelved in the Horror section, rather than firmly under Paranormal Romance. It's original and different and you actually start wondering how in hell the characters could deal with the possibilities being raised.
Unfortunately, things go way downhill from there but, still, it's a major improvement on the last few attempts. Even the vampire ballet, the 'Danse Macabre' of the title, is a nice idea that just falls a little flat in execution. The ending is irritating in the extreme, however, comparable to the ridiculous opening chapter where Anita's erstwhile 'best friend' Ronnie consoles her about the possible pregnancy, then picks a fight with her about sleeping with anything with a pulse. This isn't because she's still worried about her friend shacking up with vampires (as used to be the case), or even the were-thing - as Ronnie is now shacking up with a member of the local were-rat pack - but because she's...jealous of Anita sleeping around. Ahem! The fact that the entire scene makes all the characters look absurd and obnoxious is neither here nor there, it is, as per usual, that LKH misses the point entirely.
But progress is progress. I'm not sure whether sales are dropping (I'm not sure I'd actually pay to read these anymore if I didn't get review copies) or whether she just got tired of reading people bitch about it on Amazon, but LKH is almost addressing some of the long-standing issues with this series. The writing has improved vastly, for one thing, as have the typos and there actually seems to be some editing going on these days. It has a long way to go before it gets anywhere near most of the newer authors writing in this genre these days, but it is a start. Having said all that, I still have to catch up with the next two books, so we'll have to see whether the series can make good on any of the glimmers of improvement it shows in 'Danse Macabre'.
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