I found myself trying to explain to a friend recently why I was reading Skin Trade, from Laurell K. Hamilton’s popular Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. He asked, wasn’t that one of those goofy vampire romance books? While there’s no reason why someone shouldn’t be able to read anything they want, the question did make me think for a minute and it made me realize I wanted to talk about what I like and don’t like about this series.
I first started reading this series of books many years ago. I don’t remember exactly when I started it, but it was probably a year or two after the movie version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and a few years before the television show. The whole “supernatural romance” genre that is so popular now didn’t really exist back then to any significant degree.
The first few books in the series were light on romance and somewhat more traditional in their approach to the supernatural (or, “preternatural” as they say in the books). I got hooked on the series when each book was an interesting melding of a detective/crime story and the supernatural, featuring a strong female character who didn’t take crap from nobody. Who raised zombies. And killed vampires.
However, as the series has developed, matters of love and sex have become a larger and larger component of the storyline. The main reason for this is Anita’s acquisition of the ardeur. This is best described as a love/lust/sex version of a vampire’s blood thirst. She has to feed this desire with some sort of sexual contact at least a couple of times per day or else she will be metaphysically drained of her life force, along with that of other characters who share a metaphysical connection with her. The needs of the ardeur and it’s conflict with her basic monogamous “must be in love to have sex” nature eventually becomes the main theme of the entire series.
It’s a fascinating concept, and there’s a lot of interesting conflict and character development that results from it. But unfortunately it’s also developed into an excuse to devote a lot of screen time (metaphorically speaking) to long, drawn-out and repetitive sex scenes. In the last 3-4 books, it seems like whenever there’s a sexual encounter between Anita and some other character, we have to devote anywhere from 20 to 40 pages on the sex scene. If these books had a soundtrack, this is where the bow-chicka-bow-wow music would cut in… Seriously, a lot of these scenes read like letters to Penthouse, albeit better written and with less vulgar terminology.
I’m no prude, and I don’t have a problem with a good sex scene, but they’ve gotten to be repetitive and BORING. As much as I’ve otherwise enjoyed most of the series, and recent entries like Skin Trade in particular, whenever it gets to one of these sex scenes I just find myself wanting to skip ahead like it was a training montage in an old Rocky movie.
The explicitness of the sex scenes doesn’t really bother me one way or the other. I’ll admit I don’t really know how explicit the sex scenes might be in a typical romance novel, but I have to wonder if these scenes really appeal to the female audience? I’m probably well off the usual demographic for these books, but it seems to me that regardless of your age and gender, unless you jumped into this series during the last few books, these scenes aren’t what drew you into the series.
There’s a lot of unexplored areas of Anita Blake’s universe that are waiting for these sex scenes to end so that we can get on with it, already. First of all, Anita’s back story has been raised over and over, but we’ve never really gotten a good origin story. We’ve got tidbits here and there but that’s not the same.
I think fans would like to see a good “Anita goes back home” story too. She’s got a lot of issues with family members that would provide good story hooks. For example, she’s got a stepsister her own age that we’ve never seen. A stepmother who she never really connected with. A grandmother who thinks her preternatural abilities are the mark of the devil. There’s a lot of unexplored territory.
When I recently decided to re-read the series from the beginning, I decided to buy the books in eBook format. Interestingly, while MOST of the series is available for the Kindle, there are some odd gaps where a particular book was not available. Fortuantely, they WERE available from Apple’s iBooks, and since I use the iPad as my main reader, it all worked out. However, one still has to wonder why this sort of thing happens.