Skin Trade is enough of a step in the right direction that I’m sorely tempted to give it a higher rating than it actually deserves. There’s a plot! With murders! And investigating! And I turned out to be right about Marmee Noir’s plans for Anita. And the two explicit sex scenes are better-written and less icky than what I’ve come to expect from Laurell K. Hamilton. And she’s being copy-edited again, so there are only a few typos. I get the sense, reading Skin Trade, that Hamilton is trying to blend the mystery/horror style of the early Anita Blake books with the erotic style of the later installments. The results are mixed, but I have to admit that Skin Trade is her best in years.
That said, I can’t say I truly enjoyed it, hence the 2-star rating. Skin Trade has its moments, and I’m quite happy that the plot never gets lost and is never far from Anita’s mind, no matter what else is going on. However, there are a lot of problems.
First, there’s the macho posturing. Especially in the first half of Skin Trade, Anita seems hell-bent on bickering with every male character she meets and trying to prove she’s tougher than they are. The female characters don’t even seem to rate that kind of treatment. Anita pretty much never gets along with any woman, ever. In one scene, she decides that a female cop is “one of those women who seem to hate other women.” The woman hasn’t even opened her mouth yet; how would Anita know this? Projection much? Anyway, all this bickering and posturing wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t take up such a vast amount of page space. I wanted to shout at the characters to just go solve the crime already.
Second, I think Hamilton is trying to push the envelope further in terms of sex, and the results are sometimes pretty disgusting. Anita is far too friendly to creepy serial-killer Olaf (thank goodness she doesn’t sleep with him) and does end up sleeping with a 16-year-old (thank goodness it’s not “onscreen,” and thank goodness she’s disturbed when she realizes what she’s done).
Third, we know that Anita is the most super-special person to ever walk the face of the planet. We get it. She doesn’t need more powers, or more men, or to turn out to be one of the very last carriers of blue tiger lycanthropy (Blue tigers? What the…), but all of these occur.
Finally, several promising plotlines end anticlimactically. I hope that, in the most egregious case of anticlimax syndrome, the “end” is not as final as it seems.
There was one bit that really struck me as clever, though:
“Why?” I asked. “Everyone knows what a pain in Jean-Claude’s ass I am. Why do you want to deal with that?” I couldn’t call for help in any way, or someone else died. I couldn’t go all lycanthrope, because it wouldn’t help me. What could I do? What the fuck could I do without a gun?
He laughed again, but this time it was lower, more attractive, more seductive. “The power, Anita. You are the first necromancer in centuries, and with so many other powers.”
Vittorio is answering Anita’s spoken question, but in a way he’s also answering her unspoken question. Indeed, Anita does end up being forced to enter Skin Trade‘s final confrontation without firearms, so that her powers are the only weapon she has. (That said, she has so many powers at this point, and it’s been ages since she actually shot anyone, so she’s probably more formidable metaphysically than physically.)
All of my grumbles aside, I really do think Skin Trade is a good start, if Hamilton intends to move the series back toward a focus on plot.
Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter — (1993- ) There are omnibus editions of these available. Publisher: Introducing Anita Blake, vampire hunter extraordinaire. Most people don’t even bat an eye at vampires since they’ve been given equal rights by the Supreme Court. But Anita knows better — she’s seen their victims… A serial killer is murdering vampires, however, and now the most powerful vampire in town wants Anita to find the killer.