LKH: An Inspiration and a Model Not to Aspire To …
Laurell K. Hamilton, author of the renowned (and possibly infamous?) Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series as well as the Merry Gentry series. At one point in time (high school) I could claim to have read each of her many books multiple times, and I considered myself to be her biggest fan. I drooled over her books the way most of my friends went gaga for Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean.
I remember there was a point in sophomore year of high school (I think) that I had read a comment online about being very disappointed with the path the Anita Blake books had taken, and I thought they were crazy. At the time we were only up to book 12 or something — it was definitely before Micah came out. In my younger mind, nothing could possibly make me decide to actually dislike this series, and I was convinced that when I grew up I wanted to be Laurell K. Hamilton.
I don’t remember why, but I remember really not liking Micah when it came out. I do remember, however, that, ever anxious to defend my role model, I wrote it off to being an off-day, so to speak. After all, that book really broke the mold that the rest of the books had followed, and it was short and clearly not up to par with the rest of the series.
When Danse Macabre was released, I begged my parents to take me to Borders (oh, how I miss thee) so I could buy it. I’d managed to scrounge up enough money I could buy it myself, but Borders was about 20 minutes away, and at the time none of my friends had driver’s licenses, let alone cars. I begged and begged and made the best arguments I could think of, even stooping to the ever popular, “Yes, I know I’m addicted, but wouldn’t you rather have a daughter addicted to a book series than TV or video games?” Considering I had also used this argument for building websites in middle school and spending countless hours role playing on various text forums, this fell on deaf ears. I don’t remember how I managed, but I eventually got myself to Borders and I recall feeling very smug that I had gotten my hands on the book in spite of my uncooperative parents.
I hated Danse Macabre. Hated it, almost with a passion. It had no plot. None. Whatsoever. I had read enough “adult books,” a term that still held enough meaning to me at the time for the distinction to be important, that I wasn’t all excited about the sex scenes (yes, I admit enjoyed reading several of them). But one of the most important distinctions between Anita Blake and steamy romance novels (a despicable genre, according to my younger self) was the intriguing plot, the action and, most importantly, the supernatural politics and maneuverings.
I stopped reading the books after that, and I actually went several years without paying much attention to LKH at all. Eventually, I got a little nostalgic and started catching up via audiobook while I packed for college (I think?). I found a few of the newer ones to be quite good, but there was no way to predict anymore if I would like the book or hate it, and I honestly haven’t actually read a book by Laurell K. Hamilton since then (not a new one anyway—I think I reread Nightseer at some point, but that was written even before Guilty Pleasures so I’m not sure that it really counts).
As I just finished listening to Affliction, I couldn’t help but think about my history with this series and these characters. I used to love them very much—they were my introduction to the genre, and therefore to my writing, and I feel very conflicted when I feel compelled to give low ratings to any of her books. I was very critical of Hamilton’s writing style in my review of Affliction, and I can’t help but wonder if these problems were there all along and I just didn’t know any better when I was reading the earlier books in the series, or if I just didn’t care. Or were they there at all? Do these seemingly small things bother me so much more now that I’m generally conflicted about the books? Am I looking for fault in them now? I plan on reading (or probably just listening to) Obsidian Butterfly with a more critical eye (ear?) sometime soon to consider this. Maybe my tastes have just matured that much, or maybe Hamilton’s writing has just regressed that much. We’ll see when I compare the current state to what was my favorite book ever for multiple years in a row.
Laurell K. Hamilton gets a lot of flack for her more recent books—I’ll be the first to agree that there was way too much sex and way too little plot in several of the books. Every now and then, though, it’s as if she hits a home run in one book. That’s one of the major reasons I still read the books; I won’t just skip to the ones I hear are good either, because for all that there seems to be very little useful plot in the other books, there’s information in the power structures and Anita’s development that are genuinely important. Knowing how to condense getting the important information across is a skill I struggle with immensely, and maybe I can use Hamilton as an example of what not to do.
Quite bluntly, I think she deserves the negative commentary her recent books have gotten, but I think she also deserves praise for her successes. Look at the common books being published and inhaled today, and compare that to when Guilty Pleasures was first released. The publishing companies didn’t even know what genre to classify this series as—it wasn’t fantasy, because it wasn’t like Lord of the Rings; and it wasn’t romance, because, well, it wasn’t; and it wasn’t mystery because there was very little crime-solving. My home town’s library, in fact, still shelves these books under General Fiction because that’s where they’ve always been, even though they’ve expanded their fantasy section over the years since then.
Laurell K. Hamilton was one of the leading authors in the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres. Without the successes of her books, I might not have a niche today— I might not have fallen in love with reading the kinds of books that I have, and I might not have become so passionate about writing. Laurell K. Hamilton has had a significant impact on my life, and she’s inspired me, and several others of my general age-group, to go on and do awesome things. This is something I feel is often overlooked when people talk about Anita Blake or Merry Gentry, and I for one don’t want to forget about that.
Anyone relatively new to reading the genre, I actually highly encourage reading at a least a few of the Anita Blake books (maybe at least through book 5; if I remember correctly, the first real sex scene was in book 6?), but do it with a grain of salt if you’re looking to her as a role model. She’s an incredibly successful author, but her books have some problems. Enjoy the read for what it is: a fun story.