Op-ed

Hate-Reading Anita Blake


It’s not the longest book series in the world. Discworld topped out at 45 books. Those The Cat Who… books number in the 30s. The Dray Prescot series consisted of 53 books written between 1973 and 1998, which is amazing for a series I never know existed until browsing TV Tropes this afternoon. But at 24 novels, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Vampire Hunter stands as one of the longest-running book series and certainly the longest one I’ve read. Even if I’m just hate-reading them at this point.

Let me explain. A friend introduced me to the world of Anita Blake back in 2000. Pre Tru Blood. Pre sparkly vampires. The “paranormal romance” genre didn’t quite exist…or if it did, Hamilton had created it. The Blake books were described to me as “vampire crack.” Like any drug, I got my first taste for free, by borrowing my friend’s paperback reprints of books 1-9.

Books one and two were okay. It was crime fiction with vampires. Sure. Whatever.

But book three…

Book three introduced werewolves and I was hooked. Sure, Hamilton had explored the were concept before. Book one featured wererats. But the werewolves had a language and hierarchy all their own and they were fascinating. Almost more so than the vampires inherent to the central plot, or the zombies Anita Blake could raise from the dead.

I kept reading. As the series went on, the stories became less focused on crime and more focused on romance. Then more focused on sex. Hamilton introduced the concept of the ardeur, the physical need for sex some vampires in her stories needed to survive.

Things changed around book 10, which was both when new main were flavors were introduced and when I started buying my own hardcovers. Anita caught the ardeur. We met werehyenas and wereleopards. While Anita was having sex before, now she was having lots of it, thanks to this insatiable need she couldn’t control. At book 10, the series became almost entirely focused on sex, and romance and crime took a deep backseat. Subsequent books spent 200 pages of a 300 page book on graphic sex scenes, leaving the remaining 100 pages for plot.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a well-written sex scene. But the time span stated to shrink. Novels that previously took place over several weeks now took place over several days. Then two days. Then a day. Each book was still 300-500 pages, only now the story became focused on the minutia of Anita’s life.

Things started to get better around book 15 or so—when I stopped buying hardbacks. Plot briefly got reintroduced. But just as quickly, the books backslid, this time with the introduction of the weretigers.

Werewolves, wererats, werehyenas, weretigers. (And if you haven’t yet read the series you should know: there are also werelions and werebears. I’m not kidding.)

Book 24 was recently released. I haven’t read it. I nearly threw book 23 across the room once I finished reading it. 300 pages of a story that goes nowhere. The first 60-ish pages were a literal State of the Relationship discussion between Anita and one of the many people she’s having sex with. I couldn’t be bothered to care. After 24 books I expect some character development, but the sheer slow nature of in-universe time (24 books taking place over 6 years) means nothing has happened with any speed. Every year or so I pick up the newest book, spend a week hating myself for reading about a bloated cast of characters (many of whom won’t ever change) and skipping past the sex scenes to get to the plot.

You read that last sentence correctly. I don’t care about the sex anymore. At some point, the author decided that breath-for-breath sex scenes were going to be the focus of the series.

I’m done.

Or so I tell myself. If I see book 24 on the shelves at my local library, I’ll probably pick it up. Once. Before I throw it across the room.

Or maybe not. Maybe this is the book where I put my foot down and say “I’m done.”

This time, maybe.

 tl;drs

Quick summary: The Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series follows Anita Blake and her various supernatural and supersexual exploits among the living and the undead. Over the course of 24 books Anita battles vampires, sleeps with wereanimals and vice versa.

Too many writers? Nope.

Too many books? Hell yes. 24 books that take place over 6 in-universe years is too many by about half. At this point the books aren’t self-contained at all. Beginnings are rehashed, endings are rushed and each books feels like 300 pages of middle.

Recommended if you like: Watching other people work through their personal problems.

Better than I expected? The early books deftly blended crime and paranormal romance in a way not done before.

Worse than I hoped? Where to begin? At this point there are so many characters I’m praying for about half of them to die.

Would it work better in a different medium? While I’d love an HBO series, I think Tru Blood already cornered the market on psychosexual vampire stories.

Verdict: If you must, read books 3-14. Then stop.

Related Reading: Tor review of Dead Ice, book 24

Wikipedia’s long, exhaustive, nearly never ending list of characters

“Why I broke up with Anita Blake” An impassioned essay by a former fan written in 2011…or 5 books ago.

*Note. Cover image is taken from the Anita Blake comic-book series, which I don’t recommend for different reasons. While the artwork is stunning and it’s nice to re-imagine the first few books in graphic-novel form, the PG-13 nature of the comics waters down the subject matter too much. Avoid.