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Book Review: Affliction by Laurell K. Hamilton

This review contains spoilers for the first 21 Anita Blake novels.

You’d think after 22 books, most of which made the New York Times bestseller list, that editors would swoop in and get a very popular author to fix some of the stuff that’s… let’s say “not optimal”… about her writing.

You’d be wrong.

I just recently finished Affliction, the latest Anita Blake novel by Laurell K. Hamilton, and while it had a lot of really good action sequences, some of the problems that plague the other tales are just as evident in this one.

Affliction begins a few months after Kiss the Dead. The Mother of All Darkness is dead, and Jean-Claude, the Master of St. Louis, is the king of all the vampires in the U.S. Anita Blake, his human servant and necromancer extraordinaire, has helped to destroy other vamps that have tried to go up against Jean-Claude. She’s finally got her love life in order, too.

And then she gets a call from a woman claiming to be the mother of her primary lover, Micah. Micah’s estranged father is dying of an incurable disease, one that’s turning him into a zombie, and she wants her son to come home so he can make peace. When they get there, though, they find that the creature who’s causing the zombie disease has broken nearly every rule Anita thought was iron-clad when it comes to vampires and zombies, and it’s up to her and her team to stop it before it causes, quite literally, a zombie apocalypse.

Let me address the elephant in the room first: this book has sex in it. Not a lot, compared to some of the others, but more than a little. There are at least three explicit sex scenes, two of them threesomes, and one of them with fairly advanced BDSM. Hamilton has taken a lot of flak from people who say her books have become nothing more than wish-fulfillment porn, and I do see what they’re saying. However, this book isn’t that. While I found the sex to be unnecessary — it didn’t enhance the book at all, and I think it would’ve been just as good without it — the scenes were at least interesting. Except for all the talking.

And that’s where this book really falls down. See, Laurell Hamilton writes some fabulous action sequences. She’s got it down. She does extensive research on weapons, fighting techniques, and law enforcement. And it shows. The chapters in this book from when Nathaniel shapeshifts to the climax of the helicopter part are great, and the zombie battle in the hospital is equally good — both sections are well-paced, quick, and tightly-written. In them the reader gets a look at just how good a writer Hamilton really is; I think, if she put her hand to standard SWAT action-adventure and avoided the sex, she could put out yet another well-received series of books.

Except for, as I said, all the talking. The first ten or so chapters of this book are all talk — infodumps about what’s happened in the past few months, who’s who, what powers does Anita have, and so on. It’s extremely boring, and the casual reader not invested in the series wouldn’t have kept reading. Which sucks because said casual reader would miss out on the great action parts later on. But even amid action — and sex — there’s just so much talking, and talking, and talking. Especially during the sex scenes; two of the three take place in a shower and I swear there’s a ten-minute discussion while everyone figures everything out. Talking in the shower requires loud voices to be heard over the water; you can’t have a heart-to-heart talk. Hell, “pass the shampoo” is difficult enough.

Other than the overabundance of talking, some really obvious repetition (Anita thinks something, and then she or another character says it a few paragraphs later in exactly the same words), and the fact that Hamilton can’t bring a character into a scene without spending one to five paragraphs giving us a physical description (eyes, hair, height, body type, clothing) and all the information about that character from every past book, the only real issue I had with this one was that the final villain was a little too hard to figure out. I’ve read every Anita Blake book, and this is probably the second or third where the villain is too obfuscated. I guess it made sense who it ended up being, and there’s a pretty big red herring or two, but I think in stories like this readers need enough context clues to be able to think back on what they’ve read and say “oh, yeah, I can’t believe I missed that.” This villain, I totally wasn’t expecting.

On the whole, Affliction is actually a pretty good Anita Blake novel. I did enjoy reading it, once we got to Colorado. It’s not without its problems, but I firmly believe that a good editor who isn’t afraid to tell a very successful writer “you have to change these things to make the book better” would make the next Anita book so much stronger. Fans of the series will like this one; casual readers, if they can hang out past the first ten chapters, probably will as well.

And, by the way, to that nonexistent editor I just mentioned in the previous paragraph: please tell Hamilton to pare down her character list. It’s getting ridiculous… and Asher is coming back in the next one.

Oh, joy.

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Note to Parents: This book contains explicit sex, explicit violence, explicit language, gore, and some pretty disgusting scenes. It should not be read by anyone under 18. Of course, you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your children.

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About the Author

Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) lives in Georgia. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Escape Pod, and the Crossed Genres anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land. His voice has been heard around the fiction podosphere as well, including here on Escape Pod. Find him online at roseplusman.com, or on Twitter @listener42.

Comments (13)

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  1. Dues says:

    I always enjoy reading book reviews by Americans. I almost always hear some unintentional variation of the line, “I wish s/he would tone down the sex so that I could enjoy the murder.”

    • Josh Roseman says:

      Well, you’re right that it was unintentional. However, two things:

      a. This is fiction; in real life, I avoid the news like the plague because it’s all about who killed whom — especially where I live.
      b. I like when stories have sex in them. It’s just, the sex has to be organic to the story and it has to feel non-gratuitous. All three of the sex scenes in Affliction felt gratuitous to me. I feel that way about most books with gratuitous sex. Compare it to The Killing Dance, in which Anita has sex with JC for the first time — that sex scene felt right. It made sense. It was explicit but not out-of-place. That’s really what I’m railing against.

  2. MoMo says:

    I liked this book a lot. i thought the end was rushed a little to much. and that i wish Jean-Claude was in it more. i think if she didn’t have to describe the characters every time you see them. it would be even better!!! but all and all i loved it!!!! and can’t wait for the next one!!!

    • Josh Roseman says:

      I think the issue isn’t so much THAT she describes the characters; it’s HOW she does it:

      1. Every character gets a D&D character sheet of stats and backstory thrown at the reader the moment s/he steps onto the page.
      2. There are SO MANY characters — not just the ones we know, but the ones we meet (all the cops, Hatfield, Micah’s family, etc), and we have to know what THEY all look like as well.

      There are more organic ways to introduce characters’ physical attributes.

  3. megan bowman says:

    I haven’t read this book yet, but i agree with the comments about there being too many characters, all the men have long hair to their asses, have big genitals, beautiful eyes, overall always beautiful. Then the sex I actually stopped reading her latest book ( back in 2004 or 2005)because there was so much sex i thought it was more of a soft porn book. ” so wet, so tight” always is used to describe anita’s parts by the man having sex with her. Yet i am a loyal fan & still love all the books, I wish she would go back to raising zombies more, like in the first 4 or 5 books. I still get confused about all the characters too. I’m looking forward to a new merry gentry book, then i hope she writes a new series.

    • Josh Roseman says:

      Well, I can tell you that zombies are raised in this book. So there’s that.

      I’d say that, if you skim the character descriptions and the sex chapters (it’s pretty tightly contained), you won’t miss much. And this one is much better than the last few.

      I gave up on Merry after four books. I just didn’t care about reading “Anita Blake, but a faery”.

  4. Shana Garland says:

    Was I the only one who was taken aback at Anita’s breast size? I always pictured her lean, athletic with maybe a generous C cup. But only because in several of the books the guys go on and on about her generous curves. Then in this book I read she is a EEE and can’t help but think how in the hell is she supposed to be jogging, martial arts fighting, etc.. And she has all this STUFF bouncing around. I know it’s no big deal but it really kind of messed up my image of her. I went from a Meagan Fox look with Lara Croft fighting skills to…. I don’t know… Dolly Pardon running around chasing zombies. Just really threw me. Just about ruined it for me. Shallow of me yes. I know. But I can’t get that picture out of my head now. Lol

    • Josh Roseman says:

      I always saw her as curvier than probably most people, but that’s because I’ve been building an image of her since basically book one. Plus, if you talk to a women’s lingerie specialist (I have a friend who works in lingerie fitting and sales at Nordstrom), you learn that a large cup size doesn’t necessarily equal huge breasts.

      Though I do agree, EEE is a bit much.

      My guess is that the author recently went to a bra fitting by a specialist and learned that she was wearing the wrong size all her life. That happened to a friend of mine — she was wearing a 38D and was sold several different bras, including a 36H. I would NEVER have pegged my friend at that size.

  5. The next series should be Anita,s child.Anita, is killed when her child is 8 all the men in her life (that are left after the battle that kills Anita and some of them) raise the boy who thru the triuverant has all her abilties but without the munin and some of her different species.

  6. Laurie says:

    I used to be such a big fan of this series and the MG series too but I think the last couple of books just killed it for me. No plot whatsoever! I think 21 books of the same angst is more than enough, time for a new issue. I have a copy of Affliction that I haven’t read yet and honestly I am not sure if I will. I have followed the series religiously through 21 books and can no longer keep track of all the characters, time to kill some off. There is no “big bad” anymore, Marmee Noir is dead and really don’t get me started on how anti-climactic that was now Anita is pretty much undefeatable…boring. That’s the other thing Anita needs to lose! Yes I realize the bad guys always win but it’s usually at a huge personal expense and with some life changing consequences but never in the Anitaverse, she just miraculously finds a new power and becomes more powerful…ugh. I am glad you enjoyed the book and I will probably get around to it but I am just not feeling that masochistic right now.

    • Josh Roseman says:

      I agree that Anita needs to lose, or at least have to make a hard decision about people she loves having to die to save, for example, a whole office building full of regular folks.

      I also agree that the death of Marmee Noir was a joke. And now Jean-Claude is basically the new big bad — which is a cool storytelling device, but I need it to go somewhere.

  7. Debra says:

    I just finished the book last night and I really liked it.

    A lot more then the previous few she has done. I was leary about when the sex would happen, because her last few books in the series are sex, sex, and more sex, little plot, and not enough of ‘Anita Blake, vampire hunter’ hunting the monsters.

    Also, the errors. I did get thrown out of the story a few times because of that. Surprised me there were errors.

    And as Josh said, quote, ‘some really obvious repetition (Anita thinks something, and then she or another character says it a few paragraphs later in exactly the same words)’ drove me nuts. I kept thinking, didn’t she just say that a little while ago?

    And, if you have read from the beginning, you know who all the main people are and what they look like. For newbies to ‘Anita,’ a brief ‘what they look like’ would work fine. As in ‘his deep blue eyes sparkled through his silky black hair.’ I do want a description of them, just not umpteen paragraphs about it.

    I really like the fact that Anita is resolving her issues.

    I am dreading/can’t wait, the return of Asher, because I did like him so much, except for the green-eyed piggy-back rider being overdone….Laurell, please do not kill him off, let the therapy start helping, and yes, have issues, but let them work them out.

    I also was totally hooked on the Wicked Truth in a prior book, and bam. Not much was said involving them after that until this book. Thank you.

    • Josh Roseman says:

      Of course there were errors… though fewer than in Cerulean Sins, where Dolph’s name was spelled wrong.

      I’m told that there’s already some sort of short-story explaining Asher, but I don’t know if it’s pre- or post-Affliction.

      I too enjoy the Wicked Truth. They’re kind of like Anita’s very own Greek chorus.