Sunday, 21 February 2010

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

This is the first book in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series. "Guilty Pleasures" is the name of a vampire strip club operated by Jean-Claude, a vampire the protagonist, Anita Blake becomes involved with.

Anita Blake is a 24 year old single woman living in St. Louis, Missouri. In Anita's world vampires, shape shifters, werewolves, ghouls, and even zombies are not only a reality, but known to the public. Anita is an "animator," which means she has the power to raise the dead. Why would someone do this? Many reasons, but Anita is usually hired to settle disputes, solve murders, give families closure. When not at her "day job" (which takes place mainly at night), Anita works as a "vampire executioner," killing vampires by order of the courts and advising the police on any crime with a supernatural twist.

In "Guilty Pleasures", Anita is blackmailed by the master vampire of St. Louis into investigating a series of vampire murders. During the course of this investigation, Anita begins a strange relationship with Jean-Claude (worst name EVER, I could not take him seriously), another master vampire, in order to save her life, but gaining two "marks", which push her close to being Jean-Claude's "human servant." This part of the book was sort of rushed to me and I was not entirely sure why these "marks" had to happen, it seemed as if I'd learn more about it in later books. It was also unclear as to why Jean-Claude would make what was obviously SUCH a big sacrifice for Anita. It seems to sort of just be something that happens and we move on. Luckily the story was engaging enough that this was not that difficult.

This book took a little bit of getting used to for me. Anita is a bit harsh and initially less relatable then other literary female protagonists I have read about. Once I got used to her personality though I felt that I could understand her decisions and while they might not be something I could do, I was able to equate them to her character and she became more real to me. And honestly that was the one thing that stood out for me about this book, how realistic it was. Now, let me better explain. What I mean is that despite a pretty far fetched story and some frankly ludicrous situations, Anita keeps the reader grounded in reality. This realism might be in stark contrast to the situations happening, what whatever it is, it works. I found this book very enjoyable.

Bottom Line: A good story with A LOT of supernatural goings-on. If you can get into a world where zombies and shape shifter and vampires are common place, then you'd probably enjoy this story.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Historian By Elizabeth Kostova

A review thanks to special guest blogger Rameau:

When a young girl finds a book embroidered with a picture of a dragon and a letter beginning with the words "My Dear and Unfortunate Successor" in her fathers library, she's unaware of the Pandora's box she's opened. She has stumbled on a legacy of evil, an obsession, which is handed down to selected few in each generation. It's a mystery that intrigues the historian within her and leads her on a journey following the footsteps of her parents. That journey starts with a story the girl's father tells her about the disappearance of Professor Rossi, about the expedition to find him together with Helen and about the terrifying figure behind it all: Dracula.

In "The Historian" there are several timelines told concurrently, each revealing a little more of the truth buried under the weight of the history. It's a great way to keep the reader guessing what will happen next, but it's also confusing and prevents any true character development. The history itself is the main point. The girl, her father, Professor Rossi and others are just empty templates for the reader to insert real people into and ask the question: "What if this happened to me?"

The book is also long for a condensed edition, but the short chapters make it easy to read the story gradually. This is also its weakness. If the reader isn't used to dry and factual text, they can feel tempted to abandon the story before it really starts. The slow introduction and the careful layering are essential to the culmination of the plot. When the author finally presents her first description of Dracula instead of a litany of facts, it's shockingly realistic.

Bottom line: If you like facts and history, and if you would like to read about vampires without overly sexual plots, this is the book for you. Just don't pick up any old books with dragon pictures in them.