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Still more sex than horror, but some real vampire politics for this installment
on July 3, 2006
"Danse Macabre" is the fourteenth Anita Blake novel from Laurell K. Hamilton (counting her "Micah" novella as the thirteenth outing) and opens with a hell of a hook: Anita's period is two weeks overdue and she is starting to freak out. If she is pregnant then the burning question of who is the father, which is immediately tied to "what" is the father. However, Anita does not have time to pick up a pregnancy test let alone take the test because Jean-Claude is throwing a big bash to welcome to St. Louis the first ever mostly-vampire dance company. He is one of the group's patrons and is throwing the party to help the group earn rave reviews. Several Masters of the City will be visiting and a couple of them have shown up early and there will be a preliminary event. But when Anita shows up at Circus of the Damned, Jean-Claude and Asher are off dealing with Meng Die, who has gone off of the deep end. This leaves the Executioner to host the visiting Masters and their entourages on her own. That is when things start getting bad, because Master vampires are prone to think they are superior to a mere human servant, but Anita Blake got past that line on her resume a long, long time ago.
I was encouraged when I started reading "Danse Macabre," not because of all of the possible complications a pregnancy would create for our heroine, but because a gathering of Masters of the City is fraught with even more potential for disasters. The first two Masters to show up cause major problems and they are supposedly friends of Jean-Claude. Word is getting around of what has been happening in St. Louis and there are those who think the way Jean-Claude is running things is a sign of weakness. Meanwhile, the Council of Vampires back in Europe is starting to get a better picture of what is really going on and there is the danger that they are going to stop Jean-Claude from becoming even more powerful. At the center of all this vampire politics is Anita, who is now coming up with new powers in the first act rather than the climax of these novels. There are always those who are going to try and push her around, and we all know that Anita is always going to push back and that most of the time, but not always, she will win the encounter. The problem is that what I saw as being the big set up to get excited about, is not where Hamilton wants to go.
For several books in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series a lot of us have been wondering what Laurell K. Hamilton is doing to her heroine. The sex in these books continues to escalate, both in terms of frequency and (oh, how to put this) new frontiers. Hamilton is relentlessly pushing the envelope and finds yet another major bridge to cross when Anita is involved in threesome with two other males and this time she is not the one in the middle. Fortunately, the characters in this book talk about sex more than they have sex, although it is a close call on that score, because while I found the first time Anita finally got off the fence (the black wrought-iron one with the pointy spikes on the top that represents the world of Jean-Claude and not the white picket fence favored by Richard) to be pretty hot, most of what has followed since has been less effective (I attribute it to gender as much as age in determining why I dismiss the sex scenes). Off of my reading of "Danse Macabre," I believe the primary purpose of his latest novel is to convince us that Anita is not a slut. The fact that there is a scene where somebody who apparently thought that was she decides that she is not and makes a point of telling Anita would be one clue. Another would be how the book ends, emphasizing the power of love even in the face of all that sex.
I was leaning towards rating this book at least a star higher as I got into the final act and looked forward into things hitting the fan at the dance, and certainly Hamilton was heading in that direction. But then she backed off and the best that can be said would be that she is setting up something bigger and better down the road, the problem being that has been true of the last couple of novels. The time frame of this 2006 novel is about forty-eight hours, so while on the one hand a lot happens, on the other we are not getting very far. Overall, I enjoyed this book more than the last Anita Blake novel because I saw it as heading more in the direction I want (outright horror) and there were several of those verbal duels Anita has with people who do not understand and therefore underestimate her at their own peril. But when Hamilton backed off of the big finish I so desperately wanted, even though the stage was fully and truly set, I had to end up rounding down on the whole thing. Just call it horror interruptus.
Finally, I was blithely unaware that Hamilton's married life was providing a subtext for how Richard has been replaced by Micah although I will admit that I had wondered what her husband was thinking about the radical changes in Anita's sex life. So you can look at her dedication to this volume and retrospectively read everything that has been happening with these characters in the last several books in that light for what it is worth, but that is hardly necessary. Even if what is happening with Richard represents catharsis, revenge or whatever on Hamilton's part with regards to her ex-spouse, the idea of having a really, really bad break up that never ever ends is a key part of the dynamic of this series. But that makes perfect sense because in the world of Anita Blake killing somebody is never the end of the matter. I might be unhappy with the direction of the series and left cold by the sex, but I am by no means disgusted enough with the proceedings to quit the series. There are still enough glimpses of what I consider to be the real Anita Blake to keep me interested.