(2015) Laurell K. Hamilton, Headline, £19.99, hrdbk, 566pp, ISBN 978-0-755-38906-3
Laurell K. Hamilton has been writing supernatural romance long before there was a shelf with that as a genre label... Dead Ice is book twenty four in her Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series (that for example, previously included The Skin Trade) and really, if you have not read any of the previous twenty three books, this is not the place to start.
This book, like all of the others, has a self-contained supernatural murder mystery plot. Anita Blake works with the police to try and find out who is able, and willing, to kill someone, capture their soul and then raise them as a zombie with all the feelings and emotions of a living person... and then use them in porn movies where they are not able to say no...
However alongside this story is the ongoing saga of Anita's complicated personal life.The reader explores with Anita the difficult relationships of the people closest to her, somewhat strained by the emotional and supernatural needs created by the main characters all being vampires, werecreatures or necromancers.
The most common criticism levelled at the Anita Blake series relates to the change of style that occurred after episode ten – Narcissus in Chains. The books up to that point, while romance was always a subplot, featured action adventure as the primary focus. After book ten the nature of Anita's relationships become sexual and Hamilton pulls no punches in describing this. It is fair to say that these books are definitely adult fare.
Dead Ice contains relatively little sexual content, but to really understand the relationships the reader really needs to have read a number of books eleven to twenty-three, which are certainly more graphic in nature.
Hamilton is unapologetic about the amount of sex in her books and her sales figures certainly reflect the popularity of her approach even if it is not to everyone's tastes.
In addition, this series does not depict the supernatural world in a cuddly teenage angst way that has come to be associated with the genre. Dead Ice is no exception to this. There are no sparkly vampires here. Instead Hamilton describes a gritty world full of risks and manipulation, where vampires try to seduce you and if you are not powerful enough to resist them, they will control and probably kill you. Werecreatures have to deal with issues of discrimination and zombies are banned from restaurants on the basis of hygiene. It is easy to see why these books were also at home on the shelves with horror stories.
Despite being set in a world with the supernatural all around, Hamilton brings us back to what is familiar by ensuring all her characters have believable human traits, both admirable and otherwise. This allows us, the reader, to see the good qualities in the 'monsters', even when they don't see themselves that way. Sometime it even allows us to see how prejudice and ignorance makes monsters of the 'pure'. Anita becomes more involved with the magical elements of her life, but maintains her humanity even as others question her right to call herself human. Hamilton manages to show us an unconventional morality in a character who is willing to kill or have sex with just about anyone in the right circumstances.
Hamilton’s next release is all set to explore the backstory of a long established character, and for those of us in the United Kingdom, bringing Anita a little closer to home than usual.
If you are looking for action and adventure I would recommend the first ten books in this series. If, however, you like some action, but really want to be drawn into an emotional ride, exploring supernatural characters with very human issues and complex non-binary relationships... If you are open minded enough to accept that humanity and human relationships do not only exist in conventional people in conventional families... then you might just love these stories.
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