Hamilton, Laurell K: Cerulean Sins

One kind of cure for the summertime blues

Any review of the 11th book in a series inevitably has to divide into two parts; one to tell the newcomer not to start here but why they should look for the start of the series and the second, to tell established readers where their story has got to now. Here goes.

Why did I start reading the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter books? I don’t like horror books at all or films (unless they’re 30’s black and white) and have never even opened an Anne Rice. Well, I’m a fan of Buffy and Angel, but mostly, it’s because a pal in the US puts her life on hold when a new Anita Blake appears and I became curious.

Start with Guilty Pleasures and you’ll find a refreshing change from well-worn vampire tale themes. Three years before, the Supreme Court proclaimed civil rights for the undead. That was unusual enough to get my attention and better still, Ms Hamilton doesn’t bother with endless explanation as to how this reality comes to have real, live undead. Rather, she draws logical conclusions from the situation and slides them into her narrative where they catch you like hidden trip wires. If zombies can be raised, murder victims need to have their mouths shot off, not merely closed. How much would a journalist pay to have Marilyn Monroe reanimated, to find out how she really died?

Anita Blake’s not interested in finding out, even though she raises zombies for a living, mostly to settle legal questions and insurance claims. As a good Episcopalian, she’s no interest in the Church of Eternal Life, where legal vampires deliver immortality, guaranteed. But what kind of people would succumb to the psycho-sexual lure of vampirism? What thrills are vampires seeking after a few centuries of indulging their every whim? When lycanthropes can recover from wounds that would kill a normal person, what does that offer the S&M enthusiast? When prejudice over their communicable, incurable disease forces werewolves out of their jobs, what career choices do they have apart from the criminal? These and other themes are explored as the series goes on. The plots are not complex; homicidal vampires and bloodthirsty lycanthropes make spotting the baddies pretty much a no-brainer. What has kept me turning the pages is the ‘how will she get out of that?’ factor in each book – and also watching Anita deal with the consequences of her actions. She might be a licensed Vampire Executioner but without a court warrant, she’s still a murderer – if she’s caught. Another thing that hooked me is the humour. Ms. Hamilton takes the right things seriously, the terror and the pain but takes an entertainingly light view of much of the rest. One useful fashion tip; never wear white trainers to a multiple-victim dismemberment, the blood shows up dreadfully.

On the other hand Ms. Hamilton doesn’t shrink from exploring the truly horrific implications of life with real monsters and Anita’s bloodier encounters aren’t simply gore thrown about for cheap shock value. You see the practical realities of shooting, staking or dissolving a vampire with holy water with brutal frankness. As the series develops, Anita finds herself romanced by two men (I use the term loosely) both of whom end up pursuing her (often literally). Ms. Hamilton tackles this with the same explicitness as everything else, so if you’re in any sense prudish, consider yourself warned. As the series progresses, this sexual tangle becomes more complex, in some latter books far more the focus than the ostensible plot. There isn’t quite the relentless shagging that I find distracts from the otherwise intriguing ideas of Ms Hamilton’s Merry Gentry novels but for me, the ninth installment, Obsidian Butterfly where Anita takes a complete break from her domestic entanglements, was a welcome return to the form of the earlier books. Personally I’m not at all convinced that Anita’s current affliction, the ardeur a kind of sexual vampirism, is contributing a great deal to the most recent books. Fortunately, that’s a minor quibble.

So where are we with this 11th book? Well, we’re certainly back to a lot of sex, often involving blue silk sheets and underwear which I assume is where the title comes in. We’re also back to St Louis where Jean-Claude, Master Vampire of the City is waiting for a visit from representatives of the vampire line that sired him, back in Europe. Vampiric politics are, unsurprisingly, a vicious and bloody game and much of the book deals with how Anita and Jean-Claude save themselves and their people from harm at the hands of the scarily seductive Belle Morte. There are many threads here, dealing with the nature of power in relationships, sexual and otherwise, the point at which a demand for trust becomes abuse in itself, just what it is that makes one vulnerable in love and the crucial differences between lust, love and friendship. The links between sexual power and political power are explicit and in a neat twist, Anita’s modern American egalitarianism rather baffles the European vampires with their automatic, somewhat dated of ideas of fealty and to people who may not actually have earned or indeed deserve such allegiance.

There are other plot lines and naturally, this far into a series, they involve the wider cast of characters we’ve come to know. What looks like a rogue werewolf seems to be on a murder spree and with her shiny new US Marshal’s badge, Anita is on the case. Unfortunately, Dolph, Anita’s old sparring partner in the police’s Preternatural Unit in incapable of handling the situation, now his son is dating a vampire and looking to cross over to eternal unlife himself. Anita and Dolph clash head-on over the way we can override prejudice right up to the point where it actually involves us and our own families. Not only is Dolph’s career put in jeopardy but what will become of the local lycanthropes, whom Anita is pledged to protect, if the local authorities start sending them to the so-called protection facilities that in practise, few ever leave? Richard, head of the local werewolf clan, isn’t likely to be much help. He’s still holding a whole bag full of grudges over his own failed relationship with Anita as well as nursing a self-destructive jealousy. His own instinct for democracy has also brought the clan to near disaster. There’s a point at which power has to be used, once it has been truly earned and Richard is still struggling with this.

All these various problems are in some sense resolved by the end of the book but I’ll leave it up to you to decide if it’s a happy ending. I know it leaves me wanting more so roll on volume 12.

This review originally appeared in The Alien Online.

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