Laurell K. Hamilton
Skin Trade (Anita Blake, Book 17)
Penguin Berkley (US & CA: 2nd June 2009); Hachette Headline (AU: June 2009)
Vittorio in Las Vegas sends Anita Blake in Missouri a human head. To hunt down Vittorio, and keep her sweeties safe, Anita travels to Vegas with only her fellow U.S. Marshals. As the deaths pile up, Anita’s ardeur rises – but so does the Mother of All Darkness, and watch out for the Day Father…
The more powers a character has, the less likely I relate to them. It began with the ardeur, and now Anita has several animals to call, plus a vampire servant, and who knows what else.
The book’s central theme seems to be power. In order for the rest of the preternatural community to believe that Jean-Claude is very much Master of his human servant (Anita) as he is Master of the City of St Louis, Anita and all her men have moved into J-C’s crib. Anita’s starting to feel that she really needs time to herself, so she can at least think. That’s relatable. Meanwhile, Jean-Claude wants Anita to stop “collecting men”. She claims she doesn’t do that. She just uses them to feed the ardeur, and she doesn’t mean for them to fall in love with her.
The scenes tend to feel long, especially when not much seems to be going on. On the other hand, it’s somehow even worse when all that’s happening are repeated arguments, sometimes with different people and others with the same. When your book is over 400 pages, there better be a reason for everything included – unfortunately, Skin Trade could do with some chopping.
Adding to the feeling of over-length are too many characters, with too many aliases. Too many for my tiny brain to keep track of everyone, anyhoo. And these are just the SWAT and police; things get more confusing with all the wereanimals and shagging partners.
This brings us back to the power theme and repetition. The police don’t like Anita, because she won’t shag them, or otherwise. She thinks it has a big part to do with her being female, and them being male. Obviously I don’t know first-hand what the police or SWAT are like, but I choose to believe that they act like professionals: at least tolerate each other so as not to cause tension and mistrust within the group. Then there are the weretigers who are the main preternatural beings here. There’s even a power face-off between Anita and Chang-Bibiana, “goddess” of the weretigers.
And Olaf… Now calling himself Otto Jeffries, he and Anita have to work close together. But Olaf is one freaky dude. He’s besotted with Anita (aren’t they all?), but his idea of romance basically involves blood and gore. Oh, and he’s a serial killer. But he seriously is bloody scary, and he’s supposed to be, so my response is justified. It’s fascinating characterisation, and well worth applauding the author.
A particularly tricky kind of power is biological age. Crispin is “barely” twenty-one, which makes him legal but… Dude, that’s almost two years younger than me. This is kind of freaky, but then we meet jailbait in the form of sixteen-year-old (therefore supposedly legal in Nevada) weretiger Cynric. To her credit, Anita doesn’t shag him…until the Mother of All Darkness bespells her, and she only realises upon waking that the shagging occurred. Anita’s narrative says it best: “The thought of a massive ardeur feed, with a group orgy thrown in, as anyone’s first time just makes me ill.”
Further issues of power: “It was my human mind that made it dirty.” This is a big problem for me in paranormal fiction – the preternatural beings or people with psi abilities or whatever…they see humans as beneath them. (Bill Gates’ words to Michael Eisner in a particular Family Guy come to mind: “They are ants, Michael. They are ants.”) This makes the supernatural peeps come across as uppity tossers, and thus are difficult for me to like.
I leave you with a quote that I found particularly hilarious at 12:30am: “…I preferred to be sandwiched between beefcake, not cheesecake.”