Brought to you by OBS reviewer Andrea

Dear John: Pre-emptively Dumping the Reader

kiss_the_dead_book_cover“Life is too short to read books you don’t like, so if you’re not having a good time, stop doing it.” Laurell K. Hamilton

Writers are sensitive creatures, or so my girlfriend who is a writer tells me. I am a book reviewer/blogger personally, a sort of second cousin once removed to writers, in my opinion, and I am plenty sensitive. This point was made implicitly clear to me when I read Laurell K. Hamilton’s blog post titled Dear Negative Reader that she wrote in response to a number of negative comments on her message boards from readers who were unhappy with the direction her stratospherically successful urban fantasy series Anita Blake Vampire Hunter was taking. Before I go any farther I would like to state for the record that I do not condone personal, slanderous or otherwise, attacks on authors no matter what they have chosen to write. This being said I am completely unsurprised that there was an outcry regarding the evolution of this series.

For those of you unfamiliar with Laurell K. Hamilton’s work, the Anita Blake series in particular, you are in for a treat. The first ten books are quite simply outstanding and for an author, any author to maintain that level of quality for ten books, even for five, is truly a spectacular accomplishment. Guilty Pleasures, the first book in the series introduces us to Anita Blake, a necromancer. Set in an alternate St. Louis, Anita Blake is a reanimator, meaning that she can raise the dead for a time, usually for legal purposes and a licensed vampire executioner. The horrific crime scenes depicted in that first novel are still clear in my memory some fifteen years later.

From Amazon – Anita Blake may be small and young, but vampires call her the Executioner. Anita is a necromancer and vampire hunter in a time when vampires are protected by law–as long as they don’t get too nasty. Now someone’s killing innocent vampires and Anita agrees–with a bit of vampiric arm-twisting–to help figure out who and why.

Trust is a luxury Anita can’t afford when her allies aren’t human. The city’s most powerful vampire, Nikolaos, is 1,000 years old and looks like a 10-year-old girl. The second most powerful vampire, Jean-Claude, is interested in more than just Anita’s professional talents, but the feisty necromancer isn’t playing along–yet.

The case Anita is investigating in Guilty Pleasures draws the attention of Jean-Claude, a master vampire, and her interactions with him and by extension the supernatural world he occupies spark Anita’s evolution from human to something else. Throughout the series Anita struggles with her humanity or lack thereof and her relationship with Jean-Claude is quite contentious, particularly in the early books as her prejudice against supernatural creatures is an obstacle to the kind of commitment he desires from her, first as a servant and later as a lover.

Her slow but inexorable immersion into the supernatural world continues throughout the novels and the third book Circus of the Damned introduces her to Richard Zeeman with whom she begins dating and for a time plans to marry. Being of German and Mexican heritage Anita was raised Catholic and initially has great difficulty reconciling the supernatural world and her faith. Richard is a teacher and secretly a werewolf, he embodies the closest approximation to a normal life that is possible for someone with Anita’s power.

It wasn’t until well into the series that in my opinion that “the wheels fell off the bus” and quite spectacularly. I feel somewhat strange complaining about realism in relation to an urban fantasy but that is the crux of my argument with Laurell K. Hamilton’s later novels. I think all readers can relate to and even relish reading about a well orchestrated love triangle. Unless you are about 15 years old, a love heptagon, which is a seven sided shape for those of you who are rusty in geometry, strains the bounds of credulity. There were no less than seven men with whom Anita was having regular intimate relations with, under the name of love. If it was an orgy, fine, if she was of fairy descent as is Laurell K. Hamilton’s main character in her Meredith Gentry series, fine, but don’t insult your readers intelligence and call it love.

Furthermore, this behaviour is so far removed from the Anita Blake of the early books that one could reasonably argue that it was as if the character had been lobotomized. In her blog posting Laurell K. Hamilton argued that readers who disagreed with the direction that the series was going in were in the minority as her sales figures continued to rise and this might seem to be the case on the surface BUT there is no way to measure the number of readers who took her advice and abandoned a phenomenally talented writers work because she was unwilling to compromise.

Ultimately the direction of the series is Ms Hamilton’s prerogative as she made abundantly clear in her post. However, I would like to clarify one thing that seemed to perplex her, yet was completely understandable to me which was why readers would continue to visit her boards and complain. The characters in this series are not only “real” to their creator but also to her readers and after the time commitment that many of them would have spent reading a series that now numbers upwards of  twenty novels how could they not try to communicate with the author the travesty that the story has become.