Why I'm Obsessed with Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter

By Dallas Schulze

Reader comments about this series and the Anita/Jean-Claude/Richard triangle

LLB: Earlier this year (2001), when I was going through a period in my life when a kick-ass heroine was just what I needed to be reading, I glom-read the first seven books in Laurell K. Hamiltonís Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series within a two-week period. As if that werenít enough, I checked in with Chris Ely, long-time AARlist member and moderator of a LKH discussion list online (for details, go to Chrisí LKH page) and, after talking with her about the books, joined her list.

Itís difficult to describe the allure of this series to those who havenít read it. Yes, Iíve been a fan of Anne Rice for years, but horror and fantasy arenít generally my cup of tea. And yet, the action-packed world that Anita Blake inhabits is fascinating, in quite an addictive sense. I canít remember any other instance in my life when I read seven books in a series, let alone in such a short time, often by reading when I should have been sleeping.

Several of AARís review staff have been reading Laurell K. Hamilton for years, but it wasnít until I read through the first couple of books in the series that I realized I was hooked. The first book - Guilty Pleasures, was interesting, but it was no DIK for me, and I wondered whether or not to continue reading the series since this first book hadnít grabbed me as it had for so many other readers. But after encouragement from friends and those who assured me the series would grow on me, I went for broke and got all the other books in the series, and within days, I was a goner.

This is definitely, at least for me, a series where the whole is better than the individual parts, which may be why many readers had the same experience I had, glom-reading the series, or a good portion of the series, quite quickly. Right now I have two titles left unread; I took a break from them in order to ďsave" them for another time, and instead read the first book in what is obviously going to be another LKH series - A Kiss of Shadows.

A couple of weeks after this intense reading experience, I gained the courage to post about what most interested me in the series (the love triangle) to the LKH list. This is obviously a topic of great interest to all readers of this series, not only the romance readers among them. Shortly thereafter, I read a couple of extraordinary posts on the list by romance author Dallas Schulze. I was impressedÖnot only because of the implied validation, but because of the content of her posts. They were wonderful.

One of the most interesting aspects about meeting authors is discovering what makes them tick, not only as authors, but as readers. I believe that a terrific way for readers to get into the minds of those who write the books we love is to get them to talk about the books they love - that was the genesis of the author-submitted review portion of our Desert Isle Keeper page. So I asked Dallas if sheíd care to write an article for AAR on the Anita Blake series. We went back and forth for a while on the questions I wanted her to consider, and, to tell you the truth, the resultant article has blown me away. I canít wait for you to read it, so without further ado, letís get to it.

Iíve heard confession is good for the soul so, in the interests of soul improvement, Iíll confess that Iím afraid of the dark and the things that might go bump in it. You know, ghoulies and ghosties and long legged beasties? Intellectually, I know there are no such things. Well, Iím pretty sure there arenít. But Iím also cursed - or blessed, depending on your point of view - with a better than average imagination. Remember the velociraptors in Jurassic Park? The night after I saw the movie, I had trouble falling asleep because, every time I closed my eyes, I could hear that peculiar little purring noise they made and Iíd have to open my eyes to see if one of the little darlings was slinking through the bedroom door.

I suppose I donít have to tell you that Iíve never read Stephen King or Ann Rice, seen a Freddie Krueger movie or ventured into any haunted house attraction that a toddler couldnít handle. So, how did a wuss like me end up addicted to a series of books about a vampire executioner and her two lovers - one a vampire, the other a werewolf?

Blame it on Laurell K. Hamilton, a wickedly talented writer whose Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series smashes through genre boundaries, combining elements of mystery, horror, action, fantasy and romance. Since Iíve written more than forty romance novels, itís no surprise that itís the romantic element that drew me into Anitaís world and kept me turning pages through all nine books.

I started out innocently enough with Guilty Pleasures. One very sexy vampire, one reluctantly attracted vampire executioner, a single kiss, plenty of sexual tension and I ended up ordering the rest of the books and devouring them all in less than a week. I just had to find out what happened with Anita and Jean-Claude and, after the third book, Richard.

Despite my obsession with Anitaís love life, these are definitely not romance novels. The romance is only one element in a potentially mind boggling mix of genres. Thereís more than a bit of blood and guts, the occasional gobbet of flesh gets tossed aside, body parts are detached in various and sundry painful fashions and lots of people - human and otherwise - are dispatched in permanent and frequently painful ways. Thereís occasional magic, plenty of action and enough weaponry to keep Rambo smiling through another half dozen films. Still, the heart of the books is the characters - Anita and the two men in her life, as well as an ever growing supporting cast of humans, lycanthropes and vampires.

Anitaís world parallels the real world for the most part. The setting is familiar, the brand names are ones we all know. Anita drives a Jeep and wears Nikes, drinks too much coffee and collects stuffed penguins - practically the girl next door. But in Anitaís world, vampires and werewolves are real, as are trolls, zombies, lamias, dragons, giant cobras and an assortment of creatures out of fairy tales and legend. While theyíre still illegal in Europe, in the States, the Supreme Court has made vampires legal, giving them the right to hold regular jobs, own businesses and mix and mingle with the human populace. In Anitaís world, the stuff of myth and nightmare becomes just another element in the American melting pot.

Lycanthropy is passed on via virus - get scratched by a werewolf and you just may find yourself howling at the next full moon. Officially, people with furry alter-egos are viewed as the victims of a disease and are not to be discriminated against. The reality is that lycanthropes are likely to find themselves losing jobs and friends, victims not only of the disease but of the fear that they might pass it on. Understandably, lycanthropes - werewolves, wereleopards, wererats, and weretigers, among others - tend to keep themselves pretty deep in the closet, relying only on each other for support and presenting a facade of normalcy to the human world.

Like any other ethnic group, the preternaturals have their bad seeds and when a vampire or werewolf goes bad, it can be very bad indeed. After all, weíre talking about creatures who can literally tear a person limb from limb and, while bullets may not bounce off their chests, they donít have much effect either, unless theyíre silver and, typical of bureaucracies everywhere, the police department is reluctant to authorize quantities of costly ammunition. So, when bodies start piling up, drained of blood and with suspicious bite marks on their necks, who ya gonna call? A vampire executioner, of course and, if youíre in St. Louis, youíre going to call Anita Blake, necromancer and vampire executioner, with more official kills than any other executioner and enough unofficial kills to make the vampire community very nervous.

Anita is smart, tough and emotionally clueless. She can behead a vampire with her bare hands or hold an angry pack of werewolves at bay with nothing but an Uzi and her smart mouth but she has a hard time dealing with her own emotions. By her own admission, sheíd much rather face an armed assassin than deal with the emotional issues in her life. Sheís more akin to a Stallone action hero than a traditional romance heroine. Reversing the stereotype, itís the men in her life who are emotionally in tune with what they want and sheís the one stumbling around in the dark.

From the beginning, sheís been drawn to Jean-Claude. Heís a master vampire, Master of the City of St. Louis. Heís also 400 years old, having started out life as a whipping boy for a French aristocratís son during the days when DíArtagnon and his pals were swashing and buckling their fictional way across France. Apparently, early exposure to ruffles and lace left their mark because Jean-Claude dresses like an actor in an expensive porn movie - cascading lace, peek-a-boo shirts, skin tight pants and thigh high boots. His eyes are midnight blue, his voice is pure seduction and he pursues Anita with arrogance and charm, determined to make her, not only his lover but his human servant - a bond that will increase his powers and give her immortality.

A lesser woman might succumb to temptation but Anita is made of sterner stuff. At twenty-five, sheís only had one lover - her fiancťe in college - and sheís chosen to remain chaste since then. In my opinion, her extended celibacy is less a moral declaration than it is an attempt to avoid emotional involvement but, even without that, thereís the fact that Jean-Claude isnít human. As she says, she doesnít date vampires, she kills them.

But Jean-Claude is not inclined to take no for an answer. Readers have endless debates about whether he actually loves Anita or just wants the power she can bring him or some combination of the two. I lean toward the love side of the argument. He definitely wants the power but he has ample opportunity to force her to take the final steps to become his servant and he doesnít do it. He wants her to come to him willingly. Arrogance? Probably but I think itís also the need to have the woman he loves accept him, fangs and all.

As if Anita didnít already have enough trouble with her love life, thereís Richard Zeeman. Richard is a junior high school science teacher. He loves kids, the great outdoors and his mother, not necessarily in that order. He is handsome, faithful and loves old musicals. He even cooks. He also just happens to be a werewolf, an alpha wolf on his way to being leader of the pack - with apologies to the Shangri-Las. But Richardís biggest flaw may not be the fact that he turns furry once a month and chases down a deer or two. As far as Anitaís concerned, his biggest flaw is his stubborn belief in the sanctity of life, even when the life in question belongs to someone whoís trying to kill him. Richard is an idealist, convinced that problems can be worked out by peaceful means, which would be a fine idea if the people who want him dead felt the same way. All that stubborn idealism wonít keep him or the pack members who choose to follow him alive.

So, here are the two men in her life - the Ďboysí as she calls them. One is arrogant, manipulative, deeply sensual and all cool control. The other is kind, remarkably normal, despite his monthly foray into the land of fur and fang, sexy and full of vibrating warmth. A vampire and a werewolf. And you thought you had trouble finding nice normal guys to date! Most romance readers would balk at the idea of a heroine having two lovers. Yes, triangles are a mainstay of romantic fiction but they donít often move things into the bedroom and, frankly, itís usually pretty obvious who the heroine is going to choose. Yet, for a substantial number of readers, the question of will she or wonít she and if she does, with whom, is the most compelling reason to dive into Anita Blakeís world. So, why do readers accept Anitaís complicated love life when they would probably reject the same situation in a more conventional book?

I think the reasons are threefold. First of all, these arenít conventional books. The otherworldliness of them shifts our expectations. If we can accept that vampires own nightclubs and that shapeshifters make great strippers, then we can perhaps more readily accept the idea of a woman in love with two men, sleeping with two men. And then thereís the fact that thereís more than lust or even love at stake here. The three of them - Anita, Jean-Claude and Richard are bound together in a magical fashion with the potential to draw power from one another, to be something more as a triumvirate than any of them can be alone. Finally, the relationships have been built up slowly. While there is plenty of sexual tension, the books are surprisingly chaste. I think there are only two on screen kisses in the first five books and itís near the end of the sixth book before Anita actually sleeps with one of the boys. Since the romance is only one element of the stories, Ms. Hamilton is able to draw out the sexual tension like a silk thread, stretching it tighter and tighter, layering the relationships and letting the readers see the conflicts among the characters. And there are plenty of conflicts.

Anita worries that, as her powers as a necromancer grow, sheís losing her own humanity, becoming one of the Ďmonstersí. She loves Richard. She wants Jean-Claude, maybe she loves him, too. Richard is warm and safe but she canít trust him to stay alive. Jean-Claude is cool and dangerous but she knows heíll do whatever it takes to survive and, in his own peculiar fashion, heís the more dependable of the two men. She understands his ruthlessness more than Richardís idealism.

Richard hates his beast, the loss of control it represents and the pack politics that are forcing him inexorably into the taking of another life. He loves Anita, wants nothing to do with Jean-Claude yet wants the power that the vampire can give him, that binding the three of them together can give him. Heís clinging to his humanity, even as he slips further away from it.

Jean-Claude is, perhaps, the most well adjusted of the three. Maybe thatís what you get after 400 years of living. Heís comfortable in his own skin but there are glimpses of a kind of wistful awareness that his lack of humanity will always be a barrier between him and Anita. Still, he knows what he wants and goes after it without apology. He wants Anita and he wants the power that forming a triumvirate with her and Richard will give him, power that will enable him to protect himself and his people from any and all challengers. He was once part of a successful menage a trois and has no objections to going that route again, if only the other two could be persuaded to accept it.

In general, fans of the series are divided into three groups - those who think Anita should choose Jean-Claude, those who think she should choose Richard and a small but vocal minority who thinks she should keep them both because how often does a girl get a chance to have two preternatural studmuffins at her beck and call? (Thereís a fourth group, who sincerely hope that both Richard and Jean-Claude will take a very long walk off a short pier so that Anita can concentrate on solving crimes and killing people but, for the purposes of this article, I think we can safely ignore them.)

I pretty much fall into the keep Ďem both camp. Both men have something to offer Anita. Richard is a little passive aggressive for my tastes but heís basically a decent guy, trying to deal with a difficult situation. He didnít ask to be a werewolf and he didnít ask to fall in love with a woman whose kill count is well into the double digits. But if Anita is going to pick just one of them, my vote is for Jean-Claude. Iím not sure I can offer a rational argument for it. Thereís something about all that cool control, that arrogance, even the manipulative tendencies - did I mention that he blackmailed Anita into dating him? - that just amuses me.

Iíve always loved the classic Ďbad boyí as a romantic hero. You know the one. Heís tough, heís dangerous, heís a little bit wicked but thereís also a certain vulnerability there, a hunger to be accepted, to be loved for who and what he is. Jean-Claude plays to those elements for me. Instead of being from the wrong side of the tracks, heís from the wrong side of the grave but the end result is similar. Heís the ultimate bad boy - dangerous to know, even more dangerous to love but worth the risk, at least in fiction.

So, if Anita has to choose just one of the boys, I hope itís Jean-Claude but Iíd like to see her hang onto both of them. Jean-Claude understands and accepts the world she lives in, the violence, the darkness within her but Richard offers a solid link to the real world, to normal, every day things like nature hikes and musicals. They both have something to offer and a smart woman like Anita ought to be able to figure out a way to make the whole thing work.

Until recently, I was only vaguely aware of the thriving sub-genre of romances where the hero - and itís almost always the hero - are vampires or werewolves. Vampires appear to be more popular that werewolves, for some reason.

Iíve given some thought to the whole question of why vampires and shapeshifters are so often portrayed as objects of lust, particularly in more recent fiction and literature. Whatís the sexual draw here? I mean, when you look at it logically, whatís so sexy about a guy who drinks blood and canít get a tan to save his soul. Ooops, forgot - he doesnít have a soul. As for werewolves, as far as I can tell, lycanthropy is like having the worldís worst case of PMS, only, instead of just getting cranky once a month, you literally turn into a monster and eat raw meat and howl at the moon. Not exactly my idea of a fantasy lover.

Yet, thereís an undeniable appeal there. Though they are very different creatures, I think the allure of the vampire and that of the shapeshifter are based on the same things - power and danger.

Itís the bad boy thing again. If your mother warned you not to date the guy who smoked and drove a hot car, imagine how sheíd feel about you dating a vampire. The fact that the danger is real only adds to the excitement. Like petting a tiger - all that nice soft fur and those great big teeth. Power. Strength. As theyíre portrayed in much of the contemporary fiction and film, the preternatural heroes are definitely alpha males. (In Richardís case, the term can be taken quite literally.) They are dominant males and, if you want to lean on the selfish gene theory, women are predisposed to favor the dominant males because they are most likely to insure survival of any young.

In Anitaís case, she appears to have no intention of having children and, based on series canon, Jean-Claude canít father children anyway but biology isnít about details. The biological imperative is to choose a mate who can protect you and your offspring, nevermind that Anita is more than capable of protecting herself, any offspring and Richard and Jean-Claude as well. Nevermind that sheís meaner than Richard and probably quicker to kill than Jean-Claude. The biological engineering is still in place and a strong, alpha female is drawn to mate with an equally strong or stronger alpha male.

Iíd also hazard a guess that part of the appeal of having your hero come with fur or fangs is the ability to portray him as a dominant male without running into the brick wall of political correctness. If heís a chauvinist - porcine or otherwise - well, heís probably just a victim of biology or hormones because vampires or shapeshifters or whatever clever permutation the author has come up with are programmed to defend their mates, to protect them.

I donít see this as much in the Anita Blake books as I have in some of the more conventional romances that feature a preternatural hero. Jean-Claude is not so much chauvinistic as he is Machiavellian. Heís an equal opportunity manipulator. And Richard may be an alpha wolf but Anita has pretty much ridden roughshod over him for most of the series. But a number of authors have chosen to portray their preternatural heroes as never having heard of ERA or womenís lib. And the heroines, rather than telling them to wake up and smell the burning bras, are generally both exasperated and deeply touched by their mateís overbearing ways and work to achieve what they call a compromise, which generally means the heroine pretty much gives up her autonomy in return for the hero admitting that he canít live without her.

Iím not knocking it. Iíve read and enjoyed a number of these books but itís a completely different tack than that taken in the Anita Blake books, which doesnít mean that the whole alpha male thing isnít part of the appeal there. Whether or not Anita can take care of herself, thereís something appealing about the sheer power of both the men in her life. Maybe bench pressing a Toyota isnít high on anyoneís list of turn-ons but knowing that your mate can - and would - tear a bad guy to pieces in your defense sparks a nice little visceral twinge, for the reader, if not for Anita, who would really prefer to do her own tearing to pieces, thank you.

As with all things creative, Iím sure there are a lot of other opinions as to why these books have gained such an avid following among romance readers. No doubt someone, somewhere had done a deep, analytical study and come up with a theory about Anitaís persona being part of some collective race memory that we all share. Maybe substituting mastodons for the demons and vampires she faces in the books. Or perhaps a feminist take that says Anita is expression the aggressions of generations of women ground down under the weight of masculine oppression. Could be. All I know is that I read 3420 pages - American paperback editions - in less than a week, not because I have a deep seated craving for blood and guts, not because I have secret fetish for zombies but because I was caught up in Anitaís tangled romantic life.

-- Dallas Schulze

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