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Book Review: Blood Noir – An Anita Blake Vampire Hunter Novel by Laurell K. Hamilton

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Anita Blake is probably the most butt-kicking hunter in vampire fiction today, and Blood Noir is the latest installment in this ongoing story. After sixteen novels, Blake has been clearly established as not only the most powerful necromancer in the country and the most feared vampire executioner to hold a license, but she is also one hell of a detective when the case involves preternatural critters of all sorts (her words, not mine).

First, some background on this world author Laurell K. Hamilton has created for Blake. Here, lycanthropes (were-animals of various varieties, not just wolves), vamps, faeries, demons, trolls and all sorts of legendary creatures live side by side with humans. Okay, maybe not so much demons and trolls, but the rest look just like you and me – only a bit prettier in most cases.

Blake is involved in pretty much every aspect of the preternatural. She's a born animator, which means she can raise the dead, but is also a true necromancer, a rare power that enables her to control the dead, no matter the form (this inconveniently includes vamps). She's also a federal marshal licensed to kill vampires and works with the local police to solve critter-related crimes.

Her love life spans the species. She's the human servant and lover of St. Louis' head vampire, Jean-Claude; the queen of the local werewolf (as she's the on-again-off-again sweetie of the werewolf king) and wereleopard packs (because she killed the previous leader and couldn't leave them to fend for themselves); and has a string of steady lovers both vampire and lycanthrope that make life all the more interesting-and complicated, as she is often caught in the middle of both kingdoms' politics, in addition to the competing love interests of her varied bed partners, some of whom would like to have some alone time with each other.

One such lover is Jason Schuyler, a werewolf in Anita's pack and the steady food supply for Jean Claude. Though they've only had sex on occasion, the two are more friends than anything else. Jason has been in most of the preceding books in the series, it's only in "Blood Noir," that you really see more dimensions to what has been a primarily self-centered and playful character. He's a stripper at Jean-Claude's night club, Guilty Pleasures, and loves everything that comes with that position.

Their relationship deepens in this book as Jason asks Anita to accompany him home to visit his dying father. There's more than one reason Jason has spend so much time away from his family and could use the added support of a loyal friend, like Anita. The first is because his father thinks he's gay and has all but disowned his son for what he sees as weakness.

The second is that his family doesn't know he's a werewolf. In the Anita Blake-verse, lycanthropy is a virus that infects through exchanges of fluids when one is in were form. This means bites, scratches or sex-the latter of which being Jason's means of infection. If his dad was angry about his son's supposed sexual preference, getting furry once a month was sure to be something Mr. Schuyler would hate even more.

The third reason Jason has stayed away is that he did not want to revisit a past where he lived in the constant shadow of the wealthier offshoots of his family, particularly a cousin who could be his twin and for whom he often took the blame growing up. Keith Summerland is the very influential governor's son and the root of most of Anita and Jason's problems once they land in small-town North Carolina.

Just off the plane, Jason is mistaken for Keith, who is due in town for his high-profile wedding. Security is tight and is soon attached to Anita and Jason after the Summerlands realize their golden boy is missing in action and that Jason's uncanny resemblance would (and does throughout the book) draw the paparazzi attention in ways they did not want. Once the media realize that Anita Blake is there with a man other than Jean-Claude (both of whom are rather high-profile themselves), they have a new story to publicize, which causes political problems for them both.

Jason has a confrontation with his father and sister, which fuels the anger he was already feeling for the whole Keith situation. Though Anita pulls no punches and leaps to Jason's defense, sparing the dying man none of the bite of her famous call-a-spade-a-spade approach, he remains hurt and conflicted. Jason ends up at Keith's fiancé's bachelorette party, reacquainting himself with the bride and others he knew from high school. All the while, Anita is close by for support, but ends up having to fight some battles of her own.

Marmee Noir, the mother of all vampires, chooses this moment to make a move on Anita from her thousand-year-old grave. Throughout the series, Anita's rare power as a true necromancer has been coveted by many a bad guy, mostly vampires who seem to be in a constant struggle for acquiring more power. She manages to amplify Anita's powers so that she calls every weretiger in the country to seek her out for mating. When three in the hotel take up the call, Anita loses two days to Marmee Noir's possession. That's two days of unabandoned sex with Jason, three weretigers and no birth control. Again, more political and now territorial problems result, especially when Richard, the werewolf king, shows up to help.

It all comes to a head when Anita finds out that Keith Summerland has run away with the wife of another city's head vamp, and that there are minions out to kill him. She and Jason are taken prisoner and tortured before the butt kicking commences and the bad guys find out their mistake of identity will be their last.

In the Anita Blake series, there are a few books that take a break from the overarching storyline that revolves around Anita, Jean-Claude and Richard. This is yet another one, but it sets up the story for the next book somewhat. By the end, Anita has to give Jean-Claude some concessions to his own sexual desires, which means he's now allowed to have sex with Asher, sans Anita. Asher is Jean-Claude's number two vamp and his lover from centuries past. The two men have been pining for each other for many books, but find a measure of relief by sleeping with Anita at the same time.

This concession that Jean-Claude and Asher can sleep together without her is a huge one in the Blake mythology, as she herself has evolved from a very sexually conservative character to a more liberal one with strict moral boundaries. While she has done a lot of experimenting and taken on as many as five regular lovers at a time, until now, she would not share any of them. Now to ease political relationships in the vamp world, she has taken this new step, which will no doubt be explored in the next book and the consequences unleashed.

Blood Noir, overall, was an exhilarating read. I could not put it down because I was so taken with the Jason storyline. Having read most of the rest of the books in the series, I was very happy to see more attention paid to Jason and that there was more to his character than a self-centered pursuit of pleasure. Anita dominated the book, though, making a story that was supposed to be centered on Jason more about her than anything else.

Though the story was interesting, I would have liked to have seen more action and less sex (which is a criticism mirrored by many readers, though in my case, it's more of an afterthought than a passion). Hamilton's earlier novels in the series flirted with sex as an integral part of the storyline. The sensuality was always there and exploded after book five, where she first has sex with Jean-Claude. From there, it has escalated book to book, to the point where this one is dripping with it. My only suggestion would be more plot, more action and a smidge less time in the bedroom.

I have been enthralled by the Anita Blake story since I picked up my first novel this fall and am still an avid fan who wants to know what comes next. I just hope that the next installment has a little more meat to the plot. And since Hamilton's blog reports that she's been signed for three more Anita Blake books, we certainly shall see.

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About Robin Kavanagh

  • maskay

    Thanks for the review. This is one of the best series out there. I agree that some more plot would have been nice, but I think BN is better than many of LKH’s last few books, maybe because I like Jason.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/robin_kavanagh Robin Kavanagh

    It was cool to learn more about Jason and see some different sides to him in this book. And I have to agree that this is one of the best-written series out there right now. I just finished a Nightwalker series book and was struck by how simple it was in comparison. It didn’t suit my tastes.