Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Harlequin – review

Author: Laurell K Hamilton

First Published: 2007

Contains spoilers

The Harlequin is the fourteenth book in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series and, unusually, the name of the novel is not taken from an establishment featured in the novel but from a group – The Harlequin are the vampire equivalent of the police, or probably more accurately the secret services.

Those who read my review of book thirteen, Danse Macabre, will know that I had some issues with where the series was going stylistically. Both that volume and the previous had become plot light and erotica heavy. Given the fact that the books are written from Anita’s point of view and she is now a succubus (as well as Federal Marshall vampire executioner, virtual panwere, necromancer and vampire human servant, amongst an ever growing list) we are never going to escape that. This book has several explicit sex scenes.

That said, my problem with that was not the scenes per se but the fact that the books seemed to contain nothing but them and that the plot was none-existent. I am pleased to report that, whilst still there, the scenes are fewer in number, with some actually plot important, and there is a story – and it is a good one.

In St Louis there are two groups of vampire, those blood-oathed to the Master of the City, Jean-Claude, and those who are the congregation of the Church of Eternal Life who are not blood-oathed at all. Jean-Claude had given Malcolm, leader of the Church, an ultimatum that the congregation must be blood-oathed. During the time given for Malcolm to comply, the Harlequin come to town.

Powerful vampires, their face hidden behind masks, it is forbidden to speak of them. They send Anita a white mask, a sign that they are there to observe only and yet strange things start to happen, as though they are interfering. We do see a great new vampire power, the power to intensify an emotion, create doubt from a seed in the back of the mind or amplify anger, turning allies against each by exploiting the kernels of conflicted emotions we all carry.

Anita decides to bring in back-up she trusts, in the form of Edward, the human, almost sociopathic, free-lance vampire killer. This will, I am sure, please fans of the series (as it did me) as Edward is a fantastic and mysterious character, actually scarier than the monsters, who is a series favourite.

The story is fast paced and concludes satisfactorily and, all told, Hamilton is back on form. She has begun the expected conflict with Marmee Noir (the Mother of all Darkness) in an excellent way and I look forward to where that is taken in future volumes. The prose, as usual, are great – but that said this has not really been an issue in the last few volumes either, Hamilton’s writing is solid and very readable. But are there any issues with this new addition to the Blake story? Frankly, yes, but not to the level of the last two volumes.

Edward is a great character, as I said, but there seemed to be a move to humanise him, due to the fact that he is now in a relationship with responsibility for a couple of kids. It did seem a strange way to take the character and, perhaps, the problem was more my expectation. That said we also get the appearance of truly human monster Olaf, and they balance each other quite nicely.

If I am to be honest, the externalised internal-conflict that several of the main characters find themselves in with their own lives and morality is getting a little stale. The main focus of this is Richard, leader of the local Werewolves and Anita’s on again off again boyfriend. As the book reaches its conclusion I believe that Hamilton brought that aspect to a conclusion also, but we shall see in future volumes. Of course we couldn’t escape this internal discord from the main characters as the power the Harlequins are using amplifies such feelings, but I hope that Hamilton eases the focus off them a little in the future.

Minor problems, however, given that as a whole the main thing I can say is that Hamilton is back, with plot and everything. A worthy addition to the series, though perhaps not quite reaching the heights of the best books in the cycle. We are definitely getting back there, however. Just a thought, in case Hamilton reads this, we have had the spin-off novella Micah, if Hamilton were to do any more spin off books then I for one would love to see something focused on Edward and something else focused on Olaf.

7 out of 10.

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