Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Affliction (Anita Blake Series #22) by Laurell K Hamilton

Anita finally gets to meet Micah’s family – but it is in the worst possible circumstances; Micah’s father is dying. Long estranged, Micah only has a short time to return to his family, reconcile after he deliberately shunned them and say goodbye to his dad.

Anita is there for moral support – but there’s more. Micah’s dad is dying from a supernatural disease apparently from a bite from a zombie. And he’s not the only one. Working with the local police, she finds huge numbers of missing people – and more and more zombie attacks

More than a personal tragedy, Anita has to find and defeat a vampire who can do things she never imagined possible – and who wants to see the whole world die.

This book was a lot better than I expected.

Before you take that as a massive positive, do remember that after reading the last 10 books or so in this series, my expectations are very very very low indeed. It’s kind of like going to a doctor panicking because you have the Ebola virus and being reassured that no, your ulcer just exploded.

The main thing rescuing this book is it is not porn. Yes, there is sex in it, no the sex doesn’t serve any real purpose other than the need for sex, but it doesn’t overwhelm everything like previous books. This was a massive relief. So what takes its place… plot?

HA! C’mon this is an Anita Blake novel, the plot has to fight for every second of appearance!

The first filler is recapping. Lots and lots of recapping. This is book 22 of the series. There is a lot to recap. So much so that I’d advise not even trying. No, not advise, I’d BEG you not to try. Then there’s the pointless descriptions – why random cop extra #4 needs 2 paragraphs of description I’ll never know. They all do – and it’s more than just simple basics, she goes into elaborate lines about how this man has big hands for his body which would make him look clumsy but he’s not and she bets she’s not the first person to think so and… WHO CARES?! Why is this remotely relevant information?! GET ON WITH THE PLOT ALREADY!

Next distraction (what, plot? No not yet, you should be so lucky!) Haters. Haters, haters, haters. Whenever there is a group of at least 3 people, one of them will hate Anita. Either because she’s shagging vampires and werebeasties, the sluthussyjezebel. Or because she’s sleeping with lots of men, the sluthussyjezebel. Or simply because she’s female, the sluthussyjezebel.

Which could be good – some scene where Anita faces prejudice and works round it, fights it, calls it out, etc. But it’s every group. All the damn time and it’s never even remotely subtle. People feel quite happy to scream obscenities at her in front of their superiors, in front of witnesses, in front of other women, in front of an endless stream of people who would, at very least, lead to you spending some quality time in diversity seminars. And it’s not just one or two, whenever there are a group of people they WILL have heard of her and at least one of them WILL freak out and have a hatefest in blatant terms then Anita will whip out her WISE 101 text books for a very long and very dull explaining of the bleeding obvious. At this point Anita Blake must be more famous than an A-list actor because she can drop in on law enforcement in Colorado (Anita is based in Missouri) and have everyone not only know her, but know all about her personal life as well – enough to hate her for it or be in awe of her for it.

Ok, now can we get to the plot?

Alas no – because now we have to deal with pages and pages and pages of emotional navel gazing and angst. I would actually be fine if this revolved around Micah and his actually dying father, but no – Anita’s dead mother returned to wave her issues, as did Nathaniel’s past; we had a run round Nicky’s (oh why is this character even here?!) sadness before we visited the woe that is afflicting the Harlequin’s animals to call then we spend some time dissecting which  of her men she wants to marry and which not and whose fee-fees will be hurt with a final stop at “oh what shall we do with Asher” station which we have visited so many many times before.

Ok plot?

No, because I have another rant! Why does interesting stuff in this series happen in the downtime?! Jean Claude is now head of the American Council, Master Vampires across the US are blood oathing to him and we spend pages upon pages upon pages explaining political ramifications of this. Even on the phone when Anita is telling Jean-Claude that Micah’s dad is dying we have several pages explaining this.

EXPLAINING THIS?! This is like when you killed the Mother of All Darkness in the freaking downtime! This is the most exciting, fascinating twist to happen in the Anitaverse and it happens between books?! We go from “we should totally do this” to “yeah it’s done” and don’t get to see it?! Are you kidding me? You don’t even meet with the local master of the city to see how that works in practice?! And why did you form a Council? Originally that was to protect the US vampires against a Mother of all Darkness possessed European Council, but with her dead, why did you do it? Was it just a good idea? Was it for funsies? Power? Or are we expected to believe the unaffiliated rogues are a threat? Because you didn’t show them as one

And assimilating the Harlequinn? Can we do something with that? They’re the most deadly mighty forces the vampire world has ever known and you’re treating them as extras – did this series RELLY need yet MORE characters?! Or explore your multi-coloured day-glo tigers – they were supposed to MEAN something and not just be new pretty things to shag. And Micah is becoming Beat King, lord of all the North American shapeshifters – and you’re just throwing that in? How do the other leaders react to that? How does Richard react to that? How can you just rewriter you world like this and just have it HAPPEN?! How can you have such major shifts in the canon and pay no attention to it?

I dearly hope Laurell K Hamilton never writes history books – it’d start with “1914, war breaks out,” followed by 500 pages of sex in the trenches, then book 2 will begin with “and Germany surrendered”.

And since when is Raphael the Rat King of the whole US? When did that happen? When did Jean-Claude become a master with a rapier? He has not picked up an edged weapon in 21 books. 21. But now he’s a world renowned swordsman?

Fine, rant aside – plot?

Yes, let us look at the plot. And on the surface it was good. Anita actually investigated a major issue. We had strong emotion, it was personalised to Anita, it brought Anita to her work, it had some action, we had a lot of old world building come up and emphasise just how much closer Anita is to the vampire world than the authorities and how that closeness and knowledge helps. We had her being tough and scary and borderline smart and it was, albeit heavily distracted, a nice return to the Anita Blake of yesteryear. It was a much needed blast to the past when Anita wasn’t spawning new super-powers (only got Hyena to call in this book) and jumping from penis to penis like and x-rated space hopper. It was a really good base plot – a vampire threat that was decently ominous, some good scenes tracking him down and Anita proving why she is considered such a colossal badass by all and sundry (though, really, she needs to stop with the “oh I’m shocky, I thought I was past been shocked by things like this” every book. Why does she ever think she’s past his?). I hesitate to say it because I rather liked her running around doing police work, but if I had any criticism on that score it was that, for once, she probably should have spent more time with her men’s emotions – namely Micah. It did feel a little like she abandoned him at his father’s bedside. But I won’t complain because I don’t want more distraction from the good plot.

But 2 pretty major niggles from the plot:

Anita: We have super-fast zombies, a plague spread by a bite… what could it be
Reader: Oh! That sounds like the Morte d’Amour! You’ve fought his vampires before (redacted for spoilers, now called Fred)
Anita: I can’t think what it could be, we have rotting vampires as well
Reader: Yes that would be Fred.
Anita: A council level power with rotting vampires that spread disease by bite?! WHO COULD IT BE?! I’ve never seen anything like it!
Reader: You’ve seen it. Repeatedly. Over and over and over again. How can you not know this?
Anita: Oh look! It’s Fred! I never would have guessed!
 The problem with tablets is they’re too expensive to throw at the wall like books.

My second major niggle with the plot is that Anita spends the entire book fighting zombies, rotting vampires and necromantic disease and piles of dead bodies… with guns. She runs around with guns. Not until the last 50 pages does she actually remember she’s a Necromancer.

Seriously, she shoots zombies with guns. Edward sends her to get ammo. The minute zombies appeared she should have dropped her weapons, laughed and said “you’re sending zombies after me, kids? You deserve to have your arse kicked as badly as I’m going to kick it” before promptly ripping the zombies free from external control and turning them into her own pet army.

She didn’t even try and it was immensely frustrating – and added to the worst anti-climactic ending ever.

Moving away from the plot (yes that was quick – but there wasn’t a lot of it), I think Edward may need to duck and cover. I’m sure he must be hearing the ominous jaws theme tune. Between more and more hints of Donna being fine with open relationships, all and sundry apparently believing they’re sleeping together and a couple of awkward walking-in-on-naked moments and I think I see where this is going. Edward, you are the last man in the world Anita has not slept with. She is coming for you. She is coming; may the gods have mercy on your soul.

But polyamory seems to be the issue du jour of this book. Laurell K Hamilton likes it, likes it a lot, so is going to talk about it in incredibly heavy handed ways. In particularly, in her way, she decides absolutely everyone’s gonna do it (except for the prudish prudes of prudery who, of course, are just haters anyway). So Anita’s polyamory? Sure. Micah’s parent’s polyamory? Go for it. Micah’s brother thinking maybe he needs polyamory to make his relationship happy… ooookay, I’ll follow that. Donna, she of the “I’m so jealous of Anita” past, getting engaged to Edward/Ted considering open relationships? Screeching halt, the breaks are on because you’ve lost me. It’s so damn clumsy. You can decide that a relationship works without everyone you come across having to be part of it. It’s similar to how being gay or bisexual is handled in these books; you can either hate something like an evil hating hater bigot - or you can participate. You can't be monogamous and have no problem with polyamory, you can't not be "heteroflexible" and not be homophobic. She also needs to stop drawing comparisons between her boffing of monsters with being gay – especially when she says crap like “you wouldn’t treat a homosexual relationship like that” while in states without full legal equality. Bad enough she appropriates so blatantly, but doing it ignorantly as well just adds salt to the wound

Speaking of – despite Micah making it clear how much he loves Nathaniel we’re also very clear that Micah is straight and Nathaniel is the exception. Just like Jean-Claude – because Anita’s main men cannot be bi! Cannot cannot cannot! We also have an added bonus of whenever Micah and Nathaniel show any affection it’s with Anita slobbering all over it, drooling away “zomg so hawt to men kissing, hawwwwwwt” which is really really creepy, or occasionally holding hands to almost bait a response from people watching. Also, again, “homophobia” does not mean “straight man who doesn’t want to get it on with another man so Anita can drool over them”. Seriously. Damian is not homophobic because he doesn’t want to be one of Anita’s hawt mansex dolls and it’s insulting to pretend anyone who isn’t “heteroflexible” is homophobic, especially given the series record. Equally, just because someone is bisexual doesn’t mean they are inherently incapable of being satisfied with one person; being attracted to men and women doesn’t mean they need both male and female lovers to be happy.

Asher doesn’t actually appear in this book – but is talked about a lot as being the ultra-drama-llama drama queen who can’t stop being childish and pathetic and having tantrums that are going to get him killed – just as he has been for, well, ever. Again, one of the only ACTUAL bisexual men in Anita’s harem (especially one who is more attracted to men than women) is the one being the overly-emotional, childish drama queen. Add, on top of that, Mephistopheles (who gets the nickname “Devil” therefore proving that, yes, you can make that name even more ridiculous) the other bisexual man in Anita’s harem. In love with Asher, spreading emotional drama over it and, of course, her only guard who falls to pieces when the battle lines are drawn

It would be perfectly ok to have one of her guards, especially not military trained guards, to fall apart in a combat situation – but from the hot mess of the werehyenas, to the “delicate” Faust and Byron to Asher’s endless hissy fits, Laurell K Hamilton has a series full of gay men or bisexual men who prefer men being cast as weak, fragile, emotional, hysterical and harmless (or evil raping villains) so when the one who falls apart because it’s all just so awful is the bisexual? Yes I call shenanigans.

As for women in this book… are there any? Oh yes, there’s Claudia’s brief cameo appearance. One of the guards is female (and described in ways to make it clear she’s not as good looking as Anita who, by the way, is now confirmed as being 5’ 3”, slender, 106lbs, with EEE breasts. That’s not a typo) but she disappears after she gets emotional and uncontrollable in the opening scene. We have Micah’s family show up, which has several women including a pair of token lesbians to wave and tell us all that Micah’s family are all good and accepting and why should they bother about vampires and weremonsters because LESBIANS, right? The women are all huggy which Anita, of course, disapproves of but they’re only cameo roles anyway, so she doesn’t feel the need to hate and despise them. There’s a pathologist – but she’s there to say how sexism against Anita is wrong and then never ever be seen again.

Ah yes, there’s Marshal Hatfield. On first meeting she hates Anita for being a whoreslutjezebel and says as much repeatedly and at length. She hates Anita, utterly hates her like 90% of the entire female population. Until she screws up so badly that she realises Anita is just the most awesome thing ever, whereupon she follows Anita around like a little lost puppy, desperate to learn from the master. On top of this, Anita’s contempt for all things “girl” is really powerful here. Being emotional and silly is “girly”. Being complicated is “girly.” Being confused is “girly”. And it’s always something to be avoided as avidly as a street preacher at a pride parade

In terms of POC, there are people in the background but rarely actually saying stuff, largely some of her guards are Black or Latino – Socrates, Lisandro, Bram, Seamus. Not, tellingly, her lovers or people who are the forefront of the cast; but then that’s probably a good thing when you consider this line describing Seamus, a Black Harlequin guard:

“Someone who looked like he should have been hunting lions with a spear shouldn’t have been named the Irish equivalent of James.”

Which is one of those moments where you just gape and know this has been nowhere near a copy editor.

In her backdoor inclusion, we do get lots of emphasis that Micah’s full lips and tan skin are from his “exotic” “ethnic” mother who is of indeterminate mixed-race origin; much like Anita’s black hair and curves from her mother being Mexican (to go with her SUPER WHITE PALE WHITE WHITE skin).

In some ways this book gives me hope. It gives me hope because there are kernels here of the Anita that was. Back before Blue Moon, before Narcissus in Chains, that Anita who helped the police, kicked arse, was more concerned with fighting the monsters and saving lives than she was shepherding her 8 million lovers; that Anita who was suspicious and cynical and worried she was becoming evil even when she made another devil’s advocate bargain to save the innocent. That Anita was here – in fits and starts, in odd moments, but she was there. And I hope, dearly hope, that means she’s going to try and pull her way to the surface from here – past the writhing bodies and growing harem and new super powers every second – she’s still under there and maybe, just maybe, we could go back to that.

It’s a naïve hope, but I can’t help but hope that, under all the bloat and overwrought writing and excess characters and bad sex, Anita is still under there.