Friday, 9 July 2010

‘Flirt’ – Laurell K. Hamilton (Headline)

You should never go back but sometimes you find that you just have to... Long time readers of the blog will be familiar with how I feel about the ‘Anita Blake’ books that I’ve read. For the benefit of recent visitors, it’s basically a case of my feeling sorry for a plot that appeared to be doing quite well for itself before Anita Blake abandoned it and went off to have sex with... well, anyone and everyone really.

Yet here I am again, back for more of what could potentially be the same. What happened? ‘Flirt’ is a very short book (one hundred and fifty six pages for the main story) and a lack of reading time this week highlighted this book as one to pick up for that very reason. I also figured that with such a short book there wouldn’t be room for one of Anita’s trademark marathon sex binges... would there? Part of me also wanted to try something a little different to my current fare, giving Hamilton another chance to see if anything had changed in her writing since the last book of hers that I had picked up (‘Blood Noir’). You know, like including a plot or anything like that...
I should have known better shouldn’t I?

It’s around about this part of any review here that I give people a brief summary of the plot and let you know what it’s all about. This being an Anita Blake novel makes that very difficult to do, almost impossible in fact. If you’re a fan of Anita Blake getting all self examining about her relationships (and then having sex with a total stranger) then this is what you can expect here but there’s no real plot to drive it all forwards. Yet for a few brief shining pages it could have all been so different...

Laurell K. Hamilton likes to mess with my head and not in the way that she intends her writing to do. The first few pages gave me a brief insight into what Anita’s day job can sometimes entail, this time letting a client down gently when his request for her to reanimate his dead wife proves totally unfeasible. This was a side of Anita that I hadn’t really seen before and it was a real breath of fresh air (as was a similar meeting that happened later on in the book). I actually got to see Anita as a person and the outcome of her meeting promised interesting things for the rest of the book. Things were looking up.

So what does Hamilton do next? She drags Anita, and a select band of lovers, down to the local diner for a lesson in how to flirt.

Seriously, a series already groaning under the weight of sexual tension and emotional angst clearly needs a little more of the same. No, I wouldn’t have thought so either but there you go. Nothing new is said in the intervening pages and it does make you wonder where the need was to say it all over again. Anita knows she can have any man she wants but doesn’t really believe she can and then finds out that she can after all. I don’t know if this is meant to make me feel any sympathy for Anita’s character but I ended up feeling exactly the opposite at this point because it was all so contrived. If you want me to feel any degree of sympathy for your main character then subtlety is the word here!

After a brief flirtation with the plot (pun intended), it’s kidnap time as Anita is taken to meet one of the people that she met and declined to work for. What the reader gets here is a confused mess where Hamilton attempts to portray Anita as strong and weak all at the same time. Her men are in trouble and she can’t save them (she’s obviously the only one who can) but that’s ok because they’ll rescue her. You can have it both ways but it needs to be written a lot better than this, especially when Anita’s sex powers ride roughshod over what could have been an interesting standoff and render the outcome in no doubt. Is it really a case of kidnap when you can sex your way out of it at any time? And what the hell was the head kidnapper thinking, leaving the cohort most susceptible to Anita locked up with her? “I don’t trust you anymore so I’m going to lock you in a shed with the main reason you’re in such a state of unfulfilled sexual tension right now. And then I’m going to act all surprised when I come back and find you two at it...” Dumbing down a decent villain like that, just to shoehorn the necessary sex in, is verging on the criminal. Anita’s hypocrisy, apparently the ends justify the means but only when it’s her, also doesn’t sit well with Hamilton’s attempts to cast her as the perfect heroine

The outcome is never in any doubt really so there’s no urgency pushing the book forward. Things conclude at a crawl rather than a rush and I wasn’t left with any real urge to find out what happens in the next book (also in the pile).

It’s always interesting to read about how a story came to being and this was generally the case with the afterword. The rest of the book though was a bit of a mess as far as I was concerned. Fans of the more recent books will lap it up, I’m sure, but I’ve seen nothing here (or in the last few books) that has made me a fan... Can anyone tell me what I'm missing?

Four and a Half out of Ten


Anonymous said...

This sounded (to me at least) more like a 2 out of 10. How does it get a whole mid-score of almost 5 ?

Jen said...

I picked this up because I was curious, and because Jennie Breeden, who writes The Devil's Panties (which I love) was part of this whole real-life story. I read it, I tolerated it, and then I recently picked up Bullet. And returned it to the library after getting 1/3 of the way through it. I am giving up on Anita. I'll keep reading the Merry Gentry series ... for now.

Unknown said...

We each have our own criteria for reviews, oh brave "anonymous". Exactly what is it that makes you so sure your idea of a 2 out of 10 should match up to Graeme's? Perhaps for Graeme competent storytelling and good grammar equals a baseline three; perhaps for you, a book you just out and out don't enjoy is an awful book. You do get that criticism is subjective, right?

Honestly, if you're going to call Graeme on scoring books too high, at least have the good grace to say who you are instead of hiding behind anonymity. Sign in and maybe you'll get a discussion. Otherwise, take your damn trolling elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

So, I'm not sure if anyone will answer this question or not but I've not started the Anita Blake series because a few people told me that the series starts with a bang and then really fizzes out toward the mid-point-current point the books are at. Is that accurate? This review seems to suggest that, but as someone else mentioned, everyone has their own criteria for reviewing.

I should just get off my butt and give the series a shot. :-D Thanks for the honest review.

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Anon - Funnily enough, other books by Laurell K. Hamilton have scored a lot less here. Have a look and you'll see them around and about ;o) This time round there was at least some attention paid to the fact that was meant to be a story to go along with the endless relationship angst and bad sex. It wasn't full of glaring typos either (and I've read some of those) so that bumped things up a little more. If you have a blog, I'd love to read your thoughts on 'Flirt' if you ever read it.

Jo - I was sent a review copy of 'Bullet' and I may yet give it a go. What made you put it down so soon (if not the stuff that irked me about 'Flirt')?

Sarah - I haven't read the early books but the general consensus appears to be that they were the best books of the series. The quality of the more recent books vary, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Magemanda said...

Hi Graeme - I would encourage you to give the early books a go, just to see the contrast with the later books. Honestly, this is why so many of the Anita Blake fans are so disappointed. Up to book nine, you had some interesting paranormal mysteries, a lot of powerful monsters, and a heroine who agonised over doing the right thing (and who, by the way, didn't want to have sex with everyone and everything because of her good upbringing). The utter shift in tone to the point where Anita is, basically, a slut turned off long-time fans. But there is much to enjoy about the first few books for sure.

Anonymous said...

As some of the other commentators have chimed in, part of the reason that LKH engenders such contempt is that her early books were really good. She set the mark for the kind of norish strong-female protaganist that now seems to define Urban Fantasy. Up to at least Bloody Bones, they're great.
However as Graeme points out, it's just a series of random sex and domination games.

Dokemion said...

You’ve heard people described as “such as flirt;” and you, too, want to be able to harness that skill. Flirting is fun because it not only fulfills some of your instinctual needs to interact with others, but it also demonstrates to others your degree of interest in them. Likewise, the response to your flirtation indicates the degree of interest in you.

Bets said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bets said...

This was a very entertaining review. It is always nice to know that others also get tired of contrived/over the top plot and characters. And the conflicted strength and weakness really does only work under particular well written circumstances.

GB said...

I always find it interesting to read reviews of the most recent Anita Blake books, since I stopped them reading at book 6. Each time, I feel vindicated that I did.

Someone else suggested you try up to Bloody Bones (book 5) and I would second that. By book 6, The Killing Dance, Anita shat me to tears! Her hypocracy was too great to put up with further.

Ronove said...

I'd say that the books all before Incubus Dreams were very good, never a dull moment, even if there was angst due to Anita's moral hangups and Richard's self hate.

Richard did not just hate himself for being a werewolf either. It was more than that (which comes out later). He was an idealistic fool through and through, especially with his tiresome "we are humans, not animals" nonsense. (Yah, animals give up when they lose a fight, they don't come back to murder each other, or do any of the violence that humans do to other humans!)

Anita also had/has? self hate problems and bottomless pit rage - and it comes out that it was an ethnic kind of problem for her - and who her father remarried, her siblings and then the guy she chose to date up until an engagement and (she should have expected it) rejection - due to ethnic reasons. Nothing supernatural. Just ethnic stuff. All this self hate and rage Anita had was prior to vampires and weres in her life.

The problem with Richard and Anita is that he wants the ideal fantasy picket fense home and she was brainwashed into believing that she SHOULD want that. But the two were never compatible, she knew this when Richard was at her house cooking when she got home, and she felt him invading her space, she did NOT like it - and as for him, he even hated her animator job, he hated her cop work, all of it. The two were not for each other and that was more than obvious.

This again, is Anita choosing to get involved with a guy that CAN NOT accept her - her step mom and siblings due to ethnic reasons, later, fiancee due to ethnic reasons, and Richard due to everything, her personality, all of it. Prior to the arduer, Anita had a nasty habit of choosing men that WILL reject her, can NOT accept her.

Fans should have rejoiced at Anita's immediate "get along" with Micah. He IS the man for her.

Still, aside from all that, the plots were dynamite, never a dull moment, and more than one mystery going on.

Then Incubus Dreams came along. Honestly, the book is not erotic at all. It is hard core XX rated porn, the type not usually sold in stores or available in any libraries. And the "who is killing the strippers" mystery is barely dealt with. Of course, the trick used to make hard core porn out of what WAS urban fantasy and mystery - is the arduer. And OMG, it is BORING. There could have been very short and sweet and interesting ways to get into all that, not the hard core boring porn that LKH wrote. Anyone can get these books from a library! That is NOT the case with books labeled X-rated hard core porn.

I'm still reading them, after Bullet - Hit List is the next book. Anita better very quickly get that fourth mark. Or does Anita WANT dangerous vampires to want her as a power base and try to take her from Jean Claude? That would be par for the course, considering her psychological history with her ethnic issues.

Now, the Rachel Morgan series - THAT IS GOOD. I also like Patricia Briggs, Susan Krinard, Kerrylin Sparks, Lindsay Sands when she doesn't bog down in chapters of boring sex, Yasmine Galenorn, TP Marsh (one book from that, I can't find more but think there must be more). I also have others I'll get to eventually, like Jim Butcher.