Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Skin Trade

Laurell K. Hamilton was my gateway author into what has become an Urban Fantasy addiction. When I discovered her Anita Blake series, I barreled through the first ten book in three weeks. I love Anita. She is a total badass...a little neurotic...but a kick-the-door-in-and-shoot-you-dead badass. She raises the dead in her day job (technically her night job, but anyway) to help settle estate issues and whatnot. Pretty cool as day jobs go, but it's her second job that makes her a badass. Anita is the Executioner. When a vampire goes rogue, she hunts and kills the offender. She slays the bad vampires and wraps the good ones around her finger. All the were-animals want her because she's the ultimate alpha female.

I sound like a fangirl because I am. I read Laurell's blog religiously. I love the posts about her writing process. She inspires me. I discovered Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison in the H section on the Fantasy shelves when I was looking for new Laurell books. Every summer when her new Anita book comes out, I'm right there on release day waiting. The latest in the series, SKIN TRADE, came out two weeks ago. Which brings me to my review...

Sigh. I hate to even say it.

I didn't love it. I actually put it down three chapters in and didn't pick it up again for over a week. Any other author and I would've moved on to something else. If I'm not digging a book 50 or 100 pages in, I usually stop, but this was Laurell. This was Anita. I felt like I owed them more than 100 pages. I finished the book, and I'm glad I did, but I didn't love it.

The plot of SKIN TRADE is pretty straightforward. Anita faces down a vampire serial killer in Vegas and navigates more were-animal politics, tigers in this case. I liked the premise of the story. My major problem with the book was the exposition...the pages and pages of interminable exposition. I'm not kidding; I was 200 pages in before anything interesting happened. This is a trend I've noticed in the last several Anita books. She won't let me infer anything. She has to spell everything out in endless, unnecessary explanations. I know Anita. I've come along for the ride for 17 books. Assume I've been paying attention. I can work a lot of it out myself, and if I can't, show me the issue in the action. Don't talk it to death.

A lot of the exposition was about male and female stereotypes and how Anita tends to be "the guy" all the time. Oh sweet irony. I don't know ANY guy who wants to spell out their feelings in the kind of detail we get from Anita, or who wants to endlessly dissect their relationships. Pages were spent on Anita proving she was man enough to hang with the boys of the Vegas PD. Screw the boys of the Vegas PD. Seriously, why does the Executioner have to prove herself to anyone? (Side note -- I lost track of all the new police officers introduced and described in intricate detail. Why Laurell? In the end, I didn't really care about them anyway. Most of them I actively disliked because of their sexist attitudes.)

The absence of my favorite characters was another problem. Sending Anita to Vegas without Jean-Claude sucked some of the fun out of the story for me. I wonder if Laurell has written her way into a corner with Anita's romantic entanglements. If so, her solution was to avoid them and create new ones. This is the second straight book without Jean-Claude. Anita doesn't seem to need him anymore, and that makes me sad. I could live with all the other men as long as Jean-Claude was still at the center.

Anita is older and more mature in this book. She's overwhelmed by her life. With two jobs and seven or eight boyfriends, who wouldn't be? Character growth is good, but I wonder if Anita is growing so far away from her early incarnation, that she's losing her audience. I hope not. Laurell wrote in her blog about how difficult writing this book was for her. Even so, I wished she had made a harder choice close to the end. It would have given the book more emotional weight. I will say this. After all the exposition, Anita is still a nerves-of-steel badass in the end.

I let this blog entry sit for over 24 hours after my initial draft. Posting an unfavorable review of one of my favorite authors is no fun. I almost didn't do it. I imagined myself meeting Laurell at a book signing or conference someday and introducing myself as the bitch who wrote the negative review of SKIN TRADE. Then I realized I probably had an overinflated view of what my opinion means in the great scheme of things. To my loyal friends and readers out there, I owed you an honest review, so there it is.

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