Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Incubus Dreams (Anita Blake #12) by Laurell K Hamilton

I start most reviews with a recap. That would require there to be plot for me to recap. Ok fine, I’ll try:

Anita gains new woo-woo (lots of sex is needed)

Relationship angst

Strippers are murdered, people manage to care about that at the end of the book.

There, done.

It never ceases to amaze me how a book can go on for so long before anything relevant happens – and there can be no greater example of this than Incubus Dreams which also sets a pattern for most of the later Anita Blake books: beyond the sex, angst, relationships issues and random new super powers Anita pulls out of her vagina every book (or including them all) is the simple irrelevancy.

This book begins with Larry and Tammy’s wedding. Now, you would be forgiven for forgetting these characters since they’ve hardly been mentioned for several books and certainly not played any significant role since... well, Larry not since Burnt Offerings I think. And nor will they in the next 9 books. Why are they here? Why are we devoting so much page space to a pair of characters who have been virtually dropped from the series?

It’s not like these moments are supposed to show Anita’s mundane life as we saw in earlier books (when she actually worked and helped in police cases rather than spending her whole time with her harem), or if it’s supposed to be, it does it extremely poorly because this ISN’T her daily life – spending time with these people is a one off out of her daily life of harem-management. It is an irrelevant distraction from who Anita is, what matters to her and what she does – and the whole thing was just used as a vehicle to describe Anita’s relationship with Nathaniel anyway, with only a brief consideration of the bride and groom.

Then there’s Ronnie and her issues – again, taking up pages and pages from a character who has all-but been dropped from the series and ends up being, yet again, another vehicle to talk about Anita’s issues.

Except for one, painfully brief, wave from the plot we actually get through 30% of this book without anything substantial happening. We have these brief vignettes of irrelevant characters. We have interminable pages of her naval gazing over Nathanial (basically summed up with “should I have sex with him?), a new super-power randomly appearing for random reasons of randomness. And Damian’s creator popping in for… reasons and doing… stuff. No, really, I have no freaking clue why Moroven decided to get involved or what she hoped to achieve or why nor what purpose it served in the story; it could have been crafty foreshadowing but, 9 books later, it still hasn’t lead anywhere. It’s a plot hook with no line attached.

In fact, I take it back, we get through most of this book without anything substantial happening. There’s Damian (cured by sex), Ronnie’s issues (used to show how mean she is to Anita because all women must hate her), there’s Nathaniel’s issues (more sex) there’s an argument she has with a client (which leads to sex with Nathanial) and issue with Primo at one of Jean-Claude’s clubs (which leads to sex with Requiem and Byron). She goes to see a client at a cemetery (woo-woo sex with Requiem and Graham). And this isn’t even all the sex. Seriously, she has sex with everyone in this book, pretty much. And has to talk about it - all the damn time. Some of these sex scenes and their post/pre-sex warm up/angst session go on for 50 pages or more! Sweet gods of lust, just shag and move on already!

There’s no plot here. The story about some strippers being murdered is a random interlude between the angst and sex. It just hides in a corner, occasionally waves for attention, then disappears. We don’t even have any kind of conclusion to it. It’s more bad guys arrive, kill some strippers, are ignored, eave fodder behind, go away. The end.  Woo-woo is involved

This huge cast of characters is also beginning to spawn all its little side-plots – like Ronnie and her issues, Arnet after Nathanial (oh look, women jealous of Anita! All women, everywhere, ever. Female friends are forbidden!), Gregory and Stephen’s father, Richard’s endless whining – but they’re all just THERE. It’s not developed, they just occasionally pop up and then disappear.

Also I am really sick of the Ardeur – not just because it turned this book into porn (and I don’t use that world lightly, but this book has no plot and a series of woo-woo incidents that set up the next set scene. A story where there’s no plot and only convoluted set ups for sex scenes is porn) but for the way it destroys the very concept of consent. Anita does not want to have sex with Nathaniel. This could not be made clearer. She does not want to have sex with him. She does not want to have intimate contact with him and is desperately trying to preserve as much space between them as she can. The only reason she is intimate with Nathaniel is because she is forced to by the damn awful Ardeur. Which is already bad enough but the damn Ardeur comes with a secondary plague: Super Wise Dear Abby Jason (hereby known as Jasby). Yes, Jason who, frankly, I don’t like. I don’t like his constant sexual come ons that he knows makes Anita uncomfortable. And I don’t like his “I read all the advice columns so that makes me super duper wise” pathetic pseudo-therapy that he gives Anita, because the crumb of it that is actually right is only right because Anita has the emotional maturity of a 10 year old with an almost stalkery obsession with her ex-boyfriend in college which she really needs to get the hell over already.

But why do I dislike Jasby so much? Because his advice nearly always boils down to “never mind your silly issues, you silly woman you – go have sex or you’re a silly silly meanie”. Anita doesn’t want to have sex with Nathaniel. Yes she’s attracted to him and yes she may even love him and yes her reasons for not wanting to have sex with Nathaniel boil down to a desperate wish for a monogamy she can’t have linked to a lot of internalised anti-sex messaging and slut shaming.

So? Her reasons are not relevant and don’t get to be dismissed because Jasby, you, me or anyone else says so. Anita does not want to have sex. She is not silly, mean, childish or selfish for not wanting to have sex. This is an extra dimension I hate about the Ardeur because not only does it force Anita to have sex she doesn’t want, but it gives Jason (as Jasby), Jean-Claude, Asher, Micah, Nathaniel and a whole score of other men permission to shame and pressure Anita into having sex.

Is Nathaniel upset because he’s unfulfilled? Yes – and it sucks that the sex he is having with her isn’t what he wants either – but “my sex life is boring and I don’t want to screw anyone else” is not a club to force a woman into sex acts she doesn’t want to do. Nor is it ok for Anita to use Nathaniel as a sex toy, over and over and relying on his submissive nature to stop him complaining. The whole damn thing is not ok – it’s the great big rapey shadow of the Ardeur forcing people, especially Anita, into sex acts they do not want.

Also, we need to address Laurell K Hamilton’s definition of homophobic – not wanting to be in a sexual encounter with someone of the same sex? That’s not homophobic.

Having your gay characters consistently smaller and weaker than your straight ones – and then having them have sex with someone of the opposite sex for her and her boyfriend’s benefit? That’s homophobic. Especially if it’s the only sex we ever see. Especially if he’s largely there to assure us that the main love interest isn’t REALLY bisexual. Even more especially if the character will then disappear never ever to be seen again. THAT’S homophobic.

This book just meandered from sex scene to sex scene. There wasn’t even plot to hold them together – just relationship angst from Nathanial and Richard and new and more woo-woo. Both the angst and the woo-woo just drove Anita to have more sex. It then sprinkled this complete non-story with her insulting depictions of GBLT people, her brushed over POC background characters and a continued maintenance of all-women-who-aren’t-Anita-are-weak-awful-people. It was dull, it was porn and it wasn’t even good porn.