Here, there be spoilers. If you've read the series, have no intention of reading the series, or, like many, are a mix of both, the spoilers won't bother you. If you're don't fall into one of those categories, seriously, there will be spoilers. And TMI of other sorts.
Why even go there?
This is not yet the world famous blog that it will be (..yeah, go tell your writerly or readerly friends to get in now), so most readers are long time internet buddies; you know my stance against reading more of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake books. If you're not a long time internet buddy, and can't infer that I have such a stance from what I just wrote, I don't know what to tell yah.
So I was exploring the not-so-wonderful world of borrowing ebooks from the library--fantastic concept, less than stellar inventory--and I saw Flirt (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 18). Yes, I know better. But it was free! My rules for buying Anita Blake books went from MORE! NOW! getting each new release the weekend, if not the day, they came out, to never again at cover price, to not for one thin dime. I put it out of my mind completely as I slipped into "Um...well, maybe if someone's paying me, but probably not."
....That requires back story. Many, many years ago, I needed, desperately to replace Diana Tregarde (Children of the Night: A Diana Tregarde Investigation). Mercedes Lackey, for both personal and publishing reasons, decided to stop the series at book three. I decided to stop reading at book two, for the silly impulse of "if I don't hunt down the last, there will always be one more book." What can I say? I was in love.
In my mad search, I discovered Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter). Perfect! Same type of story, Anita even looked like Diana...but, not so perfect...I didn't actually like Anita. I put the book down, unfinished, and eventually did this twice more with consecutive books. It seems the fourth time became the charm. Facing a long overnight shift in which I would have to do a flurry of work and then simply stay awake until I could do another flurry of work, I grabbed a book, *any* book so long as I hadn't already read it.
Burnt Offerings (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 7) gave me something that allowed me to embrace Anita's flaws. I devoured the book, went back and read the first three, then quickly bought the missing books in between. Then I had to wait for the next to be published, so I read them all again.
An discovers the wider world of fandom...and the ick factor
I always knew I wasn't alone in my geekhood. All of my close friends and I read the original Dragonlance books at around the same time. A boyfriend introduced me to Anne Rice, and a buddy dragged me (happily, as it turned out) back into reading sci-fi by forcing eluki bes shahar. I'd had friends, of course, who didn't read the same things as me, and more rarely, who weren't readers, but I hadn't really thought about the throngs of fans out there until connecting to others on the internet.
And one of the things I did was look for other AB fans. One person, reporting on a convention, wrote about LKH cuddling with a man who was not her husband. I felt a little greasy, just reading about someone else's private life and tried to put it out of my head. You don't really think of writers in the same celebrity terms that you think of actors, especially back a little more than a decade ago, so accidently receiving the information was a lot more uncomfortable than knowing way more than is my business about Sandra Bullock and Jesse James.
It was nastier still when the AB blog--which I followed seriously, both as a fan of the series and a would-be novelist soaking up all the tidbits about the writing process that were dropped--turned into LKH's blog and she shared details about her and hubby #2 that bordered on graphic. Yeah, ick.
As she let us (or pulled us...for those who really just wanted the character and writing stuff) more into her personal life and the content of her novels changed more and more, a grumpiness grew among her fans until a large faction became anti-fans. I was among them, hoping upon hope to get the old Anita back, trying to shoosh the loudest complainers--or at least those who had to take their complaints to the source--because she told us, repeatedly, that she was contrary by nature (her words) and would keep writing crap (our words) if anyone tried to tell her she couldn't.
Why we loved it and why we split into those who still do and those who want to scream
Oh, my. How do I put this? Have you ever had a place that was part of who you are? For me, it was Paragon Park (opens to video...::sniffle:: I gotta share on Facebook so my brother can see this..::misty eyed sniffle:: ). I could try to explain the dynamics of my family and how this was one of the things that pulled us all together every summer, but the highest rated reply perhaps says it best for both those who miss this place or any other, including the world of Anita Blake: I would give every remaining second of my life to ride in the kooky kastle just one more time. Maybe that's going a bit far for me, but it gives the idea...
Hamilton made the "Anitaverse" such a place. Maybe even back in the early days we'd complain about Anita's version of feminism being taken from a confused ten year old, or other wee problems of the character or the prose. But when you got down to it, a part of us moved into a Saint Louis where vampire politics sometimes spilled out on the innocent, and that teacher you crushed on was secretly a werewolf. We shared the characters' sufferings and triumphs. Having Anita's ultra violence by proxy helped me through a painful divorce. We were invested.
And then there was the sex.
I went looking for LKH's old blog post where she defended the sex--and insulted old fans still clinging to hope--but alas, she's got a new integrated version and the archives are gone. (I wonder if it were just for the better look or if something happened like the shit storm on the old deleted guestbook that broke out when my husband flipped over her remarks....I digress.)
Just the facts, ma'am. Anita was (annoyingly to some) celibate in the early books. Her heart had been broken pre-novels, and unlike everyone else on the planet, she didn't hurt and get over it, she metaphorically glued her legs together and nurtured the pain as only Anita can. But you can't stay celibate surrounded by the hottest guys in fiction who want you. Who would she choose...the sexy French master vampire, or the gorgeous All-American alpha werewolf? If you use a sliding scale for the definition of "choose", she picked one. People who don't use a sliding scale (obviously, that would be me) accepted it, and others rejoiced. Surely, there would a deepening of relationships and the stories would be even better!
...Or no. Don't get me wrong--two of the three next books were the best she's written, and the odd one out, though it happens to be the one of three with sex (real sex and on the page, as opposed to sensual situations that don't go that far or off-stage rape) isn't bad at all. But the sex just meant there was more whining, not that things went deeper. Anita had been a good Catholic girl before the Church excommunicated all necromancers; while that did not keep her from having sex before marriage, it did make her a stickler for monogamy. For a while...
There were arguments, back in the day, about which was better: Burnt Offerings (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 7) or Obsidian Butterfly (An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 9). OB does read as though LKH wrote it while reading Burning Water (Diana Tregarde Investigation), but I'm sure that's a tribute to the lesser known series rather than something less pleasant. Either way, it's a damned fine book, that maybe edges out BO by virtue of taking place out of town, away from the angst that loving two men has caused...(Oh, had I forgotten to mention that once she had one, she had to have the other?)
I remember that LKH's A Kiss of Shadows (Meredith Gentry, Book 1) came out around the time of OB. I thought "Ah, here's the sex she wanted to write before. I'm glad she has an outlet." And I wasn't just happy for her; I actually enjoyed the book. I didn't know that I should've taken it as a warning.
Things got bad while Anita was out of town and Narcissus in Chains (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 10) starts with violence that nearly kills her. But there are (see how I change tense when I get like this?) new shifters in town with the power to bring her back from the brink. A few pages/minutes after regaining consciousness and meeting Micah, the leader of the group, he rapes her and becomes the (additional) love of her life...
In one printing of the story, at least. The next--and sadly, I am missing one of the texts and the patience to go through the archives of the one place where I know I've faithfully copied each--edition changed the text so she finally gave in before he enters her. That was the beginning of the end.
Anita gains the ardeur from her vampire boyfriend, which makes her have to feed on sex everyday, several times a day.
It wasn't painful yet. The sex didn't get in the way of the plot yet, and the plot wasn't bad. Some of it, combined with knowing too much about the author's personal life was ick, (and super-Mary-Sue-meets-are-you-fucking-kidding-me) but there was a solid story and resolution.This became less and less true until, four books later, she totally phoned the ending in. Screw resolution, there were just too many penises to examine.
Upon purchase of the book before, the clerk felt the duty to explain that there wasn't any actual plot (as fans of a paranormal thriller would see it--if you were in the market for stupid relationship angst, there was plenty) for the first 200 pages. But but that couldn't be true, right? By the end, more than wanting my money back, I wanted those hours of my life back.
But I still bought the next one. Yeah, this time I waited until it was sold at significant discount, but I bought it. I read it. I stared in horror after reaching the end that was basically a letter reading, Dear good guy, I was the bad guy all along. Bwahahaha! I commiserated on message boards, read all the posts saying, "OK...you've got a lot of readers drawn to the sex and your career has exploded, but what about those of us who have been here since the beginning? We've gotten all our friends to read your novels. We've put up with the bad editing and fought the urge buy plane tickets and find your house to personally hand you a thesaurus. We're not even asking you to take the sex out, we just want real stories again."
Anger grew as we read interviews explaining that Americas are repressed sexually. Certainly far too many of us are, but do you really think these are the same people reading your books? Hell, anyone who bought into the series through book clubs got the book in spite or because of the explicit sex warnings. I can't speak for all of us, but lemme tell yah, I like sex. A lot. Most of us read other series that include sex--some, I'm given to believe from the boards, come from romance or erotica backgrounds and don't read much that doesn't include sex. But remember when the adventures were so much more than that? We just want to come home.
That, if you haven't guessed, is why so many bitched for so long while the stories got worse and worse. Why so many talked about the books (often for years) after we stopped reading. And why so many still complain and yet buy the books as soon as they come out, taking what they can of the characters and world no matter what happens. Some of those who "type" the loudest about Anita and her magical vagina will still pre-order the book or be in the stores for the first day of sales, wanting to come home.
I would give every remaining second of my life to ride in the kooky kastle just one more time.
So I read Flirt. By the end of the first chapter, I knew what the action of the story would be--and had a moment of being annoyed that Anita pulled a 'too stupid to live' move and didn't see the threat coming--but I didn't care. It was Anita. The "why do you all love me?" and revelation of her grandmother's nastiness was little more than a rehash of crap from before I stopped reading, and almost kept me from going on. It certainly made me want to sit character and author both down and introduce them to (a) the wonderful world of therapy and (b) the real world where millions of white women are not blond haired and blue eyed, let alone billions of non-white women, and neither dark hair nor bitchy relatives make you ugly.
I kept reading. I lived through the almost sex and the inevitable sex with the bad guys (no less), because there was plot. There was the old Anita, using her mind and her power, and not just her magical vagina. It was almost like coming home.