I’ve been telling myself that I wasn’t going to read anything written by Laurell K. Hamilton anymore, but as soon as this book was available for pre-order on Amazon, I jumped right on it. I’m sick in the head, I know. This anthology includes fourteen short stories, eight of which have been previously published and only six of them new. It’s a total rip-off, right? Fortunately, I have never read any of them. One of the stories features a younger Anita Blake who has never met Jean-Claude or Richard and was refreshingly ardeur-free. She was just a necromancer, period. It gave me hope—however fruitless—that Ms. Hamilton will crawl out of her own ass one day and write Anita Blake the way she used to be. Not that I’m holding my breath or anything. After all, I’ve already given up hope that Firefly will ever come back. The other stories vary in quality from so-so to pretty good, but none of them really jumped out at me. I have to say that while I enjoyed reading this book, it almost felt like a chore. But hey, I enjoy vacuuming, so maybe I am a masochist. Every story is accompanied by a short little explanatory note from Ms. Hamilton herself, the tone raging from bitter to ha-ha-famous-author smugness. As I read the notes, I realized, “Wow, I really don’t like this woman,” but I’m going to keep reading her books, anyway, even though they suck. Why, you ask? Just shut up and read the review.
The first story in this anthology is Those Who Seek Forgiveness. The accompanying note says:
This is the first time Anita ever walked on paper for me […] The idea of her being a legal vampire executioner actually didn’t hit my radar until quite late in trying to write the first book. Originally, this story represented what I thought Anita would do: raise zombies. How different things would have been if I’d stuck to my original plan. No Jean-Claude, no Richard, not much of anybody except Anita. What a bleak world it would have been, with just Anita and me in it.
Yeah, let’s take a moment to ponder how awesome that would have been. Done? Alright, then. This very short story finds Anita helping out a widow who wants to talk to her husband one last time. For those who aren’t familiar with Anita’s necromancer powers, it is kind of like a muscle that she has to exercise frequently or strange shit happens like the recently dead folks shambling out of their graves and seeking her out. The widow’s problem is totally old hat for Anita especially since she is often approached by folks who want to speak to their dearly departed loved ones regarding estates and insurance policies, so she only hesitates for a moment to help her. The widow tells Anita that her husband died of a heart attack when he found out that she was cheating on him. Long story short, she’s a liar. If you’re a fan of the earlier Anita Blake novels, you’ll probably get a kick out of this one because it’s very basic necromancer stuff (no romantic entanglements). If you’re a newbie, this story is a good introduction to Anita Blake. Though it’s pretty short, it’s well-written and poignant. Oh, and if you like it, you’ll probably enjoy The Laughing Corpse.
The next story, Lust of Cupids, is a fun, light-hearted one, and I would have really enjoyed it if it weren’t for LKH’s embittered note. It just really rankled. Basically, she says that this story was turned down a whole bunch of times even though the editors really liked it because she wasn’t a big enough name. She adds that when she got to be famous, she didn’t turn around and resend it to them because she doesn’t give second chances. Don’t mess with LKH, yo. This one’s about a thirty-three year old career woman who’s never wanted to be married. Unfortunately, she lives in a world where cupids exist. Oh, and they can be bribed, too. The career woman’s mom bribes some neighborhood cupids to hit her with the “true love” arrow and the career woman (why the hell doesn’t she have a name?) gets attacked on her lunch break. Fortunately, a guy named Tom yanks her into his store as she was about to get blasted. They have lunch, they like each other. As it turns out, Tom’s mother is also determined to get him married off. Wackiness ensue. Who knew that a group of cupids is called “a lust of cupids”? Is this something LKH made up or is that for real? Pure fluff.
The note that accompanies Edge of the Sea says LKH is claustrophobic and has a “fear and longing” for the ocean. If you haven’t read Danse Macabre (don’t), she explores it there in length. As well as her prejudice against lesbians. Anyway, this one’s about a woman named Adria who lives with her best friend Rachel in a house by the beach. While having trouble sleeping one night, Adria takes a walk on the beach and finds a beautiful, handsome, gorgeous man raping her friend Rachel beyond the rocks. She screams at the man to stop and the man disappears into the ocean. Adria thinks she may have seen fins or a shark’s tail. Rachel dies and Adria becomes determined to catch the shark man, no matter what the consequences. This one’s genuinely creepy and it made me wonder if LKH may have a future writing romantic suspense if she ever just let the Anita Blake series die.
A Scarcity of Lake Monsters says it all in the title. It’s really about lake monsters that are about to be extinct. A husband and wife team of biologists, Mike and Susan, are trying to prevent it from happening and thus are studying the reproduction patterns of the lake monsters. Unfortunately, there are townfolk who could give a shit about the lake monsters and just want to get their pictures take with them. This is like Free Willy… except with Nessie. Kind of cheesy, but cute. Mike and Susan have a good relationship and Susan, as far as I know, only sleeps with Mike, though she has a weird sexual tension with the lake monster (just kidding. Or am I?).
Selling Houses is set in Anita Blake’s world. In her note, LKH presents the question “What are people with less dangerous job doing now that vampires are legally alive?” That’s a good one, especially since we don’t really see anymore what happens outside of Jean-Claude’s boudoir. This short story is about a plucky real estate agent named Abbie who encounters a house that may not be so easy to sell, especially since the previous family who lived there were viciously murdered by a father possessed by an evil spirit. Oh, and the walls bleed. As in real blood. We get to see Abbie going around the house attempting to clean it, so she can make it as presentable as possible, but that’s probably hard to do when there are blood splatters all over the place. Abbie is a fun, believable heroine and reminded me of the Annette Benning character from American Beauty.
A Token for Celandine takes place in the world of LKH’s first novel, Nightseer (I haven’t read it, but I hear it sucks ass). According to her note, she tried to sell it to Marion Zimmer Bradley, but Bradley turned it down because “elves should be really left to [Tolkien]” and LKH disagreed. The titular Celandine is a white healer trying to get someplace and is accompanied by her bodyguard, Behvinn. Along the way, they meet a bunch of dirty village folk who want to have sex with Celandine because they believe she’s a whore and Behvinn defends her honor. Lather, rinse, repeat. Behvinn ends up making a blood vow with a demon to get Celandine to where she is supposed to go. The writing is kind of simplistic and we find out very little about what this Nightseer world is supposed to be like. It’s pretty much a very dumbed-down YA with half-assed world-building. Boring. Maybe Zimmer Bradley was right.
A Clean Sweep is an amusing little story about a three-foot superhero named Captain Housework who is summoned to some society lady’s house to clean it up before a fancy party. Captain Housework mourns the days when he used to fight real villains and actually got some respect. He wonders if he’s going to be spending the rest of his days cleaning up after ungrateful humans. Long story short, the society lady treats Captain Housework like a Guatemalan housemaid and pisses him off. Captain Housework exacts his revenge with hilarious results. For a fluff piece, it’s surprisingly dark.
The next one, The Curse-Maker, is also set in LKH’s Nightseer world. Dear God, I’m glad I never read that book because this world is really boring. The story is saved by a sentient sword named Leech who demands to be fed blood before it gets to work. Leech belongs to an assassin named Sidra whose minstrel friend is cursed by spoiled jerk and doesn’t have very long to live. Sidra travels to find the jerk who cursed him and make him reverse it or her friend will die. Boring. Leech cracked me up, though.
According to her note, LKH was inspired to write Geese while watching… um… some geese one day. A girl named Alatir was the daughter of a powerful sorcerer, but her entire family was slaughtered by an evil guy named Baron Madawc. He spares Alatir’s life, but he bestows a geas on her. A geas, I think, is a compulsion spell. Alatir escapes the geas by turning herself into a goose. Yep. A goose. A goose with a geas. Sigh. She falls in love with a real goose named Gyldan. Gyldan wants to have little goose babies with her. Alatir is torn between wanting to remain a goose and transforming herself back to human form so she can avenge her family’s death on Baron Madawc. The decision is made for her when she sees a couple of human children about to be abducted and taken to Baron Madawc. She transforms herself into a human and demands to be taken to Madawc, instead. The premise is interesting, but for some reason, it didn’t really hold my attention. Ultimately, I was just annoyed by Alatir who is really very Mary Sue.
House of Wizards features a heroine that is a result of Mary Poppins spliced with Mary Sue. Basically, s’about a woman who marries into family of asshole wizards and she blows them away with her abilities to cook, clean house, and babysit. Dear God, what is LKH trying to tell us here?
Here be Dragons is… creepy. According to LKH’s note, it was rejected by an editor because “it made her feel unclean”. That’s funny, LKH’s writing makes me feel unclean too! Anyway, this is a pretty good story reminiscent of Bentley Little or Clive Barker. Our heroine is an empath named Dr. Jasmine Cooper who is an expert dream-weaver. That means she can go into a person’s dreams and manipulate them. It’s all very Nightmare on Elm Street. Dr. Jasmine’s abilities are tested when she meets a pretty little girl who happens to be a sociopathic empath (a rarity) who can only sense negative emotions on people. She uses this ability to torture her fellow inmates (at the secret government facility where they study “special” kids) by giving them fucked up dreams. Dr. Jasmine had escaped this “school” and promised never to return, but due to the wishes of a dying mentor, she capitulates. The little girl and Dr. Jasmine have some wit-battling and Dr. Jasmine learns more about herself than she ever wanted to know. This story is really more gross than scary. For example, one of Dr. Jasmine’s patients is a perfectly nice old man who just happens to enjoy embalming women while they’re still alive just to watch them suffer. It plays with the concept of people who might have been born “evil”. Fascinating, but not for the squeamish.
Winterkill is another Nightseer story. Honestly, who gives a shit about these people and their world? Did any of you actually read Nightseer? In her note, LKH compares the main character, Jessa, to Edward, our beloved sociopathic assassin from the Anita Blake series. Jessa only kills wizards because she finds it too easy to kill humans. An evil wizard wreaks havoc on a small town and is executed by the townfolk. Out of revenge, his son wreaks havoc on the same town and is, in turn, executed by Jessa. Now, the wife and mother of the father and son wreaks havoc in another town and is just begging to be killed. Long story short, Jessa does not have Edward’s creepy, gleeful passion for killing folk. And this story is zzzzzzzzzz…
Stealing Souls is about Sidra again and zzzzzzzzz… who cares. I skipped it.
The Girl Who Was Infatuated with Death was previously featured in the anthology Bite and is set between Obsidian Butterfly and Narcissus in Chains. I have this theory that the Anita Blake verse really bit the dust after Obsidian Butterfly and even this little story proved me right. It totally sucks. Anita, who still works for Animators Inc at this point, is approached by a mother whose cancer-ridden daughter is missing and the mother is afraid that the daughter intends to escape a painful cancer-inflicted death by becoming a vampire. Since the girl is only seventeen, it would be illegal for any vampire to turn her into one and Anita would have to execute the vampire who turns her. Naturally, Anita turns to Jean-Claude for help finding the vampire before it’s too late, and all is lost. The story is shoved aside into the background so Anita and Jean-Claude could argue about their relationship and make out. What happens to the girl? Who cares. We are only told the resolution of her story through some “I heard” bullshit. This would have been a good story if Anita had used some detective skills to actually find the girl instead of just going to Jean-Claude. I mean, a woman had approached her, begging her to save her daughter, and what does she do? This story really pissed me off more than anything.
Ultimately, this anthology was a mish-mash of the passable and the severely unreadable. Here is where I usually vow never to read anything by LKH ever again, but we all know that’s a lie, so I’m not going to repeat it. You know I already have the next Anita Blake book on pre-order, right? While some of the stories are good, it’s not really worth to buy it hard-cover. Or mass market paperback. You’re better off borrowing it from the library. Better yet, don’t. Just… don’t. Sure, there are some good stories, but it’s almost like carving out the rotten part of the apple to get to the good part, which is usually very little. Better to throw away the apple and get some ice-cream. Damn it. Another twenty bucks down the drain.
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