While discovering a community of book bloggers over the last few days, I've realized that my book "reviews" are not and never will be the traditional kind. Summaries are difficult, almost boring for me to write. Don't get me wrong...I enjoy reading others' summaries; I just don't write them well. It's hard for me to "stick to the facts, ma'am," so my reviews tend to be more book "responses" than "reviews."
From an academic standpoint I have always been a reader response person, so this little eye-opener about myself as a book reviewer is really no surprise. I theoretically believe that an active transaction takes place between a reader and a text in order to make meaning. While a text certainly does have meaning that the author intended, I think a reader can and does experience the intended meaning plus more...or even less...or just different based on the reader's prior knowledge and/or personal experiences. It is almost painful for me to put the personal aside as I talk about a book...I have to analyze it from my own point of view and how the story touches me...Does that make sense?
Anyhoo...Even though the previous paragraph is the Reader's Digest condensed version of my views on literary theory and reading comprehension, I'm reminded that this is not an academic blog. I think there's plenty of room in the blogging world for all of us, so I'll just keep responding to my books and let others handle the traditional reviews :):)
I finished Laurell K. Hamilton's Skin Trade while I was in Boston. I put off reading it for a while because I knew that I would get immersed in Anita's world and not be able to put it down. The next Anita Blake book, Bullet, will be released in June though, so I wanted to be ready. Laurell K. Hamilton tweeted through the writing process of Bullet, so I know that a main character will be killed in the next book...I have my suspicians, but I can't wait to find out for sure!
Skin Trade is the most intense so far, I think, in the Anita Blake series because Anita is the most conflicted at this point of her existence. She feels as if the one thing she has been determined not to lose, herself, is actually slipping away, and there is absolutely nothing she can do about it. Life is always a trade off...no one ever gets anything for nothing, even in the metaphysical world. Anita has inherited powers from Jean Claude and the others in her "family," and together they have created a metaphysical "superpower" of sorts, envied and feared by many others in the supernatural world, but those powers have come with a cost.
The inevitable and biggest trade off becomes apparent in Skin Trade. In Skin Trade Anita is almost stolen away from Jean Claude by another powerful vampire who also happens to be a serial killer, Vittorio, because of her choice not to tie herself completely to Jean Claude by taking the 4th mark. The problem is not so much a romantic one as it is a "save the world" one. Vittorio means to take over the world once he combines his powers with Anita's.
Anita is lured out of St. Louis when Vittorio mails Anita the head of one of the Las Vegas SWAT team officers, one of many that he has slaughtered. (Remember, this ain't Twilight...). Anita must leave St. Louis during the day while Jean Claude is still sleeping, which is exactly Vittorio's plan. Ted, aka Edward, Anita's very close Marshall friend and Olaf, another serial killer who has become a vampire executioner and by this book another Marshall, meet Anita in Las Vegas to help hunt Vittorio. Somehow between examining dead bodies, keeping a safe distance from Olaf, who has decided Anita should be his, trying to safely understand her ties to the tiger clan, and remembering to feed the ardeur, Anita does defeat Vittorio and seemingly the Mother of All Darkness who has been trying to take over Anita for several books. Anita is able to defeat Vittorio through further understanding of her own power and combining that with the others around her. She is becoming conflicted though with the amount of legal killing she is called to do and wonders if it's time to quit.
The intensity of their emotion for one another and Jean Claude's ability and willingness to accept Anita exactly as she is despite the fact that she does not think she is capable emotionally of every "truly belonging completely to him" is what makes me consistently root for Jean Claude. Jean Claude is not pushover; he just recognizes reality...when he wakes to find Anita gone though, he responds with an anger that we've yet to see from him. His anger, however, stems from his fear of something happening to Anita. Anita's attachment to Jean Claude is almost unbreakable at this point...Jean Claude would like nothing more than to "marry" Anita to himself through the 4th mark; however, neither he nor Anita are exactly sure how that final step would affect their powers, their relationship, nor those around them. Anita and Jean Claude's partnership is the first of its kind, hence Vittorio's and others piqued interest at stealing their combined powers.
Unfortunately, to make matters even more complicated, Anita's well being and existence is so closely tied to others that she loves, particularly Nathaniel, Micah, and Damien, that by choosing to remain her own person, she actully has put the lives of others in danger as well. As tough as Anita is, even terrified vampires call her "Executioner," she would never sacrifice the life of another for her own.
The only other love of Jean Claude's life, Julianna, died centuries earlier waiting for him to save her. Jean Claude knows that Anita will save herself before waiting on him. Her ability to take care of herself is what I think is the major draw between Anita and Jean Claude. The one thing that keeps them from becoming truly one seems also to be the one thing that keeps them together. Confusing huh??
In order to stay alive and to keep alive those she loves, I believe Anita may be forced to give up some of her independence. Whether or not she will be able to live with herself if and when that happens remains to be seen. I also think Anita is going to get more involved in politics; she is very tired of the shoot to kill laws that exist and would like to find ways to save rather than take so many lives. This was one of the best Anita Blakes yet. The pace and depth of the novel acually overpowered the violence and sometimes almost more than you take descriptions of Anita's world. Even in a world of supernatural beings including vampires, werewolves, psychics, etc. the real life dilemmas take precedence...I could truly feel Anita reaching a place in her life where she will have to make some incredibly difficult decisions in order to continue.
I hope that Laurell K. Hamilton will be able to come up with compromises that we can all live with.