June 2003

Adam Lipkin

fiction

Cerulean Sins by Laurell K. Hamilton

When I was ten or so, I discovered the works of Piers Anthony (remember, I was young!). To a kid just discovering the appeal of the opposite gender, the Xanth books, with their combination of adolescent puns and scenes of women wearing skimpy clothing, were a perfect little series. By the time I entered high school (and the tenth or eleventh book in the series had been released), I got tired of the series. Before giving up on the books, however, I reread the first few again, just to see if I'd simply outgrown the books, or if the series had gone bad at some point.

To my surprise, although I had, indeed outgrown the books (once I started socializing with real girls, it became pretty clear that Anthony hadn't a clue about women), the first few books were still pretty readable. However, Anthony's plots and characters in the later books became less and less interesting, as he started essentially phoning it in, turning in recycled characters and plots, appealing to nothing but the most prurient interests (the low point being the release of a novel named The Color of Her Panties) and taking as many shortcuts as he could get away with. In short, the fact that he knew his books would sell made him lazy.

Which brings us to Laurell K. Hamilton's latest, Cerulean Sins. The eleventh book in the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series confirms that the series, never much more than a guilty pleasure to begin with, has long since degenerated into a muddled series of sex scenes interspersed with a nonsensical plot. This is The Color of Her Panties for the x-rated set.

If you haven't read the previous books in the series, you'll probably be lost. Hamilton immerses us in plotlines and characters from previous books, and the story (such as it is) pretty much hits the ground running. That's not a bad thing, frankly; once a series hits double digits, it's reasonable to assume that the characters have gotten a little complex.

What is a bad thing is the direction in which those characters move. Anita, in the earlier books, was a complex, interesting woman. She was a faithful Christian who raises zombies, and has to wrestle with the moral and ethical issues that entailed. She was a licensed vampire hunter who was falling in love with a vampire (and, later, a werewolf). She was a strong woman who dealt with equally strong male characters without ever falling into a pit of angst. She was a woman who, although not a virgin, had been hurt so much by previous relationships that she was more scared of dating someone than of fighting monsters.

Now, Anita is nothing more than a character in a Cinemax movie, hopping from bed to bed, having sex with as many non-humans as she can (thanks to a plot device called "the ardeur," introduced in the last book, that forces her to crave sex every twelve hours), and not even thinking about religion (her cross glows every once in a while, but her faith never seems to be an issue any more). And both Anita and the various males seem to have lost all sense of reason, attacking people when they'd normally negotiate, having sex when they'd normally resist, and whining about how much things suck, instead of doing something about it.

It's created a muddled plot that's nearly impossible to follow, as new enemies are introduced, old characters are shunted aside, and every fourth page of plot is interrupted by a sex scene. Out of nowhere, the book has forced Anita into a position where she must have sex with Asher (the longtime friend and companion of her vampire boyfriend Jean-Claude) to save his life. And then the "ardeur" makes her crave her friend Jason, which is soon followed by a psychic attack from the vampire queen. Amidst all the sex and pointless vampire politics, there's a subplot involving a series of gruesome murders that, had it been the main plot, would have been worth following. Alas, it's buried beneath the meandering vampiric power games.

The nigh-incomprehensible plot and the uninteresting characters would have been bad enough. But the book is hamstrung by Stephen King syndrome Hamilton's books are clearly no longer edited at all, which not only encourages the plot holes, but also leads to a book so typo-laden and grammatically deficient that any high-school composition teacher would have failed it on grammar alone. It's one thing for an occasional typo to slip through, but when a book looks like it was never even proofread, it's nearly impossible to stay focused on what little plot there is. Then again, when the author becomes sloppy and lazy enough to turn in a book this bad, who can blame the copyeditors for being unable to concentrate?

As an added bonus, you can have fun playing with the pretentious title of the book. The color blue does appear throughout, but with no rhyme or reason. The vampires are wearing blue, and decorate their rooms in blue curtains, but we don't know why. At best, it's a vain aspiration to some level of literary "art" that Laurell didn't even deserve back when she wrote readable novels. At worst, she meant to address it, but the scene which explained it all got lost in the shuffle, and neither Laurell nor her editors noticed. I know which one I'm laying my money on.

Cerulean Sins by Laurell K. Hamilton
Berkley Publishing Group
ISBN: 0425188361
416 Pages

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