Guilty Pleasures

Written by Laurel K Hamilton

First published in USA in 1993

First published in UK in 2000 by Orbit.


Crow character_001First off, I have to say it. The author rather overwhelmed us with characters and, while she did develop the core ones into individuals, I found myself asking ‘what, who’s this person again’ quite a few times.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get straight to Anita Blake, former vampire hunter and present animator (the boring term for a professional necromancer). She’s the classic world-weary hero we see in so many other books and, with her past, we can hardly blame her for having a strong dislike of vampires and the fairly recent acceptance of vampirism going on around her. The author tries to give her a softer side by giving her a collection of stuffed penguins but the old internalised-misogyny-masquerading-as-strength cliché is still there by making her hate shopping for no good reason. However, there’s no denying that she is strong in the physical sense as she is able to best a vampire in single combat in the first few chapters but her amusing sarcasm and lack of tact did get a little annoying after a while. However, she does thankfully get some development throughout and learns not only to be nicer to people but to make tactical alliances with people she doesn’t personally like. It’s also worth mentioning that, though she’s capable, she’s not invincible. It was good to see her fail a few times (I mean that in the nicest possible way).

Phillip is supposed to be our love interest for this evening but feels more like the eternal victim, even more so than Anita’s friend who is supposed to be in danger from the start. We first meet him as a male stripper at a vampire strip club but, later, he provides useful information for Anita regarding the mystery of the book. We later discover (but not by his admission) he has a tragic past with a vampire who *shudder* liked young boys best. It seems clear to me that he uses sex and vampire bites as a coping mechanism and, so, any steamy scenes with Anita just feel uncomfortable. While he did have a brave moment, Phillip really served as Anita’s damsel in distress that she would have to run and save when he got in over his head and he didn’t really develop perceptibly.

The master vampire of the town, Nikolaos, is often described as a ‘child bride’ but is far from helpless. She has lived for over a thousand years and rules the vampire world with terror of her incredible supernatural abilities. She orders Anita to solve the mystery of the vampire murders but, unfortunately, does so with so many threats that her villainy eclipses that of the murderer. We don’t get any backstory and some of the descriptions can get downright creepy (and not in a good way). As the story goes on, she also seems to be less interested in solving the case and more in kicking Anita around like a football. In the end, she degenerated into the cackling cliché villain and I’d lost all interest.

Just as I lost interest in Jean Claude, this book’s equivalent of Sebastian Vioget from The Rest Falls Away. He too owns a vampire bar but this one is a strip club and he is a vampire himself. I think that’s what makes him less interesting as he becomes much creepier in his unwanted advances towards Anita. Like Sebastian, he tries to solve the vampire community’s problems through diplomacy but, unfortunately, not everyone wants to play that game and he winds up being locked in a cross-laden coffin (the vampire equivalent of being buried alive). However, he gets around his punishment through a psychic link with Anita that she certainly didn’t want and is much too convenient. He comes off less as a romantic alternative to Phillip and more as a creepy stalker.

There are other characters but, again, so many that the reader is quite overwhelmed and, as a result, only a few get very meaningful development.

5 out of 10 drops

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Crow character research_001It’s clear that the author has done her homework on New Orleans Voodoo. It fits well since it is set in Louisiana (not sure it is New Orleans). The most visible element is the gris-gris, a portable charm which can be used for just about anything, and, in this case, it’s used to keep the wearer alive beyond their natural lifespan. Though, interestingly, the act of making zombies in real-life voodoo rituals is not so much raising the dead as it is making a living victim docile by giving them serious brain damage. The animation rituals included in the book follow more ancient rituals which go back to Ancient Greece. Some of these did involve a blood sacrifice but no more than a chicken or goat’s worth and sometimes, only a drop of blood would do so Anita’s notion that a bigger death is needed for one that died long ago does not follow with these ancient rituals.

Speaking of bodies, when examining a vampire corpse, Anita notes that rigor mortis had come and gone but that can take about 24 hours and it’s unlikely such a gory death would go undiscovered for that long. However, the author gets around it by stating that vampire bodies work in different ways so I can’t really nitpick there.

Here’s a little history lesson about coffins I’ve just learned: in the Western world, the word ‘coffin’ was first used in the 14th century and is used to refer to the hexagon shape that most of us are familiar with. However, that shape has somewhat gone out of fashion in favour of the rectangular ‘casket’, first used around the 18th and 19th century and is preferred today simply because it’s not body-shaped. So, the author is right to state that a hexagonal coffin is the sign of an older vampire.

Like Dracula, powerful vampires can exert psychological control over their victims and, in this book, it’s less seductive and more terrifying. There’s even a bit of Dracula paraphrasing when Jean-Claude talks about ‘blood-of-my-blood’. Again, this doesn’t really have scientific backing as hypnosis really isn’t the ultimate control device it’s generally believed to be.

While there are a few inaccuracies, they can be explained away in context and don’t really distract you from the story.

7 out of 10 drops

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Crow character originality_001A world where vampires have integrated into modern society and become an accepted presence is by no means a novel concept but Guilty Pleasures offers a few more political and social viewpoints on the subject. There is a lovely variety of views and societies built up around it: hate groups, apologists, extremists, peaceful churches and an incredible amount of questions over what legal rights vampires should have. This spectrum of opinions is something you don’t often see and which I would love to see more often.

Regarding the vampires, a lot of the old clichés are present. Vampires sleep in coffins in this story and they get burned by holy water, though the author specifically states that the user must have faith in the holy powers otherwise it won’t work. They also hate sunlight too but, like in Glass Houses, age can allow a vampire to become impervious to it. Powers of fascination and appearances of perfection are present too but this story interweaves them in a rather interesting way. Their physical appearance doesn’t change much but, if they make the effort, they can project a subtle hypnosis on those who see them to make them perceive the vampire as beautiful and unable to see any flaws. That’s actually quite a brilliant way of explaining it. The book simplifies the stake-through-the-heart method of execution by stating that any destruction of the heart would do, whether by stake or gun. Vampires also have a vulnerability to silver, which leads to a rather gruesome new method of vampire slaying: injecting them with silver nitrate while they sleep. Vampire or not, it’s a nasty way to go.

It’s not just Christianity that’s included but New Orleans Voodoo practises, especially in raising the dead. In this book, the dead have to be dealt with very carefully or else their minds will break. Several disturbing scenes make the zombies less frightening and much more pitiable.

Oh, yeah, and the book includes were-rats too. Which, surprisingly, weren’t the author’s creation but had been around in games and fantasy books for a few decades before it was written. I really did not see were-rats coming.

Unfortunately, the one thing that the author didn’t put a new spin on was vampire attitudes. Without fail, most of the older vampires were cruel and/or seductive and/or murderous and the relationships between human and vampire come off as abusive and/or analogies to addiction. Only the younger vampires seem to have any variation in their characters. It’s a black mark on what is otherwise a spotless grade for originality.

8 out of 10 drops

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World Building

Crow world building_001Though it’s the modern world, it’s still very different from the one we know and is worth exploring in depth. As I said before, there is a lot of political stuff and each viewpoint gets a decent airing from the apologists who believe vampires are simply misunderstood and would happily encourage anyone to convert to the ‘Church of Eternal Life’ (that’s not a paraphrase) to the extremists who cannot accept the changes.

Even though vampires are legalised, even normalised to an extent, and there are churches devoted to changing people’s perceptions, it’s still clear that the cultural upheaval is very recent and, naturally, people are not very accepting of it. For instance, there is a lot of tokenism and the R.P.I.D. (the police department devoted to investigating supernatural matters) was created simply to please the press, is underfunded and not very well respected. Neither are the vampires. In fact, vampires are fetishized by humans with strip clubs and secret clubs devoted to vampire lovers, which do nothing to endear them. Changing perceptions is slowed even further by a long and secret history of vampire hunting described by Anita. While her trainer has been forced into retirement by injuries and she has ‘gone legit’ by becoming an animator, it’s still clear that some people resent the changes, like Edward, and will keep hunting despite changes in law. There are also hate groups made mostly of vampire victims that, if not for a few reasonable leaders, would have led a charge against the nosferatu long ago. Good to see the slow movement of change properly represented from all angles.

Voodoo and magic is very much alive in this world, used for legal reasons mostly. It is shown to be a very delicate process and there are hints of what happens when things go wrong, including a rather gruesome urban legend. Since this field is scientifically recognised, there are even mentions of a scientific journal, of zombies rarely acting of their own accord and of ghouls (something entirely different). The uses of voodoo magic don’t end there as we see it used to continue one’s lifespan in the same way that vampire blood does. All in all, there’s a lot of nice detail about the field of animating the dead and it all feels nice and realistic.

It’s not just vampires and zombies, though. Lycanthropes are mentioned several times throughout the book and the story expands their horizons beyond simply werewolves. All kinds of were-animals are mentioned but the most prominent of which are the were-rats. They start out scary (and rather reminiscent of the rats from Dishonored) but, as we learn more about them, a whole underground society is revealed who are willing to help undermine vampire authority. Always nice to see enemies turn to allies and different societies within supernatural denizens.

Honestly, I think the only thing that’s missing is some history of vampire society and, in particular, how Nikolaos rose to the top. Nevertheless, all of the world building is done at a good pace and neatly avoids info dumps.

9 out of 10 drops

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Crow story_001I’m afraid that this is where the book really falls down. The story really drags on through what turn out to be unnecessary sideshows. Not through world building either but just spending too long in one place and on scenes that don’t contribute all that much to the plot. The story is a murder mystery as Anita is pressed on all sides to find a vampire killer and, though investigations do tend to run into a lot of dead ends, Anita wasted a lot of time on them. Worse still, the horror of the murders isn’t really built up. We’re dropped into the story after two have already been committed and we only see one other murder. Anita always seems to be thinking about something else and, while that can be interpreted as her not caring about the victims, it makes it easy to forget that there is a vampire murderer. Thus, the plot feels rather unfocussed when the author stops to ‘admire the scenery’ or give some background and, at times, even disorientating when the scene switches without much warning or explanation.

Speaking of dead ends, the main conflict at the beginning was Anita’s friend becoming hypnotised into becoming a vampire’s slave and Anita is doing her best to make the vampire relinquish control. However, not once did the friend ever seem to be in danger. In fact, she was out of town for most of the book and apparently out of danger. Another friend, infiltrating a vampire hate group, never seemed to be in much danger either thought Anita worried about her a lot.

The only one who’s really in danger is Phillip, Anita’s damsel in distress. He wasn’t too dumb to live but the ‘romance’ between them certainly felt forced and Anita could sometimes be downright inconsiderate. Perhaps, the author realised this halfway through as she reveals that Nikolaos had ordered him to seduce her, which just feels a bit unnecessary. In fact, I don’t know what Nikolaos was playing at half the time. She is a thousand-year-old trapped a child’s body but it seems she has a child mind too, which is not appropriate for a master vampire, despite all her terrifyingly described powers. It’s not enough to simply rule through fear, after all. You need a fair bit of diplomacy as well which Nikolaos simply can’t do. The one who’s much better at it is Jean-Claude but his way of getting around Nikolaos was way too convenient and too creepy to be admired. At least, Edward’s way of dispatching the vampires was original and didn’t feel like a cop-out.

While I admire the world-building, it still distracted us a bit too much from the story and led us down a few too many dead ends and uncomfortably written sexy scenes for comfort.

4 out of 10 drops.

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Overall = 31 drops – A Negative


2 thoughts on “Guilty Pleasures

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