Monday, June 8, 2009

Review – “Skin Trade” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Once you tell someone certain things—say, you got mailed a human head in a box—they tend to think you're crazy.

Anita Blake's reputation has taken some hits. Not on the work front, where she has the highest kill count of all the legal vampire executioners in the country, but on the personal front. No one seems to trust a woman who sleeps with the monsters. Still, when a vampire serial killer sends her a head from Las Vegas, Anita has to warn Sin City's local authorities what they're dealing with. Only it's worse than she thought. Police officers and one executioner have been slain—paranormal style...

Anita heads to Las Vegas, where she's joined by three other U. S. Marshals, including the ruthless Edward hiding behind his mild-mannered persona. It's a good thing Edward always has her back because when she gets close t to the bodies, Anita senses "tiger" too strongly to ignore it. The weretigers are very powerful in Las Vegas, which means the odds of her rubbing someone important the wrong way just got a lot higher...
Skin Trade is the seventeenth Anita Blake book in one of the longest and most successful running urban fantasy franchises. The author brings back together the main characters from Obsidian Butterfly, with Edward, Olaf and Bernardo all joining Anita in Las Vegas to hunt Vittorio the rogue vampire from Incubus Dreams.

On one level this is the best Anita Blake book in many years, with a much stronger focus on the central mystery. Hamilton apparently did quite a bit of police procedural research for this book and on Las Vegas itself and it shows, with richer narrative and description, many interesting forensic details and location settings.

On the other hand the wheels seem to have come off the cart, or at least are significantly wobbling, when it comes to character development and world-building. The story appears to take place a few months after the events of Blood Noir and we learn that Anita and her men are now living at the Circus of the Damned to bolster Jean Claude’s credibility among the other Masters, demonstrating that he has control over his human servant. Jean Claude is upset with Anita over her trip to Vegas and Anita is actually worried – at odds and with no fight in her about it. Likewise her feelings about kowtowing to living at the Circus.

Throughout the story Anita frequently reacts or rather fails to react in typical angry fashion and internally frequently reflects on her new maturity. She is overly introspective. She has another girl-on-girl moment with Belle Morte. No significant reaction. Anita spends much of the novel hanging with her assassin/federal marshall posse and plays extensive serial killer head games with Olaf. Her rationalization for some of the things she considers are downright bizarre. Bernardo the most normal of the abnormal bunch is constantly asking what is going on, what do you mean by that, I don’t understand. As a reader I was right there with Bernardo.

Marmee Noir pulls another incident like she did in Blood Noir and Anita spends little time railing about the consequences, although even she is a little squicked by having “done it” with a sixteen year-old weretiger (at least he’s legal in Nevada she rationalizes).

One of the stranger attributes of the world-building in this book is the existence of a special squad in Vegas consisting of human psychics of various flavours. The Anitaverse just joined the world of the Xmen. Where did this come from? It felt so totally jarring based on all of the previous history of the series.

Anita also seems to have greater control over some aspects of her metaphysics and in particular the ardeur. The sex is really toned down and actually fits well within the story. A little humour is even injected into a key scene -
"Let the ardeur out, and I'll go faster." He kept that careful rhythm going, though I could feel the tension in his body as he fought himself
"Harder," I said.
“Ardeur, " he said, in a voice that showed the strain, like the trembling of his muscles, as he fought to be so careful of me. I didn't want him, to be careful.
Laurell K. Hamilton may be trying to shift Anita’s character in new directions, perhaps to put the series on a new and fresher track for moving the series forward out of the metaphysical spiral that it has been in for some time., If true that is perhaps a good thing, but the Anita of Skin Trade is not the Anita of the previous sixteen books and there is not a lot to justify the character change. The series for me continues to struggle and I truly hope that Anita can find her way clear to a new path in the future. Fans may want to wait for the paperback release rather than lay out the significant cost for the hardback.

AUTHOR AND BOOK SHOWCASEOfficial Laurell K. Hamilton Website

Penguin Group (USA)
Published: June 2009
ISBN #: 9780425227725
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 486

Read an excerpt from Chapter 1.

Anita Blake Vampire Hunter Series:

  1. Guilty Pleasures (1993)
  2. The Laughing Corpse (1994)
  3. Circus of the Damned (1995)
  4. The Lunatic Cafe (1996)
  5. Bloody Bones (1996)
  6. The Killing Dance (1997)
  7. Burnt Offerings (1998)
  8. Blue Moon (1998)
  9. Obsidian Butterfly (2000)
  10. Narcissus in Chains (2001)
  11. Cerulean Sins (2003)
  12. Incubus Dreams (2004)
  13. Micah (2006)
  14. Danse Macabre (2006)
  15. The Harlequin (2007)
  16. Blood Noir (2008)
  17. Skin Trade (2009)


  1. I've been hearing this a lot lately it seems. It's a great book, but Anita is different. Although, most of the comments regarding Anita and the 16 year old came off as she was totally okay with it, but you don't make it sound like that.

    Kinda wish my library would hurry up and get this now.

  2. On the same page as Bernardo! Wow, watch out. Well, I stalled out on Cereulean Sins, but I really miss Anita. I'm also fond of Edward. You've given me something to think about here...maybe I'll have to take a look at this once it's gone pprback or cheapo.

    I guess my question is, can I dip back into the Anitaverse here? I've always found LKH to be great at catching people up.

  3. Your review is actually fairly kind because this book is above and beyond horrendous. The gang bang with the 16 year old and the rape scene at the end has made me stop reading this damn train wreck. Hamilton keeps writing for shock value instead of writing a book with an actual plot. Don't even get me started on how stupid most of her sex scenes are written.

  4. Doug,

    Thank you for your honest review. I have become so disenchanted with this series I've made the decision to wait for the paperback. I can't see continuing to pay hardback prices for a series that has lost it's edge.

    In the beginning I loved Anita. Anita the necromancer - the lady who worked for a living and helped out with the nasties that stumped the police. That Anita is no more.

    Anita is now a slave to sex and several men and it's just too much. I don't think I'm the only one who thinks this and maybe that is why Ms. Hamilton has made such a drastic change to Anita- she's loosing fans and that hurts the bottom line.


  5. Thanks for the review! I've been waiting for my reserved copy to get in from at the library. I was so excited to hear that Edward was going to be prominent in this one, as the last book in the series I really loved was Obsidian Butterfly, which also seemed to focus more on the procedural part, and less on the sexual dynamics. Honestly, (with the more recent books) I have less of a problem with her multiple partners than I do with the pages and pages devoted to talking about/agonizing over the ardeur. It seems like a waste of pages, since she does the other stuff (horror, crime solving, even the character building) so incredibly well.

    From your review, it sounds like there's enough there to keep me continuing with the series.

    Keeping my fingers crossed for this one!

  6. I read this novel the day it came out. I thought it was the strongest Anita novel in years. But I have to disagree with you on a couple points.

    Anita was actually very squicked out about the 16 year old - she didn't rationalize it (some other character tried to do that). She was freaked out and doesn't want to see the kid again, even when he is legal. Personally though, I thought includluding this character at all was kind of pointless - maybe he was intended to play a larger role?

    As for the x-men comment you made, it actually isn't as odd to the world as you make it sound - remember that the St Louis department has witches on the force and is trying to recruit more. And a SWAT force in this world would be going up against weres, vampires, and magic users enough that having psychics on staff would make sense.

  7. Jackie it is definitely the best Anita Blake book in a while but Anita just seems way too different. It's disconcerting for the first 100 pages or so until you settle into the book.

    Wow Carolyn that's a tough call. Because it all takes place away from the regular cast of characters and uses those familiar from Obsidian Butterfly I would have to say yes you can step in. Her rainbow of weretigers strains might seem a bit odd and references to a few recent plotlines, but all in all it is fairly standalone.

    Anonymous I do try to be fair and I do love the series even though I recognize it isn't what it once was.

    Michelle sadly no necromancy here and barely a mention of Animators Inc. The next book I believe will be the barometer of whether the series can recover. If LKH makes some radical changes to Anita's circumstances once she is back in St. Louis, then maybe.

    Renee I'll be interested to see what you think. We learn a few things about Edward and he changes too in this book. The whole Edward/Olaf/Anita/Bernardo dynamic is very strange.

    Hey Diane I agree she was squicked (no point quibbling over the very). I seem to recollect she brought one tiger back to St. Louis but internally remarks that the "kid" would have to wait until he was 17 to be legal in St. Louis. So who knows he may show in the next book. He was the only tiger of his colour so he is probably important. I thought as you did about the witches but they are "supernaturals" and to introduce an ENTIRE team of police with mental powers when never having suggested such abilities exist in ALL of the previous books stretches credulity especially when they are not hidden but part of a very public service. Yes it would make sense if it wasn't introduced completely out of left field.

  8. Obsidian Butterfly was one of my favorite books and even though the last several books I was reluctant to read and mostly disappointed after I did so, when I saw this book brought Edward back I thought I'd have to pick it up, hopefully from a library so I didn't have to spend any money on it if it wasn't good.

    I'm glad to hear that the story is much more central this time, but disappointed to hear about Anita. I really liked Anita's character from the beginning books before the Ardeur fiasco.

    Thanks for the review

  9. Hi Doug!

    I'm kind of disappointed, I was really looking forward to Skin Trade... I'll still read it. I knew LKH had researched in Las Vegas as I lurk on her blog.

    I wish Anita would get back to her roots, raising the dead. I know she's the Master of the City's human servant, but she used to have a lot more fight in her. I can't believe she's living full time at Circus of the Damned, is her whole troop with her?

    I love Edward, so I'm glad he has his own book, but the story sounds a little weird in presentation. I enjoyed the series to date, even the most of Bloof Noir. I kind of had a problem with Swallowing Darkness too...the story was just off. It felt like the end of the series, but I've read other books are coming.

    I've noticed on LKH's blog that she's way more metaphysical than in the past. Maybe that's where she sees the series going. I used to tune in daily for her blog notes, but I've lost interest.

    Thanks for a wonderful review!

    Dottie :)

  10. A lot of people are getting carried away with the idea of a 16y old and not really reading the part in the book. Anita is written as freaked but unable to think about it because she's late to the SWAT raid against the bigbad and later her inner dialogue on the kid is "not only no but hell no"...

    Hamilton is clearly trying and succeeds in toning down some problems she's had as well as actually giving hope that Anita might be getting a bout of character growth.

    Hamilton unfortunately still can't get a grip on everything she's written into the series and even though she took the story away from most of the cast there's too much in the books and the maincharacter for her to keep straight. The over abundance of recap and exposition seems to be more for her sake than the readers...

  11. Wanderer it wouldn't surprise me to see LKH find a way out the ardeur corner she has backed Anita into in the next few books or else get a total handle on it so it ceases to be a plot issue.

    Hi Dottie - You said - "I wish Anita would get back to her roots, raising the dead." I hear this comment more than any other. She's a necromancer and yet it often seems neglected.

    I agree on the Merry books. I think LKH has finished the first major story arc but pans something completely new for Merry.

    Koivula it seems Anita Blake is under renovation...

  12. If someone could please explain how LKH can suck me into her world so that I hunt it down at the library and read the book in 2 days, but then leave me shaking my head at the end, I would be grateful.
    Seriously, a 10 page wrap up of a plot that spans 2 book?
    Then, a 2 sentence wrap up of a plotline that lasted for, what, 9 books?
    Did Anita even play a part in the wrap up of any of the plotlines in this book?
    Demon, no.
    Vittorio, not really,
    Marmee Noir, no.
    Jinn, no.
    What is Anita's role in this book supposed to be? Passenger?
    I am so glad I read this book, because it is so much better that the last 5, but, I am also glad I didn't pay even paperback prices for it.

  13. I really don't care that AB is supposedly disgusted with sleeping with a 16 year old.

    There was *no* reason to write it. It's inflammatory and disgusting.

    This Mary Sue has HUGE WONKING POWERS and she still lets these bad guys take over her head. She complains mightily about the arduer, yet she is stupid enough to "forget to eat" or to not even bring freakin Powerbars with her to munch on. At the least, it's *negligence* that she allowed YET ANOTHER GANG BANG to occur. You'd think after the first gang bang in Blood Noir she would do everything and anything in her HUGE RANGE OF POWERS to stop that kind of crap from occuring. But she doesn't do a damn thing except whine and moan about how much she hates her life.

  14. There is hope that this book is a start of new developments. However, Hamilton has kept her cast pretty much at the same point concerning the main issues of relationships (richard mainly), ardeur etc. She pretends to let them grow a bit but then takes them right back. Anita has grown lately in her attitude but still seems totally incapable of translating her weapons and combat wisdom towards the metaphysical. She is described as eminently practical but that's nowhere to be seen in most of her main problems, only in mercenary/assassin work.

    Hamilton is good enough at creating chracters and has an interesting enough basic setting that we keep coming back but she's such an amateur at certain basic aspects of writing and storytelling that reading her books is not so much a guilty as a painful pleasure.

    Anita explains to others and to herself why she chooses which gun in any given situation but is totally clueless about her psychic powers, to the point of apparently forgetting about many of them. (The lifestealing that OB taught her, slashing with anothers aura are just a couple of things that now seem to be mistakes and amnesia on Hamiltons part)

    Still, my main problem is that I like Hamiltons works too much to accept their weaknesses :)

  15. Teresa I think LKH has that effect on a lot of her long time readers. We can't stay away. I don't think Marmee Noir is gone though or that that story arc is over. Remember it was only her body that was destroyed. She may exist metaphysically or found another host other than Anita.

    Anonymous I'll grant you there are a fair number of inconsistencies. She really needs a strong critique to help her out with some of this stuff.partner.

    Koivula you are absolutely right that LKH/Anita fans are a pretty forgiving lot. I think because we see the tremendous potential the Anitaverse has for storytelling and we are all optimists at heart.

  16. I haven't read this yet, I'm really hoping it is an improvement on the last few books, the first 9 anita books were great, but as soon as the ardeur came into play they went downhill. Blood Noir was terrible, I considered not getting this one because of it, but I'm a very loyal fan, and will stick with anita til the end, hoping they improve!!

  17. I believe this is the first book in this series I haven't snatched up as soon as it came out since I started reading them in 2000. I've got a gift card coming soon so I'll have to use it for this... or I may just wait for paperback since there are quite a few out that I want more (*gasp*, never thought I'd say that *:(*)

  18. I just finished reading the book and agree broadly with what others have written here. What I would add was that for me, the final confrontation with Vittorio at the end was way too easy, way too boring, and over way too quickly. It seemed to me almost as if LKH was running out of time to meet her deadline and rushed through the end. And where are the chapters detailing what happen when she gets back to St. Louis? Next book, obviously. But this book needed a little of that as closure I think. And I have to agree that Marmee Noir is probably not gone for good... another host seems kinda obvious there.

  19. Did anyone else catch this press release? Very gruesome and very real. FORMER BOND GIRL DEVOURED BY MASSIVE SHARK
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