Content Warning: This installment talks in detail about sexual violence, abuse in relationships, and false rape accusations on top of racism, rednecks, and my usual rage over the series.
First published in 1998, Blue Moon is the ninth Anita Blake novel and the second in the series to take Anita outside of her normal territory in St. Louis.
While I previously said positive things about how the series takes Anita out of her comfort zone by removing her from her base of operations and her main allies (back in Bloody Bones), sending Anita to Myerton, Tennessee was not the greatest idea because it wasn’t necessarily executed well and relied on stock portrayals of prejudiced southerners to provide a lot of the background characters and minor villains.
After werewolf alpha (and Anita’s ex-boyfriend) Richard Zeeman is falsely accused of and arrested for rape in Tennessee while on a research vacation, Anita takes the initiative to travel down south to keep Richard’s werewolf-y secrets from coming out. The only problem, is that Richard’s pack and family aren’t very fond of Anita and neither is the master of Myerton, a vampire with more power than common sense.
Throw in pack politics, the ghost of the rapist Raina, a bunch of rednecks, and a mystical conspiracy to find the mythical Spear of Destiny and you’ve got one big ole book.
Strap in folks, we’re about to talk about what Blue Moon does decently, what the book gets wrong, and what parts of the book should’ve been killed by magical fire in the woods of Tennessee.
There are two “good” things about Blue Moon: Shang Da and Jamil.
Jamil is one of a handful of Black male characters in the Anitaverse (and maybe the only Black male werewolf that Anita comes into contact with on a regular basis, I’m not sure) and a former supporter of the previous werewolf pack leadership and one of Richard’s current guards. Shang Da, in what I think is his first appearance with any dialogue, is the only Chinese character in St. Louis for a really long time. He’s another one of Richard’s guards and this book’s scenes have him as the most interesting he’s ever going to be.
One of my recurring minor Anitaverse complaints is that Hamilton has characters like Jamil and Shang Da that she could be building up into powerful and interesting characters and she instead decides to bloat the cast with too many darn supporting characters. Out of all the characters I think Hamilton should let someone else write them, I genuinely wish I could save Jamil and Shang Da from her wonky worldbuilding, racist stereotypes, and limited roles in the various stories.
We see Jamil first, when Anita and her crew of wereleopards and unconscious vampires land in at their backwater Tennessee airport on their way to get Richard out of jail before the second full moon of the month. (Where Jamil is one of only two Black guys in town and it’s a town that probably definitely has a Klan branch active and awful within its limits.)
Here’s how Hamilton describes him:
He was tall and slender in the way a dancer is slender, all muscles and shoulders planed down to a smooth, graceful machine of flesh. He was wearing a white sleeveless men’s undershirt and loose, tailored white pants with a very sharp cuff rolled at the end of the pants legs. Black suspenders graced his upper body and matched the highly polished black shoes. A white linen jacket was thrown over one shoulder. His dark skin gleamed against the whiteness of his clothes. His hair was nearly waist length in cornrows with white beads woven through the braids. Last time I’d seen him, the beads had been multicolored.
Just letting y’all know, that to wee me, this description and the idea that I’m pretty sure that Jamil is basically designed to be a Black Bishonen (Hamilton has never hidden the anime influence behind many of her male characters, especially in later books) really worked for me.
Eh, it still does.
What doesn’t work for me?
Comes later down on the page.
“I’m one of only two black men for about 50 miles,” he said. “There’s no way for me to blend in, Anita, so I don’t try.” There was an undercurrent of real anger there. I wondered if Jamil had been having trouble with the locals. It seemed likely. He wasn’t just African American. He was tall, handsome, and athletic looking. That alone would have gotten him on the redneck hit parade. The long cornrow hair and the killer fashion sense raised the question that he might violate the last white male bastion of homophobia. I knew that Jamil liked girls, but I was almost willing to bet some of the locals hadn’t believed that.
I constantly talk about how race in the Anitaverse is tied into racism from white characters and I mean, let’s be really clear here, that’s part of what this is.
The other part is that Anita looks at Jamil, who is spiffy in his nice suit and in a situation where he’s in danger on multiple fronts – because he’s Black, good looking, and apparently a mega minority on top of being a werewolf – and Anita decides to take the time to go “maybe they think he’s gay”.
The Anitaverse is as far from an intersectional feminist work as you can get and Anita’s interactions with/Hamilton’s way of writing characters of color are super exemplary of that.
Here’s how Shang-Da was initially described:
A tall man sat slumped in a lawn chair. He was wearing a white T-shirt, jeans, no shoes, and a billed cap pulled low. His tan stood out strongly against the whiteness of the shirt. Large hands held a can of soda or maybe beer. Just an early-morning pick-me-up.
“That’s Shang-Da. He’s our pack’s second enforcer. He’s Hati to Jamil’s Sköll.”
Ah. The light dawned. “He’s guarding Richard, so the police station has to be nearby.”
I looked at the slumped figure. He didn’t look particularly alert at first glance. He almost blended into the scene until you realized the T-shirt was spotless and new. The jeans had creases as if they’d been ironed and you realized though he was tanned, the skin coloring wasn’t just from the sun. But it wasn’t until he moved his head very slowly and looked straight at us that I realized just how good the act was. Even from a distance there was an intensity in his gaze that was almost unnerving. I knew we suddenly had his full attention and all he’d done was move his head.
Where Jamil is basically a Black Bishonen, Shang-Da is Orientalism in a big threatening package.
Shang-Da is a Chinese martial arts expert that’s always “on”. Legit, the coolest thing about him is how he kicks a bunch of ass in this book. He doesn’t tend to speak, and when he does, he like clearly doesn’t like speaking to Anita. (Who he thinks is an unfaithful alpha female that has hurt Richard in the only way his enforcers can’t protect him from, from a broken heart.)
Aside from a few basics – Shang-Da transferred from the San Fransisco pack, has a criminal record from that city, isn’t a country werewolf, can fight really well, and is obviously Chinese – we know next to nothing about Shang-Da. Seriously, twenty-six books in and we literally don’t know anything else about Shang-Da because there’s nothing else to learn.
That would require Hamilton to think about characters of color beyond what they can do for or to Anita and well… that’s not likely to happen.
The thing is, Hamilton’s lack of interest in them is part of makes Shang-Da and Jamil such awesome characters to me. Unlike some of my older favorites like Damian and Asher, Hamilton can’t ruin them. Because she doesn’t give a shit about them.
(Look, considering what Hamilton does to the characters she does care about, the fact that they show up and do cool shit in this one book before mostly fading away into the background is well… fine by me.)
First things first: for the most part, when I talk about stereotypes in the Anitaverse, it tends to revolve around race and racism because well… that’s what this series does the most. I never thought I’d complain about the way that Hamilton reverts to other stereotypes in the form of… rednecks.
The town that Anita heads to in order to rescue Richard is overrun by rednecks. The cops are rednecks. The henchmen are rednecks. The werewolves are rednecks.
And yes, they behave EXACTLY the same way that stereotypical rednecks do. They revel in their cartoonish bigotry, pleased as punch to be nasty to women, people of color, and people they perceive as being queer. Women in power, WITH power, don’t matter to them as anything other than obstacles.
I get that Deliverance and the Texas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made entire generations of people fear the rednecks, but like… that’s not exactly original. Rednecks are stock villains and the fact that Hamilton couldn’t think of anything truly terrifying aside from… bigoted southerners.
It is flat out boring to be subject to more of the same kind of villains.
Which brings us to the second minor issue I have with Blue Moon: a reliance on repeat villains.
This is the second book in a row with rotting vampires and the third so far across the series. In case you’ve forgotten, a recurring vampire from back when Anita went up to that Branson-adjacent town in order to fight the fae and raise the dead are vampires who can rot. For the most part, vampires are perfect and pretty (enough) immortals who are frozen in place like recently embalmed corpses. They don’t decay, they don’t rot, and they certainly don’t show any significant sign that they’re dead.
Aside from that one vampire who decayed thanks to feeding exclusively on animals, most vampires don’t look like they’re dead.
Except for the rotting ones.
Rotting vampires not only seem able to revert between their “normal” state and the rotting one, but they also seem capable of feeding off of the fear of their victims in the same way that Anita will eventually be able to do with lust and anger.
When I say that I’m sick of them, I mean it. Hamilton usually doesn’t do anything new with the rotting vamps. She literally just rehashes the same shit with them every single time: that they’re a form of vampire that most humans don’t know exist, that they love the fear that comes from rotting on an unwilling victim, and they will always gravitate towards the most frightened person in the room (which usually tends to be Jason, but Nathaniel and Damian were dragged into things this time around).
The only new thing that Hamilton actually did do with the rotters this time around is that she gave them the power to infect other beings with their rot if they bite them. That was the most interesting thing about them.
This might be one of the last times that we see the rotting vampires in the series and their removal from most of the Anitaverse canon – probably because she realized that vampires that literally rot on the bone aren’t capable of being sexy to a wide and non-necrophile audience – and that’s something that couldn’t have happened to a worse class of vampire.
The Just Plain Borked
I think the worst thing about Blue Moon is all the sexual assault in its pages and how it treats the threat of assault and accusations. Most of the content, unlike with Burnt Offerings, is entirely offscreen, but that doesn’t mean that it feels any better to engage with the aftermath alongside Hamilton’s binary of “good” and “bad” survivors/accusers.
Here’s the thing, the main plot in Blue Moon revolves around Anita needing to help Richard after he’s been accused of raping a woman while on a summer research trip down South. The issues start with how from the moment it’s brought up, everyone rejects the idea that Richard could possibly be a rapist off the cuff.
They don’t even think about it as something that might happen.
First, Anita to Richard’s brother Daniel when he tells her the news:
“Richard is like the ultimate Boy Scout,” I said. “I’d believe murder before I’d believe rape.”
Then, Anita and Jean Claude wondering if this is a plot by the Master of the City in that area:
“If he was going to destroy us, it would be a murder charge, not attempted rape,” I said.
“True,” Jean-Claude said, then laughed. The laughter trailed over my bare skin like a small, private wind. “Whoever framed our Richard did not know him well. I would believe murder of Richard before rape.”
When Anita touches down in the Myerton airport and meets up with Jamil:
“What happened to Richard, Jamil?”
“You mean did he do it?”
I shook my head. “No, I know he didn’t do it.”
This happens a bunch more times across the first part of the novel and it’s repeatedly framed as absurd that Richard could ever sexually assault a woman because he’s just that good a person. Aside from the fact that you can’t honestly say that someone would never commit assault because you don’t know everything about a person, Richard actually tries to rape Anita later on in this very book.
Sure, he’s got the convenient “excuse” of being ridden by pack magic that has him on the hunt for a mate for his wolf, but he’s still racing through the forest hunting Anita and until he gets control of himself, there’s a very real possibility that he’ll assault her.
On top of that?
In the present day Anitaverse, there are some lines dropped in the novella Jason that imply that Richard is perhaps forcing a the weretiger Envy to have sex she doesn’t enjoy.
Because Hamilton’s grasp of BDSM in relationships and as a thing folks like to partake of is weird, she has Richard and other main members of Anita’s harem crave rough sex even if their partners don’t want or enjoy it. So if Richard is forcing his partner to partake in rough sex they don’t like… that’s assault and it’s abusive.
Prior to that, there are scenes in books between Blue Moon and the present books where Richard has shown up and has been extremely sexually aggressive to a point where even Anita is uncomfortable being intimate with him. He’s in therapy in later books in part because of his sexual issues and how they’re messing up his relationships. For Pete’s sake, he’s got a huge honking problem and it’s visible from this early on in the series.
The idea of deeming Richard incapable of being a rapist is absolutely belied by pretty much everything that comes in and after this book.
Envy and Anita aren’t the only female characters that complain about how Richard’s need for BDSM as part of sex and rough sex on top of that makes them uncomfortable. (They’re of course framed as prudes who are wrongfully seeing abuse, but considering that Anita/Hamilton’s idea of rough sex makes me uncomfortable and I’ve genuinely written Some Shit… Trust me, they’re not.).
Seriously, the big Richard issue is that the plot is predicated on him being incapable of being a rapist and on framing his accuser as being a “skank” out to get Richard.
It doesn’t matter that Richard was falsely accused of assault and that we find out that she was paid to frame him by the real bad guy (who isn’t the redneck werewolf alpha, the panicking vampire Master of the “City”, or the racist, homophobic, and misogynistic cops because the novel goes out of its way to assure us that Richard is a Good Boy and would/could never do such things) because the goal is to claim that Richard is such a good person that no one without an axe to grind could ever claim he assaulted them.
And it’s an attitude that has persisted in the series despite the fact that Hamilton barely writes Richard anymore and when she does, he’s definitely an asshole that’s largely unrecognizable from his previous portrayals.
Blue Moon’s sexual assault problem doesn’t stop there though, because like I pointed out the novel actually has sexual assault and sexual assault survivors in the background of the novel.
Between the racism, internalized misogyny, cissexism, and homophobia, the Anita Blake series has a ton of issues. Unfortunately, the series binary thinking about assault and abuse survivors is another one of those problems that the series isn’t aware about or interested in fixing.
Recently, Hamilton posted a blog post just in time for the Giving Tuesday event that references abuse in her grandmother’s relationship with her grandfather. On its own, this post wouldn’t be a big deal in the slightest if not for what it says about how Hamilton may think of survivors.
In the piece on her grandmother’s marriage to an abusive man, Hamilton drops this line that didn’t sit well with me as I worked my way through it:
“She was 4’ 11” and he towered over her, but she was never his victim.”
In the Anitaverse, people who are subject to sexual assault in the series are either set up as permanent victims who never let go of what happened to them or badass bosses who never deal with what happened to them. The idea of them just being people who’ve had a shitty thing happen to them and are trying to heal in their own way doesn’t come up in the series.
In this book, there are multiple instances of threats or actual sexual assault, most of which are… thankfully offscreen.
The most significant is the threat to Anita following the rise of Raina’s spirit within her thanks to Anita calling the magic in the Myerton werewolves’ sacred space in the lupanar. Even in death, Raina remains malevolent, and as a result of Anita using her spirit to heal via sexual energy, Raina triggers magic that sets of a pack-wide mating run that literally sets the entire pack on Anita.
Richard swoops in to save the day in his own way, but even back then I knew that there was something wonky about that whole scene and how it was handled in the book. (No one is actually punished for trying to attack Anita because it’s pack magic and not their fault…)
But then, that’s not the only usage of sexual assault, because when the book baddie Niley gets his hands on Richard’s mom and brother, he allows his men to brutalize them and, it’s heavily implied if not flat out stated, that he joined in on the sexual violence.
Aside from the last like two percent of the book, this novel does not deal with sexual violence as something as anything other than something Anita needs to save survivors from. And immediately, she sets up Charlotte and Daniel Zeeman as Strong Survivors ™ because of course, Richard’s family members can’t be anything like Nathaniel or Phillip or Jade – characters who are never allowed to move properly past sexual assault in their pasts and heal.
The Anitaverse has a recurring air of victim shaming to it. It almost feels like there’s a message in the series that if you’re a victim of abuse or violence and you “let” it hurt you, you’re not a good survivor. The Anitaverse is all about binaries, and this is just one of them.
Jamil and Shang-Da deserve better.
Richard deserves better.
Damian deserves better.
Even Anita deserves better.
And the thing is that this is still “early” Anitaverse. The majority of the issues I have with racism, violence against women, sexual assault disguised as sex positive consensual sex, sexual violence in general, and gratuitous uh… everything kicks into full drive with the next two books.
Coming up next in the reread lineup is Anita Blake #9, Obsidian Butterfly. Despite its reliance on a metric ton of racial (and racist) stereotyping of Native American and Mesoamerican people, the introduction of a serial murderer and rapist who prefers women that look like Anita Blake as his ideal targets, and the return of bounty hunter and “sociopath” Edward as he dives into domestic bliss with a regular housewife and her two kids.
This is the book that introduces Bernardo Spotted-Horse, the only prominent Native American character in the Anitaverse, and Olaf, the one Anitaverse character that I have always wanted to see die.
Prepare for yelling, folks.
Prepare for all of the yelling.