By Laurell K. Hamilton; Read by Cynthia Holloway
11 CDs – 13 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Themes: / paranormal romance / vampires / shapeshifters / mystery / sex / BDSM / urban fantasy
Blood Noir is the sixteenth installment in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series. Thats an impressive track record for any writer–and somehow Hamilton has found time to work on several other series as well. This particular Anita Blake novel is heavy on the romance and emotional development of its characters. It’s fairly light on the “paranormal” or “supernatural” element until it nears its conclusion. While a fun emotional and sexual romp, Blood Noir lacks the intellectual teeth to be called “fantasy” in any meaningful sense of the word.
The book opens with a bang of the Jenna Jameson variety, as Anita Blake comforts her grieving werewolf friend Jason in the most intimate way possible, while her more regular lover Nathaniel looks on and later joins in. Libido calmed, for the moment at least, the story then commences in earnest, and Blood Noir actually presents an intriguing premise. Jason’s estranged father is dying of cancer, and Jason wants to patch up the relationship while he still can. Jason’s father, despite much evidence to the contrary, labors under the delusion that Jason is gay. To dispel this misperception, Jason brings Anita to his home in North Carolina to present as his girlfriend, a front that is only half a lie. The plot thickens further when Jason is mistaken by hometown residents for the son of the state governor.
You might be wondering how the supernatural fits into all this. So was I. While the story is well-told and the characters are emotionally complex, the fantastic elements of Anita Blake’s world don’t really manifest themselves for the first two-thirds of the novel. Sure, we’re told that Jason is a werewolf and that Nathaniel her lover is a were-leopard, and we witness several telephone conversations between Anita and her protector Jean-Claude, one of the vampire masters of St. Louis. But Hamilton is breaking the writer’s axiom of “show, don’t tell.” The early parts of the novel play out like any romance-cum-mystery, with only the barest of supernatural trappings.
Once “the metaphysical shit”, as Blake utters several times, does finally hit the fan, the action ramps up and Blood Noir becomes a thriller on par with other urban fantasy, replete with shapeshifting, vampire charms, and a bit of old-fashioned gun play. The payoff is worth waiting for. The novel draws its title from Marmee Noir, an ancient vampire who, despite slumbering somewhere in Europe, manages to wreak havoc in the lives of characters halfway around the world. The book advances the larger Vampire Hunter story arc, and promises an intriguing direction for future books in the series.
There’s no getting around it, Blood Noir is about sex. Anita Blake is possessed by the ardeur, an urge that requires her to “feed” periodically through sexual acts. Yes, Anita’s come a long way since her celibate days of the first few novels. She openly maintains several serious sexual partners, and she engages in sadomasochism and other “non-standard” sexual practices. The emphasis on eroticism feels mostly in line with the plot, and seldom ranges into the realm of over-indulgence. What saves Blood Noir from devolving into a wholly superficial sexual dog pile is Anita’s self-awareness. Anita is mostly comfortable with her open lifestyle, but she occasionally expresses misgivings about its potential negative impact on herself and others. Her external sensual and erotic lust is also complimented by a fine-tuned emotional sensitivity.
Brilliance Audio has made a modest effort to put some production shine on its audio version of Blood Noir, with some minimal distortion effects when characters speak on the phone or overhear a television news report. Cynthia Holloway’s narration tackles the novel’s sexuality head-on; she doesn’t flinch at even the most graphic scenes. Holloway especially succeeds in capturing Anita Blake’s wide expressive range, from her angry outbursts to her few moments of vulnerability.
Long-time readers of the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series will doubtless wish to follow the heroine’s latest adventures, and fans of paranormal romance who have somehow missed Hamilton’s work will probably want to jump into the series as well. Other readers of fantasy, even of urban fantasy, should approach Blood Noir with caution. The book provides a solid plot and well-rounded characters, but Hamilton’s hit-and-miss writing fails to conjure up the magic that fantasy, even dark fantasy, should.
DISCLAIMER: Any sexual puns or double-entendres contained in this review were purely inadvertent.
Posted by Seth Wilson