Today, we turn out attention to another popular urban fantasy author, Laurell K. Hamilton. I have not read any of the Anita Blake series before, so this read will be drawn from my raw reactions to the story.
If you’re just joining us, these reads are inspired by Tor.com’s rereads of popular fiction like A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. Noticing their lack of female authors, I’m offering my own version of commentary on books by women. These reads are geared to be entertaining, informative, and to observe and learn from successful authors. So over the next few weeks, every Monday, we’ll work our way through Guilty Pleasures, the first book in the Anita Blake series.
If you’re interested in the last book we looked at, check out Moon Called by Patricia Briggs here.
Study Hamilton’s first paragraph for examples of a powerful way to start a story.
Reader Comments: Even in just these first few sentence, I’m already pulled into the story, have a very good idea of who I presume is Anita, and already my pulse has accelerated just a little and my rather sleepy brain has perked up.
Writer Comments: Hamilton does everything she needs to in this paragraph. She imbues tension into her carefully chosen words, starts with a strong, distinctive voice, and provides us with a contradiction: Willie McCoy is dead and yet sitting, presumably animate, in front of Anita. The only real consistency is that he was and still is a jerk.
Willie McCoy, a new vampire, tries to convince Anita to work for him and some unnamed others to help catch someone on a vampire killing spree. But Anita has a strict “no working for vampires” rule and refuses. Instead, she heads off to the cemetery to raise a man from the dead to clarify which of two wills he wants enforced.
Reader Comments: Much fun. This chapter is full of unexpected and yet expected elements: Willie the coarse vampire, Anita having guns, and the urban fantasy heroine getting drawn into some sort of PI work.
Writer Comments: Willie McCoy is the most original vampire I have ever read about, not that I read massive amounts of vampire fiction. However, I’ve read a number, and he’s still the most unique of any I’ve even heard of. Hamilton does a brilliant job of giving him a distinctive voice and a nicotine addiction. He bumbles his way through being a vampire, yet Hamilton gives clear clues that something scary lies underneath. Her use of unique gestures, habits, and speech patterns breathes true character into Willie.
This chapter opens with sunrise and Anita’s particular views on that time of day. She doesn’t like it.
Reader Comments: A lovely, yet humorous diatribe.
Writer Comments: Hamilton again breaks expectations. Sunrises are typically associated with beauty, renewal, and freshness. To have Anita take time to describe her distaste for them reveals a great deal about her and the dark tones the book looks like it will take on.
After only two hours of sleep, Anita receives a call from Monica, a woman who works with her friend Catherine. Anita is in less than a cheerful mood and grudgingly accepts the last minute invitation to Catherine’s bachelorette party as the designated driver.
Reader Comments: I loved the first chapter, but this one is so short and different and sudden that I feel a little disoriented. I completely sympathize with Anita’s less than polite handling of Monica, who shows herself as an airhead and rather insensitive.
Writer Comments: The conversation between Anita and Monica almost goes on too long. I understand that Hamilton wants to demonstrate how much of a ditz or, perhaps, how inconsiderate Monica really is, but she rides the line of excessive a bit too close for my taste. She had such a phenomenal first chapter that I’m assuming this conversation with Monica is important; though, I can’t figure out how yet. I’m not assuming that Anita being designated driver is the key clue because, otherwise, Hamilton would have just mentioned it in one sentence and cut out the phone call with Monica. So one of two lessons can be taken from this, depending on how the rest of the book goes: Either, Hamilton included a scene that was unnecessary or its randomness is the point to show something really important about Monica. (This just occurred to me, but maybe the vampires got Monica to set this up so they could grab Anita and make her work for them. Just speculating.) Another lesson then, if a reader decides to assume the author did something random for a good reason, we try to draw speculative connections to explain it.
Uh-oh, apparently, the bachelorette party is only Anita, Catherine, and Monica. This makes me very concerned about Catherine … and Anita, but I figure she’s the sort of girl who can handle herself. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist mentioning.)
Monica takes Catherine and Anita to Guilty Pleasures, a vampire strip club, for the bachelorette party. There, Anita encounters Jean-Claude, a powerful vampire, and acquaintance of hers.
Reader Comments: Not a lot of action happens in this chapter, yet it’s infused with a sense of tension and impending disaster. I don’t particularly care for Monica. She strikes me as trouble with lipstick. At least, Catherine seems sweet enough; though, I’m terribly concerned about what’s going to happen to her.
Writer Comments: Hamilton does a few clever things in this chapter. First, her prose is paired with an intriguing dichotomy of sensual language and rough, threat-invoking words. This creates a curious and luring effect. Secondly, through the actions of Anita and Jean-Claude’s dialogue, we learn a great deal more about vampires and Anita without it being explicit or tedious. However, I felt a lack in the background effects of the chapter. Early on, Hamilton mentions the busy noise of people and music, yet she make no further reference to it. Anita and Jean-Claude don’t even struggle to hear each other over the din I would assume was there.
Anita witnesses the corrupt, visceral, and occasionally addictive entertainment the vampires offer their human customers. It sickens her. But through it all, the one who appears the more subtle but greater threat, Jean-Claude. (A note on Jean-Claude, since I’m aware that he’s an eventual romantic interest and popular among many fans: He comes off to me here as menacing and not the sort of man I enjoy in fiction. I don’t know if this will change or if my tastes are just a little different from some. In either case, he certainly seems like an interesting match for Anita.)
Reader Comments: Hamilton paints a disturbing and yet engrossing picture of the vampire strip show and feeding. She paints an even more disquieting one of humans, Monica among them, lapping up any taste of this dark and twisted affair of flesh and blood.
Writer Comments: After just four chapters, I think I can definitively say that Laurell K. Hamilton is an expert at using contradiction to evoke powerful images. As the show is a combination of arousal and ugliness, her descriptions evoke both beauty and the macabre. The effect is compelling.
Anita is called away from the bachelorette party to view a murder scene in a cemetery, supposedly by ghouls. The problem is that they’re not acting like normal ghouls.
Reader Comments: This chapter contains some stomach churning descriptions and reveals the next clue in a puzzle I can’t even guess at yet.
Writer Comments: This chapter is centered around one big clue and the introduction of Dorph and the other members of the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team. The clue is clearly important, but compared to chapters one, three, and four, it lacks emotional tension. Though, Hamilton has introduced yet another question, and even though, I don’t feel as fiercely connected to the story, the mystery intrigues enough to keep me reading.