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Bullet: An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Novel Mass Market Paperback – May 31, 2011
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About the Author
Laurell K. Hamilton is a full-time writer and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series and the Merry Gentry series. She lives in a suburb of St. Louis with her family.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I WAS WORMING my way through a mass of parents and children with a tiny clown hat clutched in one hand. In my navy blue skirt suit I looked like a dozen other mothers who had had to come straight from work to the dance recital. My hair was a little curly and a little too black for all the blond mothers, but no one gave me a second glance. The one saving grace as I threaded my way through the crowd of parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and siblings was that I wasn’t one of the parents. I was just here as moral support and last-minute costume rescuer. It was just Monica Vespucci’s style to leave part of her son’s costume at her house and need an emergency save. Micah and I had been running late with client meetings so we got to ride to the rescue, and now since the vast majority of the performers were female I was the only one safe to go backstage without scandalizing the mothers. What did little girls who only had male relatives do at things like this? My dad would have been at a loss.
A little girl and her mother damn near knocked me down the stairs in their rush to get up past me. The little girl was knocked into me so that my suit jacket pushed back and she was staring at my holstered gun and U.S. Marshal badge. The child’s eyes went big as she met my eyes. The mother never noticed, dragging the silent child up the stairs. I let them get ahead of me, the little girl’s huge, dark eyes following me until the crowd hid her from sight. She couldn’t have been more than five. I wondered if she’d even try to tell her mother she’d seen a woman with a gun and a badge.
I started pushing my way up the stairs, keeping the hand with the clown hat in it close to my jacket so I wouldn’t flash the gun by accident anymore. I was going to try to keep my occupation a secret from the screaming children and their frantic mothers. They didn’t need to know that I hunted bad little vampires and wereanimals for the preternatural branch of the U.S. Marshals Service. They certainly didn’t need to know that I raised zombies as my day job. I blended in as long as no one figured out who I was.
I got to the upper hallway and there was one lone male over the age of twelve being herded by his mother. She had an almost embarrassed look on her face, as if apologizing for not having a girl. I knew there were more men up here, because some of them were mine, but they were safely away from the estrogen-rich room of little girls.
Monica’s son was under five, so he didn’t count as male yet. He was just a generic child. Now if I could only find the generic child, hand his mother the hat, and flee to our seats where everyone was waiting for me, I’d count it as a win, though knowing Monica she’d need something else. I didn’t like her at all. But her husband had been one of Jean-Claude’s vampires who died sort of in the line of duty, so Jean-Claude made sure that he and others stood in for her lost husband. It was honorable, I even approved of it, but I avoided Monica when I could. She’d betrayed me and a shared friend to some bad vampires once. She’d apologized, and she depended on Jean-Claude’s people for emergency babysitting and things like tonight. She’d been bad because the old Master of the City had been bad; now that we had a good Master of the City, Jean-Claude, she was good. Sure, and the Easter Bunny is a friend of mine.
The fact that I had a key to her house in case of emergencies still bugged me, but Jean-Claude was right; someone who could go out in the daylight needed to have the key. He also knew that no matter how much I disliked Monica, I’d do the right thing. He was right, damn it. A herd of pink, sequined little girls barreled past me. I hugged the wall and let the teachers chase them down. There were so many reasons I didn’t have children yet.
I heard my name squealed out, in that high-pitched generic toddler voice, “’Nita, ’Nita!” I had no idea why, but just lately Matthew, Monica’s son, had taken a liking to me.
He came rushing at me in his bright multicolored clown outfit with the little balls on the front that matched the ones on the hat. His hair was a deep auburn like his mother’s, but there was something about his threeyear-old face that made me think of his dead father. Robert hadn’t been my favorite vampire, but he’d been handsome and Matthew was a cute kid. He came running with his arms up and launched himself at me. He was not big for his age but it was still startling. I caught him and swept him up in my arms because to do anything else would have either knocked me flat or been churlish.
He put those little hands on my shoulders and leaned in for a kiss. I offered a cheek, but he touched my face and shook his head, very solemn. “I’m a big boy now, ’Nita. I kiss like a big boy now.” Cheek kisses had been fine until about two weeks ago, and now Matthew was very certain that cheek kisses were baby kisses. It made me wonder if Monica was being overly friendly with the new boyfriend in front of the kid. It was Monica; there would be a boyfriend.
I’d told Monica about it and she thought it was cute. Matthew puckered up and planted one on my mouth, which meant he was wearing my very red lipstick. “Now you’ve got my lipstick on you, and that’s more big girl than big boy,” I said, as I looked around for some Kleenex or something to wipe his mouth with. I was also looking for his mother. Where was Monica?
“It is big boy if it’s your lipstick.”
I frowned at that tiny face just inches from mine. “What do you mean, it’s big boy if it’s mine?”
“All the big boys kiss you, ’Nita.”
I had a sinking feeling that maybe it wasn’t just Monica and a boyfriend in front of Matthew that were giving him ideas. “Where is your mother?” I said, and began searching the room for her a little desperately.
She finally separated herself from the mass of women and girls of various ages and came toward us beaming. It creeped me out a little that Monica seemed to think I didn’t hold a grudge about her betraying me five years ago. I did hold a grudge and I didn’t trust her. She seemed unaware of that.
She had Matthew’s curly auburn hair, cut shorter and more styled, but her face was thinner, more of a sharp triangle, as if she’d lost weight since I saw her last. Once upon a time you could have asked if she was feeling all right, but now women dieted for no reason at all. Monica was shorter than I was by a few inches, and I was five-three. She was still in her skirt suit, too, but her blouse was white, and mine was blue.
Matthew kept his arms around my neck while she used a wet wipe on his mouth. Then she put a paler shade of lip gloss on his lips, though they didn’t seem to need any to me. She took the hat from me and put it over his curls. If he’d been any older the outfit would have been embarrassing to any boy I’d ever met, but at three it was actually . . . cute. I would not admit it out loud, but it was.
“Thank you so much, Anita,” Monica said. “I can’t believe I forgot it.”
I could, but I just smiled and kept quiet. Quiet usually worked better between Monica and me. A mass of little girls dressed in the girl version of his outfit bounced up, and he wiggled to be put down. I did so, happily.
Monica watched him run away with the others in his class with that proverbial mother’s look: pride, love, and almost possession. I never doubted that she loved her little boy. It was one of the reasons I was nice to her.
She turned to me, still smiling. “I’m so glad the recital is tonight so I can concentrate on the business tomorrow.”
I nodded, and tried to make my escape. Monica was apparently a better lawyer than she was a human being, or at least Jean-Claude trusted her to do up the contracts that might, or might not, be getting signed tomorrow. I trusted Jean-Claude to be a good businessman.
“Agreed,” I said, and tried to slip away.
She grabbed my arm. I don’t like to be touched by people that I’m not close to. I stiffened under her hand, but she didn’t seem to notice. She leaned in and whispered, “If I was being offered a seventeen-year-old boy toy I’d be more excited, Anita.”
Matthew was out of sight so I let my eyes show just how happy that comment made me. Monica let go of my arm, her eyes a little wide, face surprised. “Oh, come on, Anita, what woman wouldn’t be flattered?”
“First, I haven’t agreed to letting him stay in St. Louis when they bring him in from Vegas tomorrow. Second, don’t ever call him a boy toy again.”
“Touchy,” she said, and then her face softened and her eyes glittered with some thought that I knew I wasn’t going to like. “Defensive of him already, Anita. My, my, he must be better in bed than I remember at that age.”
I leaned in and hissed in her ear. “We were all mind-raped by one of the scariest vampires to ever exist, Monica. She used me to feed on his power as a weretiger. She used me, and him, and all the other tigers in a bid to survive even if it meant destroying all of us. You tell me, what part of that was a good thing?” I had grabbed her arm somewhere in all that.
She spoke low. “You’re hurting me.”
I let go of her, and stepped back. She looked up at me, and I think for a moment let herself see me, really see me. She was angry, and for just a moment I knew that she didn’t like me any more than I liked her, not really. Then I watched a different look cross her face, one that most men would have thought was a good look, but a woman knows when another woman is about to drive the blade home.
“Funny how it’s never your fault when you have to have sex with all these men, Anita,” and with that she walked away. She walked away with the proverbial knife stuck deep and hard right through my heart. Nothing cuts deeper than when another person says exactly what you’re afraid to say out loud. Hell, Matthew had said it, too, in his way. All the big boys kiss you, ’Nita.
I fled the laughing costumed children and Monica’s knowing eyes. I waved at Matthew as he called my name, all lined up with the little girls in his class. I wanted to be in my seat so I could see him; he’d go on second. Yeah, that was it, I hurried to my seat to make sure I’d see his performance, but I knew that wasn’t the truth. I ran toward my seat and the men waiting for me, because part of me believed that Monica was right and all my words were just a case of the lady protesting too much.
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I don't think the answer is ending the series or killing off characters, despite some posts, although the cast size has become ridiculously unmanageable. First, she needs to re-read the first five books, and compare the content and style to what she's written lately. She needs to see that the difference isn't only the amount of sex--it's the quality of the writing. She's blogged that in the past she belonged to a writing group, and the solution is for her to request more time between books so she has the ability to give her work to people who will be honest with her and force her to really edit out the weaknesses and develop the aspects of fiction which tie people in--character development, a strong plot, real consequences for the characters, and strong, fresh, original writing without repetitive conversations, phrases and scenes (sex scene after sex scene is as boring as conversations that go on for pages and pages while characters say the same things over and over). Finally, she needs to remember that true sexual tension comes from NOT sleeping with people...the reason the romance and relationships work in the early books is because the men were given the chance to become important to readers emotionally, there was teasing between characters, there was the tension and excitement of wondering when, if ever, the characters would have sex, and what it would mean when they did--as with Jean-Claude in the Killing Dance and Richard in Blue Moon, there was the worry of what would happen between them now that things had changed, and what would happen between her and the other characters. Real consequences with the sex instead of it being just another orgasm and another faceless body.
The constant sex and the Ardeur have done Anita a real disservice. She used to be a truly feminist icon in-the-making, because she refused to be categorized as nothing more than a sexual object simply because she was female. Anita was more than that. She was embodying the qualities women have when they're given the chance to be more than simply physical bodies available for any man's sexual fantasy. True sexual empowerment comes from a woman having complete control over her sexual needs and desires, not sleeping with everything that moves despite her belief that it's wrong. And that's not prudery--that's a realization that sleeping with tons of men has not made Anita a better woman--it's made her abuse the people around her like the villains of the early books used to do. LKH can say that this is Anita owning her sex life and not being so paralyzed by sex anymore, but she isn't owning anything--she's the one thing now that Anita NEVER would have let herself be in the early books--a victim. A victim of her own body, her own power, of the ardeur. She has no choices, and she takes the choices of others. The whole reason she exists in the books now is to have sex, to the destruction of her own ethics (as they were), her relationships (like with Richard, Dolph, and even Edward) her career, and even her own source of magic (necromancy). That's not an empowered woman. It's an objectified woman.
My recommendation is pretty huge, but it would be that Marmee Noir's attempt to make Anita her human servant actually severs all of Anita's supernatural ties to the other characters, including her triumvirate with JC and Richard (sort of like Alejandro canceled her marks to JC in Circus). That will effectively pull the plug on almost all of Anita's powers (plus the Ardeur, thank the goddess) except her necromancy, and in one fell swoop, half of the ridiculous powers which contribute to making her a Mary Sue will disappear. This means that there will be tension about bad guys again, since Anita won't be able to just conveniently grow another power or have sex to save the day instead of having to use her head and her gun. This will also force Anita to question her ethics and her sexual relationships with the so-called 'harem'. Who will she keep now that she doesn't have the 'excuse' of the Ardeur? That will force her to actually pick someone, again, creating real consequences for the characters, since without the Ardeur, there's no reason for all the men to put up with her sleeping around, and she'll have to question who she really is and what she's become. Not only that, but without power tying the men to her, she can drop the utterly unrealistic 'everybody loves Anita' aspect of the Ardeur, another reason so many folks consider her a mary sue.
This would streamline a lot of the bloated parts of the series and LKH can remember the most crucial part of fiction--it is conflict and consequences. At this point in the series, we know LKH isn't going to actually cause any legitimate pain to any characters, and that kills all of our desire to find out 'what will happen next'--we don't have to read to know that nothing bad is really going to happen--Anita will just have sex and things will magically and easily resolve. But the saddest thing is that I bet LKH won't take this criticism constructively and use it to make her series better, but will instead cop out and blame the fans for being disloyal or prudes or haters instead of people who want nothing more than to be given the chance to fall in love with Anita all over again.
So many extraneous characters have been introduced at this point, the character development is almost nonexisitent. And while I was glad to see Jean Claude and Richard have more of a presence in this book, Jean Claude still seemed too secondary to Anita. He's supposed to be the powerful, master vamp but instead he cowtows to Anita too much. At least Richard's whining was cut back, however Asher was hugely annoying and Anita herself whined too much. The editing was also poorly done. There were typos and a lot of repetition that should have been edited out with a good line editor.
Almost the entire book was set underground the Circus of the Damned, so that got quite a bit boring. When you combine that with the low action, there wasn't much to hold the reader's interest. It's sad to say, but I didn't even find the sex scenes appealing. I think mainly because they were more of a chore, i.e., 'I have to do this to solidify my power', not 'I want to do this because I care about or am attracted to this person'.
I don't know what happened to the early suspenseful, high action, mystery style of this series. It used to be great. I've stuck with it hoping it would get better. I thought it got a smidge bit better with Blood Noir and Skin Trade, but we were dragged further downhill with Flirt and Bullet. The one positive remains the world building. The setup for the next book sounds interesting, so I will probably give it one last shot.
If you are looking for good urban fantasy, here are some series I enjoyed and recommend:
Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs
Alpha & Omega series by Patricia Briggs (Don't miss the anthology in On the Prowl,which is a prequel to Cry Wolf)
Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews (Don't miss the anthology in Must Love Hellhounds, which should be read between Magic Strikes and Magic Bleeds)
Chicagoland Vampires series by Chloe Neill
Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance
Dorina Basarab Dhampir series by Karen Chance (Don't miss the anthology in On the Prowl, which should be read between Midnight's Daughter and Death's Mistress)...I liked Dory better than Cassie but it's best to start w/Cassie from a timeline perspective
Sookie Sackhouse by Charlaine Harris
World of Lupi series by Eileen Wilks
October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
Kara Gillian series by Diana Rowland
Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep
This book was absolute drivel. The influx of characters and shape shifters with little to no explanation or development in this book was at an all time high. The repetitive phrasing, (...creamy goodness ....a kiss that was all..., ...the metaphysical crap), Anita and her magic vagina. I am so disappointed that a series with so much potential has turned into little more than erotica and not good erotica at that. I really hoped that after Skin Trade she was on a road to redemption.
Unfortunately, I now feel as if Ms. Hamilton is simply making fun of her readers and laughing all the way to the bank. She keeps writing garbage and we keep purchasing to see if things will get better.