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Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures - Laurell K. Hamilton Vampirism is legal in St. Louis, but when vampires fail to behave, Anita Blake is licensed to deal with them as the state’s vampire executioner. Tough as nails and with an affinity for stuffed penguins, she solves supernatural mysteries and raises zombies for a living. After being coerced into her friend’s impromptu bachelorette party at a vampire strip club, Anita is blackmailed by the city’s most powerful vampire to investigate a series of vampire killings.

I’m going to come right out and say it: paranormal romance can be irritating. The genre has the habit of adhering to conventional (and often disempowering or alienating) gender roles and sexuality. So when I began Hamilton’s vampire series, I was hardly expecting an independent female vampire hunter with snarky dialogue and a gun. Amidst the Twilight-esque paranormal escapism that dominates young-adult bookshelves, Hamilton’s debut novel feels fresh and transgressive, despite being published in 1993.

What I liked:

No damsel in distress here.
Anita is a tough, sarcastic, no-nonsense protagonist with a strong stomach. She isn’t discouraged by the male-dominated field of law enforcement, and her physicality is nearly superhuman. Her primary — yes, there are many — love interest, Jean-Claude, is arguably more feminine than she is. He’s bedazzled in frills, and has long curly hair. Their attraction to each other is hardly conventional.

Lightning-paced plot.
The action is nonstop. The words jump from the page. One minute we’re in a vampire club, and the next, we’re underground in a sewer tunnel with a bunch of were-rats. Where is Jean-Claude? Another dead body? Run, Anita, run!

Wonderful characterization.
The dialogue in Guilty Pleasures is a welcome relief from the gore and foreboding that saturates the narrative. Anita’s sarcasm — “gag me with a spoon” and “bully for me” are some of her tag lines — are some examples. We don’t have to take the horror too seriously. Amidst the viscera and whizzing bullets, we’re supposed to have fun. The novel’s other characters are well thought out as well. Nikolaos, the child-vampire, is creepy, Jean-Claude is smoldering, and we root for Philip, the human vampire junkie (yes, you read that right. He likes getting bitten).

What I didn't like:

Anita can be a little much.
There’s a little bit of snark-overload, here. Some readers might find her tiresome after hearing her constant jibes of “point for me,” or “point for her.” We don’t need to laugh at the joke more than once.

It’s okay to feel emotions.
Anita can sometimes be unlikeable, due to her tough exterior. She’s completely unable to express herself emotionally. Being emotional isn’t a sign of weakness, like she thinks it is, and so in this context, the narrative contradicts its transgressive trajectory.

Despite being published more than two decades ago, Hamilton’s novel challenges heteronormative idealizations of the contemporary vampire. These challenges make the traditional, fleshed-out vampire narrative more interesting; I would much rather read about Anita’s battle scars than Edward Cullen’s diamond-infused skin. I hope that there is a chance that contemporary narratives will look back to Hamilton for some advice on female empowerment, but until then, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the series’ next installment.