I took a break from sporking/technically hate reading the Anita Blake series after I completed my readthrough of Rafael last year. (You can read that spork here)
I gave myself a year off from engaging with the series on any critical level because I didn’t like how much I was getting annoyed by Hamilton’s writing and her politics in and out of her universe. So I gave myself an ultimatum: no more. No more analysis. No more hate-reading. No more rude tweets backed up with screenshots.
I gave myself a year to calm down, chill out, and see if there’s something else I love to hate(read) more.
There was nothing else and, conveniently, the end of my hiatus landed on the release of Smolder, the latest Anita Blake book.
It’s been 20 years since I was introduced to the series and 7 (or so) years since my critical engagement would likely get me branded an “anti fan” but I’m back and ready to tangle with one of the series that has been a defining piece of media for me since I was a tadpole reading it in a Books A Million when I was supposed to be on my way home from high school.
Let’s get into it.
We’ll start with the cover copy because that’s always good to set the tone.
Vampire hunter Anita Blake is no stranger to killing monsters. It’s part of her job as a Preternatural U.S. Marshal, after all. But even her experience isn’t enough to stop something that is bent on destroying everything—and everyone—she loves.
Anita Blake is engaged to Jean-Claude, the new vampire king of America. Humans think she’s gone over to the side of the monsters. The vampires fear that their new king has fallen under the spell of the most powerful necromancer in a thousand years.
In the midst of wedding preparations—including getting Edward, aka U.S. Marshal Ted Forrester, fitted as best man—Anita gets a call that the local police need her expertise at a brutal murder scene linked to a nationwide slaughter of vampires and humans, dubbed the Sunshine Murders.
But there is more than just a murderer to catch: an ancient evil has arrived in St. Louis to challenge Jean-Claude for his crown, his life, Anita, and all they hold dear. Even with Jean-Claude’s new powers as king and Anita’s necromancy, it isn’t enough; they must embrace their triumvirate or allow primeval darkness to spread across the country, possessing first the vampires and then the humans. Evil will triumph unless Jean-Claude and Anita can prove that love conquers all.
This is a lot of stuff to happen in a single book. It’s even more stuff to happen in a single day. Smolder is the latest installment in the unending Anita Blake series – because Laurell K Hamilton dropped the ball on her fae Merry Gentry series and couldn’t do numbers with her macho dude angel police procedural – and even more cracks are apparent in her worldbuilding.
Let’s start with how Anita and Jean-Claude are still merely engaged. They’ve been engaged for so long that I’m genuinely confused about the fact that these people aren’t married yet. (This will be rectified in Slay, the next Anita Blake novel… perhaps.) They’re engaged to be married but there’s always something getting in the way of getting them to the altar. This time it’s a case of serious serial murders affecting humans and vampires alike. You know, because they’re the only supernatural characters that matter.
From the cover copy, we can also tell that this book heralds Richard’s return to Anita’s bed and heart. As the annoying third in their triumvirate – a metaphysical connection that links a vampire, shifter, and human (ish) servant – Richard has always gotten in the way of what Hamilton thinks is his own happiness. Forced into that polyamorous life, he’s since gotten over himself (somewhat) and occasionally joins Jean-Claude for too-rough sex with exclusively female weretigers to help solidify their power as supernatural badasses.
But what the blurb tells me is that Smolder is going to be an attempt at casefic. I love a good casefic where characters solve a mystery and protect the innocent. However, is that something Anita and her crew are actually capable of? Especially in a book that supposedly is set over the course of a single day?
We open with Anita and Edward in the fitting room of a wedding boutique less than a year after Edward’s wedding to Donna in Serpentine, which was set in the Florida Keys. Edward of course is a cishet man and in the world of Anita Blake, that means he’s about to lose his mind with rage over having to get dressed up for his best friend’s wedding. You know, the thing they’ve been planning for several months if not longer?
Anyway, the man is so angry that Anita notes that, “his blue eyes were already starting to turn pale like winter skies, which usually meant he was about to kill something, or that he wanted to kill something.” And first of all, that’s not how eyes work. Second of all… grow up Edward.
The run-on sentence after that – clocking out at a whopping seventy one words – is used to detail how much pleasure Anita gets out of watching Edward struggle with his haute couture for the wedding. There’s some cheeky sadism that can be fun with your friends but people really shouldn’t be uncomfortable if they’re taking part in your wedding, I feel? But what would I know? I’ve managed to miss every single wedding I’ve been invited to so no one in their right mind would have me participate in the process.
Then we get a description of Edward’s outfit. I won’t go into it in detail here because it’s a lot and it’s hard to understand because Hamilton can’t write, but it’s really… not a big deal? Jean-Claude and his designers have Edward in a leather and cloth tailcoat with a high stiff collar like those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park that spit acid venom? It’s an outfit that doesn’t seem like it’d look too good in real life but this is the Anitaverse, where any large amount of leather makes a body into a bawdy and so Anita and Peter both hype Edward up over it. Including Anita mentally noting his “ass” before telling him that “You look slender, more… delicate almost, and in all the years we’ve been friends, delicate has never been a word I used for you.”
I have spent literal years shaking with fear over the day that’d come when Anita and Edward would smash and this recent thing has me solid as hell that it’s coming. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I know that somehow despite both of them being separately partnered up… there’s gonna be a reason for them to smash before the series has completed.
Reading any Laurell K Hamilton book is really interesting because until I started reading her work with a critical eye, I didn’t know novels could have filler? But that’s what we get for the rest of this chapter, I feel? Anita, Peter, and Edward shoot the shit and talk about what their mundane-ish lives are like. Peter’s double majoring, he wants to see some trolls – a thing that we haven’t really talked about since Blue Moon so like… way to remember your worldbuilding LKH. He can’t join the military or be a cop because he’s potentially going to shift thanks to therianthropy on the test they apparently give for that. It’s just so… boring.
Smolder’s second chapter begins with an unwanted phone call from Anita’s father and a reminder that Hamilton is just like me in some ways… she sure is gonna unleash her daddy issues through fiction. She’s just writing it while I am consuming a horrific amount of single dad [CHARACTER] stories and webtoons where a kid is adopted/taken in by a gruff but well meaning hottie who’s now her new dad!
But yes, it’s been established that Anita’s Extremely Catholic ™ dad hates Jean-Claude and sees him as the catalyst for the “life of sin” Anita lives in. So on this call, he’s basically scolding her about wanting to get married to Jean-Claude because it’s… perverting marriage or something?
But also before that her dad was like “oh my god you’re living in sin with them” because no one was married so like… what is the truth? When Anita asks him about that he literally says, “If it’s a choice of cohabitating with one of them or marrying one, then I know which is my preference for my daughter.”
And then, in a huge flip flop of attitude, her dad is like “I’m coming to St. Louis to meet your fiance and get the first fitting done for the wedding”. Out of nowhere. Just a hundred words prior he was like “vampires are going to hell” and now he’s… literally preparing to come up to meet the family with Anita’s family. This will be the first time that we see Anita’s family in these books, I believe, and I’m actually excited? I’m sure it’ll be handled poorly because Hamilton has serious issues around family she’s been working out through Anita for years on top of how… *gestures at the characterization flip flops* she can’t keep these characters straight… but I’m sorry I’m just so excited to finally “see” her little half brother Josh in canon!
Also showing up in this book? Anita’s stepsister Andria, her fiance Kevin, and Anita’s abusive grandmother who has leveled up on the badness scale.
One of the things that’s always been interesting about the Anita Blake series and following LKH as a writer is watching the stories develop and escalate. There’s a story she tells about being on an airplane hit by turbulence. The first time she told it publicly, it was a little rough flight that left them shaken. Now? It’s fully “the flight attendant and her drink cart were plastered to the ceiling”. I see this with how Anita’s paternal grandmother has evolved to be a terrible figure as Anita’s dad gets redeemed. BEfore, we knew that Anita’s paternal grandmother wasn’t half as welcoming as her maternal one – especially about her ability to raise the dead. Now we’ve got Anita explicitly naming her grandmother as an abuser and detailing her abuses in the name of Catholicism.
“Dad, if you bring Grandma Blake then you aren’t coming with an open mind about me marrying Jean-Claude, because she will close your mind to anything but her hatred and prejudice against anything supernatural.”
“Momma is a good old-school Catholic, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“She burned me when I was fourteen, so I’d know what hell felt like, Dad. She thought it would encourage me to stop using my powers to raise the dead.”
“What? You told me that was an accident.”
“No, Dad, she told you it was an accident.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You hadn’t believed me about anything else, why bother?”
“That was a second-degree burn, Anita.”
“I know, Dad, trust me, I remember.”
“You should have told me.”
“Told you that your beloved saint of a mother pinned my arm and forced a candle flame against my skin?”
“She said you were playing with the candle, and it fell.”
“You don’t get second-degree burns from a falling candle if you can move out of the way, Dad.”
He was quiet on the other end of the phone. I just let the silence build because I didn’t know what else to say. It had taken me months of therapy to own the memory, and not try to find some explanation for what happened that would exonerate my father for not protecting me. Nothing would ever exonerate my grandmother. She could rot in the hell she was so fond of for all I cared.
This whole chapter is… complicated for me to read because it’s Anita dealing with explaining that she’s been abused and it’s traumatized her to a person who is more focused on defending the abuser. It’s something that tells me “have empathy for this weirdo” but it’s also balanced by the way that the narrative, over the years, has mishandled abuse survivors in this series. It’s definitely something to finally remember that Anita is a “person” who goes through this though. Hamilton has worked so hard to rewrite her as a limitless badass that having this reminder that Her Past Has Happened is actually really good?
Anyway, she realizes that her dad is a piece of crap and her family will never understand or support her with what she’s been through and she ends up crying in Peter’s arms for the fourteen year old still inside of her that’s been burnt by a grandmother that hated her more than she loved her.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to feel any emotions beyond a mild amusement so… this is a nice changeup.
And then the third chapter opens with something that reaffirms my commitment to ragging on these books and Hamilton herself. So Anita and Peter are still hugging at the start of the chapter and he’s comforting her… and then Peter ruins it by going, “I’ve always wanted to hold you in my arms, but this wasn’t how I pictured it.”
Because everyone wants to hop on Anita.
Anyway, Anita calls him trustworthy and he goes “Oh, when a woman calls you trustworthy you’re so in the friendzone”. And let me remind you all that not only is Peter twenty to Anita’s thirty-two, she’s also his dad’s best friend who rescued him after he was kidnapped and assaulted (in multiple ways) by vampires back in Obsidian Butterfly. He hasn’t been so much friendzoned as “you are my best friend’s child”-zoned.
Despite that, however…
I have a new fear.
Well before more of the gross weird shit can happen, Asher and his terrible boytoy Kane roll up to be annoying. Kane can’t help himself – because Hamilton needs an impotent misogynistic enemy for Anita to go up against – and he says outright that he thinks Peter is a new guy for Anita to smash.
And Peter runs across the room with his preternatural speed and beats the shit out of him.
But let’s talk about that slut shaming right quick because it’s absolutely fascinating to watch Hamilton use Kane to replicate a trope about gay men that Queer Theorists like Alexander Doty talked about like thirty years ago. At one point in “The Sissy Boy, The Fat Ladies, and The Dykes: Queerness and/as Gender in Pee-wee’s World”, Alexander Doty notes explores the way misogyny develops in gay male characters/men as a way to deal with the way that “traditional” masculinity and manliness are denied them. It’s a shorthand in media, then, to use misogyny like what Kane has been displaying from day one in order to show him as a big, bitchy queer threatened by Anita’s perfect pussy:
Kane resents Anita deeply. Yes, he’s also jealous of male wereleopards like Nathaniel who are a direct threat – Nathaniel is prettier, more submissive, and unattainable in the moment – but he has the same stuff as Nathaniel. He doesn’t have the same stuff as Anita – like both in a “we’ve made him hate vaginas” way and in a “well she is technically still human” way.
And it’s just like how Hamilton peppered Obsidian Butterfly with “jokes” about how Olaf’s violent misogyny stems from him secretly being gay. She always gravitates toward the weakest stereotypes about gay men in order to prop up her tough girl Anita and center her in the narrative. We see it when Asher, who supposedly loves Kane, delivers the news that Kane is alive following Peter’s beatdown in a dull tone.
It’s just so frustrating… when you look at how queer men are portrayed in this series, it’s not great. Unless it’s the ones Anita is directly intimate with on a regular basis – Asher, Jean-Claude, and Nathaniel – they tend to be characters who are stuffed into stereotypes. Byron was a campy queen who was gay until he got to plow Anita in the back of Guilty Pleasures like ten books ago. Kane is bitchy and mean because he’s so jealous of Anita and hates bisexuals on top of that. It’s like… Hamilton, despite being some kind of queer and surrounded by queer people in her life, cannot imagine that gay men aren’t one dimensional figures to obstruct Anita’s life? Like some of the bisexuals get treated better, to be clear, but it’s mainly… just the ones sleeping with Anita.
We then get the reveal that things with Kane are so much worse for Asher. The jealousy issues are so much worse and Asher says that as he gets healthier, Kane gets worse. He’s only even at the wedding clothes fitting because he doesn’t trust Asher out of his sight… as if he’s gonna fall dick first into Anita and/or Nathaniel when given the first opportunity.
Asher lowered his head, putting his hands in front of his face like he might weep or didn’t want to see Kane lying on the floor. He shoved his hands back through his hair so it pulled back completely, exposing the scars on the left side of his face. It let me know how upset he was, because he would never have done that in front of so many people if he’d been thinking about it.
Asher froze and then very slowly moved his hands so his hair would fall back like a dark golden curtain to hide behind again. He spoke with his face still hidden. “If Kane wakes and the young man is still here, he will attack him. He can take such an insult to his honor from Anita and others at the apex of our power structure, but he is too insecure to take it from anyone he perceives as less able.” He never moved his head at all while he spoke, so his hair was all we could see of his face. He didn’t even show us the unmarked side of his face, which meant all his issues had been hit hard by that one small sound.
Y’all… do you know… Like…
I don’t even have words. Asher was my dude. I was so obsessed with him, out of all of the vampires in this series. Bernardo is the one I maladaptively daydream about and give a hot wife and shit but Asher was the only vampire I liked in this series? When I was going through Some Shit as a tadpole in a really harmful toxic relationship, I actually relied a lot on Asher as a character to keep me going? Like I can’t even express how much he was my emotional support Bisexual French Vampire ™ despite the shape of the Anitaverse even back then.
And it’s moments like this when I’m reminded that he used to be one of Hamilton’s favorites and that he actually had emotional depth and feelings… that I feel really sad and stressed? Because I loved him so much and him being “wounded” by what he perceives as rejection from Peter really hit differently. Like I was ready to fight.
Just because of that.
But Hamilton makes up for it like… right away. Everyone leaves and Peter and Anita try to ease Asher’s pain.
“Asher, please,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” Peter said.
“Your reaction was honest, don’t be sorry for that,” Asher said, but his voice held bitterness that made the words a lie.
“It wasn’t for the reason you think.”
“Now you will tell me that I don’t know my own mind. You do have the arrogance of youth and beauty.”
“I’m young but I’m not beautiful, not compared to you,” Peter said.
Asher made a sound that was too bitter to be a laugh, but I didn’t have another word for it. He pulled away from my hand and I didn’t fight him over it. I had my own issues to work today, I didn’t have enough energy left over to deal with one of Asher’s famous fits. He was gorgeous, but eventually beauty and great sex aren’t enough.
Peter said, “You’re so good at hiding the scars with your hair that I forget they are there.”
“Good that you can forget that I am ruined.”
Normally I would be annoyed at the way that this is like full Love Fest On Asher because there’s also a point where Asher is like jealous of Peter… but I’ve decided to be the bigger person and pretend none of it is happening. It’s just… I deserve good things and if I have to dissociate my way through the fact that people (including the author) think Peter is a viable thirst object for Anita… I will.
So of course, I then am faced with some ableist ass “wait Asher are you off of your meds” shit. Beyond how it still doesn’t make sense that mood stabilizers can work on vampires… someone being stressed out by a person appearing to react badly to their scarring… isn’t a case of them being off their meds. If vampires are people too, then they get to be sad and stressed like people often are?
Peter and Asher bond over their scars and then when they calm down it’s time for more drama because apparently at some point Asher tried to tear Anita’s mouth open with his kiss and so she’s afraid to let him close to her? Please tell me what book that’s from. But yeah it’s the reveal to Peter and Edward that Asher has hurt Anita that really bounces the mood of the book back down to the midpoint.
Especially because it comes down to ableism. Asher briefly saying he’s jealous of Peter for being young, hot, unscarred (in the face) and human (ish) is grounds for Anita to question every single forward movement he’s made towards getting mentally healthy.
“Anita, I would never harm you on purpose.”
“You came in here tonight sounding like your old self, your old insecure jealous self. That person is not safe to be around, so I’m going to be cautious.”
“Are you saying he hurt you?” Peter asked.
“I hurt everyone around me before the doctor found medication that balanced my brain chemistry. It’s worse than being an addict, because at least that is something you can live without, something outside yourself, but what is wrong with me is inside me. I cannot go cold turkey as they say, because I am my own drug, my own weakness without a different drug to help me see sense.”
I’m going to scream.
The lack of understanding of what addiction is.
The way Asher talks here.
The chapter fully shifts to Edward and Anita basically talking about how the relationship with Asher has devolved and he no longer is a love of Anita’s life (just a lover). It’s only partially Kane’s fault too. Asher just sucks and he should die and he’s never gonna be forgiven no matter ho w hard he works…
It does just suck to keep reading about how only Anita gets redeemed? Nothing she does is a problem – not sleeping with a high schooler, not using magic to coerce others into sleeping with her, not all the ACTUAL MURDERS she’s committed – but everyone else is punished in perpetuity for stuff that should’ve been over and done with.
The chapter devolves further, mind you, because Anita, Peter, and Edwards are on Team Kill Kane ™ but Asher is like “uwu if you kill him I will die, you don’t want me to die do you”. It reminds me of how the story devolved with Haven – the blue haired werelion from Chicago. He was a hottie who called to Anita’s beast but then he was Too Posessive and went after lions she was a little more fond of so she killed him. But it was a full devolution of his character with foreshadowing a mile high and a steady shift to where Anita was explicitly attracted to him but also didn’t like him.
That’s what’s happening here.
Back in Rafael, I noted that I could sense that Hamilton was done with Kane’s purpose in the story and was jonesing for a way to kill him off. It’s clear that time is coming and that Edward or Peter will be the one to pull the trigger. It sucks because he’s Asher’s animal to call and they’re bound by a psychic bond. A dead Kane could mean a dead Asher…
I’m just not ready to deal with that.
Like I just… Wow.
How do I have burnout from this book three chapters in? I deserve everything happening to me right now. None of y’all made me do this and a lot of y’all told me to stop, but man… I must be a masochist because even though I shouted my way through the trio planning how to kill Asher and Kane in front of Asher, I’ve still got my schedule lined up to return to this terrible book.
Edward and Peter drop some deep knowledge on Asher about obsession and controlling Kane and Being Friends so like… maybe Asher won’t die but… I mean… he probably will?
We are three chapters in. Three chapters. And I’m pushing 4400 words, mostly complaints.
I hope you’re ready for more of this because this book, predictably, is a mess and I’m in a mood.
2 thoughts on “Stitch Reads Smolder (Anita Blake #29) – Chapters 1-3”
Asher using his dainty fangs to pierce Anita’s lip a couple times and not willingly let go of their embrace is from “Kiss the Dead” chapter 29.
In the aftermath, Anita spits blood from her mouth and rubs a little blood off her lower lip twice, carries on long conversations with nearly no mention of trouble moving her mouth at all, no swelling nor bruising, doesn’t seem to care that Doc Lillian’s fingers are fishing around in her mouth, doesn’t feel bad jumping off the examination table, and so on. Supposedly if she were human, she’d have needed 10 to 15 stitches, but she’s special and doesn’t need any treatment.
This makes me wonder if either she’s not actually hurt that much (even with super healing); or, in the midst of writing, Hamilton forgot that Anita should have fresh wounds on important soft parts and any flexing, stretching or jiggling of the area should hurt; or Hamilton doesn’t care to figure out and illustrate how much mouth injuries hurt. On re-read of that section to point it out here, I think it’s a mix of all three.
When I first read the action described in the book, I figured parts of Anita’s lips would be torn or have crush injuries because the initial description is that she’s used much like a chew toy and she and Asher literally tumble to the floor and someone punches him while he’s biting her. However, when released from Asher’s embrace, she is basically unscathed – I don’t think she even had a fat lip even though there was some blood. There’s a disconnect between action and result (as is par for the course for Hamilton). Even if she were numb to pain while adrenaline is pumping or while in shock, once either wore off, she should have some significant lingering issues with her mouth if the injuries were truly severe enough to warrant bringing up the incident time and again.
What’s quite creepy to me in “Kiss the Dead” is the focus on Anita’s temporary oral sexual sidelining, especially since she didn’t need treatment, and there’s little, if any, mention of her healing time causing difficulty with enormously important tasks like eating or Animator clients or anything else in life. As if the only truly important use of her mouth is as “fun for all of her lovers.” Though, her healing time seems to take like an hour, so there wasn’t significant interruption of lip service (at least I don’t recall it being any real problem in the rest of the book). And the repeat of that “if I’d been human” sentiment in “Smolder” begins the list of possible (not actual) temporary losses with kissing.
The physical injury from that incident doesn’t quite seem sufficient to me to warrant it as the thing in other books to repeatedly mention (and exaggerate since Asher did not seem to come close to tearing Anita’s mouth open).
The focus of the story I wish was repeated instead is that the purpose of that “Kiss the Dead” incident was that Asher knew he was still able to use vampire wiles on Anita, that he chose to use mind games to make Anita think he was her Prince Charming, that he didn’t get her consent to take her blood or be rough, and she was effectively gagged by his tongue and teeth – not simply that he hurt her lip or has fearfully superior strength.
The Asher attribute I’m surprised doesn’t get more print mentions is his orgasmic bite. It’s what led to an incident that I’d imagine should be the one to haunt them the most: when he nearly bled Anita to death while giving orgasmic bites in “Danse Macabre.” But that, along with the flashback orgasms at the mere memory of Asher, are seemingly long forgotten. Otherwise, the lip bite in “Kiss the Dead” would have caused orgasms, too… no?
PS the ick factor in sexualizing teenagers and friends’ kids remains strong.
Though, age difference between Anita and Peter isn’t problematic on its own. For me, when they met and the family dynamic is far more significant.
My husband is 9 years younger, and we first met when he was 22. I thought he was older, and he thought I was younger. We didn’t find out the age difference until a couple months in to dating, when there was already too much connection for it to completely taint the developing relationship. The discovery did put the brakes on for me though, and I wrestled for a couple months with whether to continue romantically or switch to being only friends. He has no qualms. Turns out I really didn’t want to be his friend.
However, if we had first met when he was 14, there’s simply no way we would have dated, or have been friends. I would not have been casual and chummy with teenagers like Anita is.
I get the Peter romanticizing of the savior / teacher in Anita, though. I didn’t have crushes on teachers, but plenty of my peers did in junior high and high school.
I, too, dread, the Edward smash. I suspect that the set up of him testing positive is contributing to making him powerful enough to satisfy one of Anita’s beasts.
Also, I vaguely recall a couple books back a discussion Edward had that he would be okay being used as emergency food for Anita, and that his wife had already basically given him permission to be with Anita.
Sadly, everyone is fair game in the Anitaverse (and I really wish incest wasn’t mentioned so casually so often).
Though, speaking of the too-young, one of my lingering questions from earlier books is, what ever happened with Valentina and Bartolome?