I’ve been in the book business for almost 25 years and I have never run across an author—or a series—more divisive than Laurell K. Hamilton and her Anita Blake saga. Readers seem to either love this series with a passion, or abhor it.
Begun back in 1993 with the publication of Guilty Pleasures, Hamilton’s series featuring iconic necromancer and vampire executioner Blake has spanned 20 years and—with the recent release of Affliction—a remarkable 22 novels. Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t deny that the series is one of the most significant in the history of genre fiction, because it was the first to find a mainstream audience. An unprecedented commercial success, it found a huge readership with fantasy, romance, and horror fans alike. In my mind, the Golden Age of Paranormal Fantasy officially began January 1, 2000, when LKH’s Obsidian Butterfly was released. The ninth installment in the series, this was the first Anita Blake novel to be published in hardcover. I was a bookstore manager at the time, and I can tell you firsthand that it was a landmark event. The sales of this book were phenomenal—and, not surprisingly, soon after that, the shelves were filled with bestselling paranormal fantasy sagas like Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire saga, Kim Harrison’s Hollows saga, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, etc.
So what’s all the controversy about?
In a word: sex.
There is a lot of explicit sexual content in these novels—too much, according to some readers. Some prolonged sexual encounters extend over entire chapters! But what really gets people mad, I believe, is that Anita Blake is not monogamous, and has a throng of supernatural lovers. Some sequences featuring Anita and multiple sex partners are understandably shocking for some readers.
And, sadly, those readers that can’t get past the sexual Twister aspects of the storyline are missing out on the overriding theme, which is about Anita’s very intimate—and liberating—journey of self-discovery.
The Anita Blake series is at times complicated, frustrating, and messy: nothing in Anita’s life is simple. (Just like real life!) But she handles each and every problem—be it a troubled relationship or a gruesome murder—with dignity and grace. She understands that the fleeting moments of true happiness in her life are gifts and enjoys them to the fullest. This series isn’t for everyone, but for those readers willing to follow Anita as she evolves—and as the series itself evolves—the rewards are so much more than literary escapism. Where some may see an oversexed, morally bankrupt slut, others will find an incredibly enlightened, compassionate, and determined woman whose life is filled with love, happiness, and fulfillment.
Like her signature character, LKH makes more than a few people nervous. Her reputation most definitely precedes her. She’s dangerous. She frequently tests society’s boundaries and questions its taboos; she relentlessly pokes the soft white underbelly of conservatism and intolerance with a sharp stick.
LKH put it eloquently in a now famous response to her critics back in 2006: “If you’re unhappy with my books, and have decided you never want to read another thing that I write; great. I mean that. Life is too short to read books you don’t like, so if you’re not having a good time, stop doing it. I’m sure there are other books out there that will make you happier than mine. There are books with less sex in them, God knows. There are books that don’t make you think that hard. Books that don’t push you past that comfortable envelope of the mundane. If you want to be comforted, don’t read my books. They aren’t comfortable books. They are books that push my character and me to the edge and beyond of our comfort zones.”
LKH should be applauded for having the courage to push herself and us. Because, ultimately, what would our world be like if no one questioned anything? We would quickly become a stagnant civilization, filled with boring and ignorant people.
And that is why this series has not only survived but thrived in the 20 years of its existence. Affliction debuted at #5 on the NYT bestseller list for fiction—not bad for the 22nd installment of a series!
What’s your stance on this series? Love it? Hate it? Haven’t read it yet?