For this installment of my reread series, I’ll be changing up the format in order to look at “The Good”, “The Bad”, and “The Just Plain Borked” parts of the novel. If this all goes well, this will be what these reread recaps look like for the rest of the series!
Content Warnings: brief descriptions of sexual assault and harassment, descriptions of violence, non-specific mention of child sexual assault and turning (both done by a vampire pedophile) in the plot, as well as a reference to the snuff film described in the previous book
Bloody Bones, the fifth book in Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series is another busy book in the series where a ton of stuff happens but also… nothing happens. It’s not one of the worst books in the series thus far, but it’s not a novel I enjoyed rereading.
As one of the earlier books in the series, the novel focuses more on the supernatural detective aspects that were significant in the first ten or eleven books in the series. It also introduces interesting new aspects to the worldbuilding by being the first (and so far, only) novel in the series to have fairies onscreen – a disservice I think because they’re some of the most interesting non-human characters that she’s created and their portrayal in Bloody Bones is nothing like the way they’re treated in her Merry Gentry series.
That being said, let’s talk about what Bloody Bones did well, what it did that could’ve used work, and all the things that made me want to chuck my kindle halfway across the room while I was rereading.
Bloody Bones is Anita’s first trip out of St. Louis and that’s one of the few highlights of the novel. For much of the series, Anita keeps to her city and has only left it a handful of times before (about a third of the novels are set outside of St. Louis).
Moving her outside of her element, even as close by as a community about an hour away from Branson, adds the potential for interesting tension to the worldbuilding and the plot as Anita often struggles with the differences between her new location’s supernatural community and her own as well as power/responsibility differences between “her” cops in St. Louis and the ones in these various locations.
The setting change also introduces new characters in the form of local law enforcement, vampires and the fae I keep mentioning. Anita is honestly at her best when she isn’t comfortable, where she’s not automatically the top dog by virtue of her work with the St. Louis PD and her relationship with Jean Claude in what’s ostensibly “his city”.
Unfortunately, the few things that would help shape this novel’s setting in the Anitaverse – such setting the book in Branson (rather than largely an hour outside of it) so that she could take advantage of the city’s reputation for being a center of entertainment in the Midwest, descriptions of the different locations, landmarks (even fictionalized) – aren’t present. It’s like a blank sim city with forgettable details and no significant locales for readers to latch on to.
Another good thing that Bloody Bones has going for it, is the way that the book shows Anita’s relationship with Larry. He’s only a little bit younger than she is, but, as I’ve brought up previously: Anita is basically a little old lady in the body of a young woman. So she… kind of turns into the mom friend whenever Larry is involved. It should be grating here, and it will be in later books especially once he starts deviating from what she wants him to be, but for now… it’s cute.
Bloody Bones also has interesting villains (aside from the pedo-vamp) in vampire Seraphina and the munch-and-crunch, human-eating fae Rawhead and Bloody Bones. Seraphina is one of the first vampires to actually mess with Anita after the fact thanks to how she goes for one of Anita’s weaknesses: her dead mother.
This is the only book in the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series to use fairies, and I feel that one of the biggest problems in the book is the way that it doesn’t bother to do anything truly significant with them beyond the one vampire (who is a flipping pedophile).
Between strange complications of and conversations that are kind of about “passing” and the fact that most of the fae that appear in the book die deaths they more or less deserve, the fae aren’t treated well here as a species. It sucks because they have the potential to be the most interesting beings that Anita comes into contact with across the Anitaverse.
I want more fairies, dang it. After this book ends and Dorcas Bouvier exits in the epilogue, we never see another fae. This is more of the weak worldbuilding that Hamilton does that leaves me lightly frustrated with her. The Anitaverse is sprinkled with tons of interesting worldbuilding nuggets that Hamilton never actually expands upon.
Remember how the only fact we got about dragons in Obsidian Butterfly was that they were probably extinct? I’m still annoyed about that.
Another bad aspect of Bloody Bones is the endless misogyny. In this novel (as with many of the ones in this series) Anita not only experiences misogyny, but she directs it towards other women as well. This is generally in the form of her internal monologue as she interacts with other women, but not exclusive to it.
In Bloody Bones, there are several moments of misogyny that stood out to me:
- At the start of the novel there’s a woman working for Anita’s client whose makeup is described as looking like “she’d been made up at clown school” with Anita wondering if anyone had told her what she looked like while judging her for her ill-applied makeup and the color of her suit.
- She’s catcalled by construction workers when arriving at the site for the client’s construction job, including one shouting something sexual (that isn’t explicitly described)
- Her client judges her for her outfit and says he doesn’t like her attitude when she mentions having sneakers and a change of clothes in her bag. (He all but calls her “uppity”, y’all.)
- As with every single Anita Blake moment where she’s engaging with law enforcement, Anita is one of the few women interacting with them. Aside from how unlikely that is even in small towns, this means she’s ALWAYS dealing with cop misogyny even though she swears they’re the good guys. This book is not an exception.
- Sargent Freemont (the only other female law enforcement officer in the book) purposefully ignores Anita’s advice on how to handle a vampire kill/hunt because she wants to look good in the eyes of her superiors. So, you have a character dealing with misogyny in her field by… getting people killed.
There’s no need to constantly subject Anita to invasive misogyny from clients and law enforcement. There’s also no need to have Anita get into shit with competitive women who are used to being the only woman in a “man’s” world. (Not just with the officer from that bullet point, but also with the one half-fae woman, Dorcas Bouvier.)
Seriously, let’s talk about this a bit, building off of these two snippets with Sargent Freemont from the same scene.
“Are you going to be sick, Ms. Blake?” The voice was that of Sergeant Freemont, Division of Drug and Crime Control, DD/CC—affectionately known as D2C2. Her tone was gentle but disapproving. I understood the tone. We were the only two women at the crime scene, which meant we were playing with the big boys. You had to be tougher than the men, stronger, better, or they held it against you. Or they treated you like a girl. I was betting Sergeant Freemont hadn’t gotten sick. She wouldn’t have allowed it.
“What did that?” She asked. I didn’t turn and look where she pointed. I knew what was down there.
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Her brown eyes were neutral and unreadable, good cop eyes. She frowned. “What do you mean, you don’t know? You’re supposed to be the monster expert.”
I let the “supposed to be” go. She hadn’t called me a zombie queen to my face; in fact she’d been very polite, correct, but there was no warmth to it. She wasn’t impressed, and in her quiet way, with a look or the slightest inflection, she let me know. I was going to have to pull a very big corpse out of my hat to impress Sergeant Freemont, DD/CC. So far I wasn’t even close.
This sort of mentality, that the machismo of law enforcement means that women (and people of color, and queer people) working with them as consultants or in the force have to be better (instead of men not being dicks) is present throughout the series. Anita doesn’t actively confront bigotry from law enforcement unless it affects her directly and even then, it’s more of the “well good cops wouldn’t do this”.
The issue I have with the Anita Blake series’ use of machismo and misogyny as a feature of working with law enforcement is that it’s never a thing that’ll get better. The series shows progress in the perception of supernatural beings, but every time Anita goes to a new crime scene or a state in a different part of the country, she gets hit with more misogyny. And it comes from men who see her as lesser than they are – despite her high kill rate and successful sort of case closings – and women who see her as a threat because only one girl at a time can be “just like the guys” in the Anitaverse.
It’s draining and pointless.
We already know that Anita is supposed to be the toughest badass in the Anitaverse. It’s been beaten into us by now. So if we, the readers, know that… why don’t any members of law enforcement in a world where she’s been front page news for at least a decade?
And then there’s the continuation of the absolutely unnecessary Richard-Anita-Jean Claude love triangle. Even if Jean Claude wasn’t a creep who doesn’t respect boundaries, I wouldn’t want to go through the love triangle’s unending drama. We’re on book five with this installment and Anita still doesn’t want to be around Jean Claude. She doesn’t even see him as a viable life or love partner because she doesn’t like the way he treats her or others.
However, part of the price for traveling to Branson-ish, Missouri and talking to vampires is that Jean-Claude has to come along for the ride and do his Master Vampire thing to smooth the path between Anita and the new vampires… something which doesn’t end well because the new vampires don’t like Jean Claude and go out of their way to start shit with him and his crew.
And the new vampires are like… largely rapists?
This book added like four characters to a list I’m keeping of characters in this series that are attempted or actual rapists (for a later piece on sexual violence and consent issues in the series) and it feels as though Hamilton is a lot like Mark Millar where the only tried and true way to show that a villain is villainous is to turn them into a rapist and have their sexual violence or uninterested in gaining eager and uncoerced sex from people described on the page.
Lastly, there are no main-ish Black characters onscreen in this book. However, the one Black character who carries over from another book (John Burke, who moved to St. Louis from New Orleans after the first novel), is constantly referred to in disparaging ways. He’s constantly and explicitly portrayed as not as good as Anita and bitter about it. At one point, the idea of him getting a badge as a preternatural US Marshall is grounds for Anita and her cop friend and boss Dolph to laugh or mock him.
Considering the quality of human that gets to be a US Marshall under these policies (at least two actual serial killers)… that’s some bullshit.
The Just Plain Borked
There are a couple of messed up things in The Bloody Bones that I just can’t let go of.
The first thing is that early on in the book, there’s a scene where Anita and Richard make out in the hallway of the middle school that Richard teaches at. Class is in session and everything. He just… steps out and smooches her so well that she’s like “well we should just have sex” in her internal monologue.
The reason why they’re not having sex is because of Jean Claude’s gross ass blackmail, everything Anita does with Richard, she has to do with Jean Claude. So, if she has sex with Richard, she has to have sex with Jean Claude. So, they’re celibate for the foreseeable future.
And then, his class bursts out of the door and like… stares at them as they smooch. Which is… creepy. (Also, it’s not super realistic considering how uninterested tweens generally are in their teachers’ lives.)
Then, this is a book that starts with fight over a family’s ancestral burial ground (that I believe is hiding the bones of the ancient, carnivorous fae Rawhead and Bloody Bones) and leads to a criminal subplot about murdered and missing children that has everything to do with a Rawhead and Xavier, a pedophilic fae vampire.
One of the things Laurell K Hamilton is really good at writing is one of the things I wish she wasn’t that good at: her gory descriptions of violence and death. She’s not as “in your face” about gore as she could be and as some other authors are, but back when the series was marketed more as horror than anything else, we were constantly subject to rather graphic descriptions of violence and death.
Bloody Bones is no different. What made the portrayal of violence kind of stressful to me, is that in this book a lot of it involves children. Children being hurt or killed, child vampires being created (and then killed), that sort of thing.
At this point in my long life of reading vampire fiction, I prefer it when children are literally a non-issue and don’t ever come up. No child vampires. No pedophiles that like child vampires. No children near vampires. None of that shit. I just can’t handle it. In later re-reads I’m going to talk about recurring characters turned by such a vampire and why Hamilton’s use of the pedo-vamp as a largely unaddressed villain is… not great.
Next, let’s talk about some icky sort of homophobia present in Bloody Bones. From early on in the series, Anita self-identifies as a prude. She’s in her early twenties in the first couple of books in the series but acts like she’s about eighty. One of the ways that mentality shows up is with Jean-Claude and like any man that’s near him and the innuendo Hamilton packs their interactions with. In this example, it’s his werewolf snack Jason:
“Jean-Claude won’t mind if I share with him. He’d prefer it was you, but . . . ” He shrugged.
I looked at him, at his tranquil, pleasant face. “Is this the first time you’ve shared a bed with Jean-Claude?”
“No,” he said.
It must have shown on my face, because he lowered the high neck of the sweater enough for me to see two fang marks. I pushed away from the wall and walked closer. Close enough to see that the bite was almost healed.
“Sometimes he likes a snack when he first wakes up,” Jason said.
“Jesus,” I said.
Jason let go of the collar, and it slid over the bite like it wasn’t there. The same way you’d hide a hickey. Jason sat there looking harmless. He was exactly my height, and had the face of a knowledgeable angel.
What makes this scene ping my “that’s problematic” button is the use of innuendo alongside Anita’s uneasiness with the idea that Jason will share a bed with Jean Claude. The language Hamilton uses to describe Jason’s behavior, his appearance, and Anita’s discomfort with it all is unacceptable. The line about Jean Claude wanting a snack when he wakes, when coupled with the description of the hickey-like mark on Jason’s neck and Anita making some kind of face is all on purpose. We’re supposed to get that Anita doesn’t like the idea of Jean Claude possibly being bisexual.
Part of it is that I’ve read ahead in the series, obviously, and Anita’s controlling nature extends to the kind of supernatural snacks that her main vampire lover is allowed to have for much of the series. Some of it is that I know the uncool portrayals of queerness – especially queer dudes – only continue get worse even after more queer characters are revealed in the series.
Heck, after he starts seriously trying to woo her, Jean Claude exclusively starts feeding from dudes. Because feedings tend to be sexual with his line of vampire and Anita would undoubtedly get jealous/use that as an excuse to dump him.
For one thing, if she hasn’t used uh… all of his manipulation and violence to dump him yet… She’s not gonna.
But for another, Jean Claude’s brilliant plan doesn’t even work because Anita is bad at like… all of this. It’s not just the jealousy that’ll be a major feature of books after Asher is introduced (we’re about two or three novels away), but that Hamilton assumes that snacks for a vampire are sexual and has Anita react poorly.
It’s none of her business if Jean Claude wants a snack when he wakes up at sunset. Remember, at this point in the series, she’s like passively trying to find a way out of the relationship he’s blackmailed her into and the marks (essentially of supernatural ownership) that he has placed on her to make her into his human servant. She’s not feeding him or fucking him, and she doesn’t want to do either.
So why the jealousy and light homophobia?
Now, Bloody Bones doesn’t have the worst portrayal of sexual assault and/or harassment in the series, but it does have what might be the grossest. After Anita and company beard the nasty vampires in their den and try to stop a pair of human college students from being tortured, the vampires offer a choice: either they can stand there and watch until the girls are killed or they can take their place as entertainment.
Jason and Anita’s assistant Larry volunteer.
Unfortunately, the vampires in question are not just sadistic rapists, they’re rotting vampires. This novel is, I think, the introduction of those gross as heck vampires that feed on the fear they cause by falling all to pieces on top of their prey. And Hamilton describes what goes on in detail that’d make a horror novelist a bit jealous.
I used to have nightmares from that scene and it remains a source of lingering trauma for basically everyone involved that makes it out of the room alive.
Bloody Bones ends with Anita realizing that she’s come to see Jean Claude as “more than a monster” and I think that sets up one of my biggest issues with this book. The whole thing, I guess, is that anyone can be a monster and that with monstrosity can come nuance, but it’s not handled very well.
Monstrosity in this series is kind of a complicated identity to claim or even to discuss. What makes a monster in the Anitaverse is fluid and has changed so much across the years. The Anita we see in Bloody Bones, tentatively seeing the humanity in Jean Claude, would be hard-pressed to recognize the humanity in the version of herself that has been running around the Anitaverse for the past ten years.
We’re expected to simultaneously get why there’s an argument for shifters and vampires’ humanity and understand how Anita can fall for them at the same time that other shifters and vampires run around hurting people in ways that only they can. The last book I did for this reread had a scene that described a snuff film where two shapeshifters killed and ate a woman.
The fae in Bloody Bones are almost all awful – we’ve got Xavier the pedovamp, Magnus who is working with the bad guys, and Rawhead who kills and probably eats children. So are the vampires and the shifters.
Every time Hamilton has Anita end a book with some hokey bit about how she’s now understanding or seeing humanity in supernatural species, I think about how she got to that point. Even if Jean Claude wasn’t a blackmailing creep who doesn’t respect Anita’s boundaries, his humanity isn’t really humanity. It’s a veneer.
We know this, because of how he treats Anita and other people he feels belong to him.
We know this because of how other vampires treat humans.