It seems like such a short time ago that I read Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series for the first time. Oh, how young and sheltered I was. How naive. I thought she was so tough, so badass, the epitome of vampire-slaying short chick in literature. She bossed people around, she blew away bad guys, she dated the undead and the furry, and struggled with her own personal boundaries, limitations, her definition of person-hood, and what she’s going to get out of a life surrounded by preturnatural people. Eventually it turned into a who’s who of the supernatural community, and by “who’s who” I of course mean “orgy.” And not in the sense that there are a lot of weird critturs milling about in a small space. No, I mean it in the sense that it’s a bunch of weird critturs milling about…inside Anita Blake. Not really in the metaphorical sense, but more in the bow-chicka-bow-chicka-sexy-timez sense.
I’ve been re-reading the series, hoping to recapture the excitement and wonder of a complex world full of interesting and engaging characters, and perhaps re-ignite the lazy little muses laying about Chez Cranky-Face. (They’re sloppy bastards, too, leaving bread crusts, orange peels and coffee grounds all over the house. I can’t remember the last time one of them contributed to rent, either.)
The result of my foray into the Anita Blake world has left me with a typical (of me) quandary, in the shape of fascination with some of the supporting cast, and extreme annoyance with Mlle. Bitchface Blake. A more demanding, intolerant, insensitive, inconsiderate character I have not seen, short of Thomas Covenant, or perhaps a villain. A villain who manages to be unlovable even to me, an avowed villain-lover.
Somewhere along the way, the idea of a “strong, independent woman” (I suppose it could have been the same for a male character, but with all the commendations LKH has received for making such a strong female role model in this genre, it’s hard for me to separate this character from her given sex) turned into this paranoid, prejudiced, unreasonable, self-pitying, miserable caricature we see in Ms. Blake, a caricature that has inspired other (predominantly female) writers to create similar female characters, though perhaps without as much of a penchant for furry penetration.
What bothers me, here, is not that these characters are flawed. I love flawed characters. L-U-V. Flaws are interesting. Flaws get in the way of a tidy little hero’s quest. Flaws beget plot. Flaws allow for improvement – or damnation. There is little more boring to me, story-wise, than a perfect little Disney-princess-like jewel of feminine virtue doing…well, anything…unless the purpose of the story is turning from Delicate Hothouse Orchid to Ass-kicking Force To Be Reckoned With. (Note: this is different from Unreasonable, Misanthropic, Anti-Hero Uber-Bitch. Not that I can’t get behind the concept of such a character, but the transition of Cinderella to Zorro is much more believable than, say, the transition of Snow White to The Punisher. It could happen, but a lot of people have to die first. Like, just about everyone, ever, and then after fulfilling whatever goal she has set for herself, blowing her own brains out.)
What bothers me is not the flaws. What bothers me, really, is that Blake is both racist and sexist, but gets away with calling other people racist and sexist is because she is female and of half-non-white-European descent. She treats people like shit, but it’s okay because she’ll kill their bullies for them. She is emotionally damaged, though with good reason, but it’s totally okay that her therapy of choice is getting boned by multiple dudes at the same time. She respects absolutely nobody, not even herself, but will throw a tantrum with her Browning pointed at someone’s face if they don’t freaking curtsy at her every whim. And this, gentle readers, is interpreted as “strength,” not instability and hypocrisy. “Independence,” rather than a compulsive need to control everyone and everything, and an inability to put anyone else’s needs over her own, unless it’s a plot point.
I realize that the anti-hero is all the rage these days, and I can usually get behind that. However, it becomes shaky ground when your main character is idolized by everyone else in the book (who isn’t already painted a villain, or even worse, ignorantly out-dated in their beliefs) and whose behavior is excused at every turn for some reason or another. Why is this behavior the toast of the genre? Why do people seem to think her tantrums, selfishness, rage, and abuse are the pinnacle of female behavior? She’s a jerk, she knows it, and she does it anyway. Did anyone find Biff from “Back To The Future” the epitome of male behavior? Oh, right; Blake shows remorse. That makes it all right. She feels badly about screwing someone’s career because she didn’t like their tone. She regrets having to blow someone’s head off. (Sometimes.) She realizes that she’s a hypocrite for judging everyone around her, then taking her toys and going home because someone (accurately) judged her to be a jerk. After a tremendous tantrum, of course. From what I can tell, however, it’s characterized as remorse, but in fact is nothing of the sort. Honestly being sorry for something includes trying your hardest to NOT DO THAT ANYMORE. Thinking to yourself that maybe, just possibly, you might have overreacted a smidgen, then shrugging your shoulders and kicking someone in the face for looking at you funny is NOT remorse.
On a practical level, magically fixing a character’s flaws does tend to make it more difficult to churn out sequels, and far be it from me to limit the number of books an author is “allowed” to do. But really, there’s a difference between creating tension/plot/complications/misery and just plain old dragging things out. Here, I think, we come to the biggest of my objections.
I don’t like LKH’s writing style anymore. In the first few books, the character being underestimated by EVERYONE, ALL THE TIME and having to over-do everything in order to be taken seriously, okay. Fine. She isn’t famous in her little ville, and she has to back up her reputation of competency. Except that she’s already well-known as The Executioner, so she IS famous. And of course, there’s the problem that everyone in that world, from cops to vamps to werewolves to grocery store clerks, is involved in one giant game of Whose Metaphorical Dick Is Bigger. Blake probably can’t even buy popsicles without having to kick the cashier in the face to get them to accept her debit card. I mean, seriously? How many cops does she have to get fired or shoot in order for it to get around the precinct to let her through the yellow tape? It’s not a schtick anymore, it’s a plot crutch.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the repetitive descriptions. I know there are only so many ways to describe the same person, and sometimes even authors become attached to certain turns of a phrase and collections of adjectives. It’s the fashion to re-describe everyone in every book at least once, and that isn’t a terrible idea. Sometimes people don’t pick up a book in the series since the last one came out, and that can be well over a year. Refreshers are warranted. But every couple of chapters? It feels like the most recent books are 1/3 rehashed material. As a consumer, it’s inching toward a rip-off. As an (self-proclaimed) author, it’s feels like laziness. Once things have gotten to that point, it’s time to end the series. This particular series is mostly erotica now, anyway.
In conclusion, Mlle. Crankyface should probably get off her own patoot and write something better, as she seems to think she could do with both hands behind her back and no vocal software. Something where the main character, though flawed and even contrary, shows more sense than God gave geese every now and then, whose goal is not to get her own way and damn the consequences, but something a bit more…shall I even mention it…more noble? Someone who perhaps shows the ability to refrain from taking out her rancor on those around her, despite how much she struggles? Someone able to control her impulses and maybe, just maybe, not fall into bed with every pretty face who fur-rily or fang-ily beckons? Given the books I’ve read recently, I have to wonder…can it be done?