20 September 2008

Review: "The Harlequin" by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Harlequin's warning to Anita Blake is presented in a gift box, left where she'd be sure to find it. Inside, carefully wrapped in folds of pristine tissue paper, is a white mask, utterly plain. The fact that it's white, Jean-Claude tells her, is the good news. White means they are only being observed.

The flow of power that connects Anita Blake with Jean-Claude, vampire Master of the City, and with Richard, Ulfric of the werewolves, has been growing and changing, increasing exponentially. Their power seems to have attracted attention, and it's a kind of attention no one would desire. Jean-Claude and Richard need to be strong allies now. Nathaniel and Micah need to give all their love and aid. And Anita will need to call on Edward, whose utterly human ruthlessness in her defense makes him the right man for the job.

Anita Blake has the authority to pass judgment on vampires. The Harlequin have the authority to pass judgment on her. It is forbidden to speak of The Harlequin unless you've been contacted.

And to be contacted by The Harlequin is to be under sentence of death.

I keep telling myself that I should have given up on this series long ago. Like many other readers, I think Ms. Hamilton jumped the shark around book eight. And yet I've kept reading in the hopes that maybe, somehow, the books will return to their fun, ass-kicking urban fantasy roots and have an actual plotline. Well, happily, I can say that The Harlequin does just that. Yes, there is Le Sex Hot that we've come to expect, but it doesn't sustain the book, and there's an actual plot arc, not to mention lots of the aforementioned ass-kicking. Yay!!!

My only grumble came at the end, where everything is wrapped up with a too-pat narrative reminiscent of "Gray's Anatomy." Still, when I finished reading it I felt an emotional satisfaction I haven't felt in quite a while with Ms. Hamilton's work. Could this be the begininng of a resurgeance for Anita Blake? I certainly hope so.

I'm not going to discuss the plot or the writing style; there's much of that elsewhere, if you're interested. What intrigues me is the reader disgust over the sexual content of Ms. Hamilton's works. The author has created a fantasy world where sex plays a primary role in the acquiring and keeping of Power (yes, with a capital "P"). Yet so many readers are turned off by the thought of the heroine with multiple partners. My thoughts? This is *not* a romance series. For one man, one woman stories with an HEA ending, look elsewhere. Ms. Hamilton's work is unique in this sense, pushing boundaries in a way few others have - and succeeding.

Puritanism, so deeply ingrained in American society, has taught us that enjoying sex (gasp!) is bad. Bad, bad, bad. And sex with more than partner? Oh, mega-, burn-in-Hell bad! *yawn* Personally, the sexual content of Ms. Hamilton's work doesn't bother me. IT'S FANTASY, PEOPLE. Not real. And as such, a person can write whatever he/she wants. And if she wants to write lots of Le Sex Hot as part of the plot, it's fine by me. She writes it well. (Although the editing, I must say, has been less than stellar.) It must be said, however, that sex alone cannot sustain a good book. As much as I enjoy hotness, it must be balanced with character development and action. That is why I enjoyed The Harlequin; it's a breath of fresh air in a long-standing series.

Grade: B