The Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter books are:

Guilty Pleasures
The Laughing Corpse
Circus of the Damned
The Lunatic Cafe
Bloody Bones
The Killing Dance
Burnt Offerings

Burnt Offerings
by Laurell K. Hamilton
(Ace, $6.99, NC-17 -for graphic violence)
ISBN 0-441-00524-1
Several months ago Laurell K. Hamilton’s books were the hot topic. I’d never heard of her, but her supernatural books sounded interesting. I bought all six, read the first one and enjoyed it. Then real life interfered, and I postponed reading the others. When I agreed to review Burnt Offerings, I knew that I’d have a marathon reading session before I even got to it.

For over a week, I immersed myself in the life of Anita Blake, a 24-year-old St. Louis resident, who is college educated, an animator, a vampire hunter, a necromancer, an unofficial police consultant and a collector of stuffed penguins. She’s not your average heroine, but she doesn’t live in an average world either. It’s easy to recognize St. Louis with its apartment buildings, strip malls, movie theaters and Wal-Mart. This is not a futuristic St. Louis, just an alternative reality where supernatural characters exist. And thrive. And flourish. What you won’t recognize are its residents, all of the preternatural variety. We’ve got your basic vampires and werewolves. For added enjoyment there are wererats, werebirds, giant snakes, lamias, ghouls, zombies, gargoyles, witches, fairies, trolls, dragons and nayas. That’s just through book six.

Hamilton’s fantasy world deserves to be experienced in its entirely. Does each book stand alone? Maybe, but I highly recommend starting from the beginning. I had no trouble finding the books in the large book chains. Book one is the foundation. In each book we meet the core characters, but more are subsequently added. There’s a purpose, a consistency, a rhythm to each story that flows into the next. They’re the perfect example of a sequel, the Saturday afternoon matinee kind that left you begging for more.

With all seven books fresh in my mind, this is as much an overview of the whole series as it is a review of Burnt Offerings. Leading up to Burnt Offerings, Anita has been seesawing between Jean-Claude and Richard, with Jean-Claude as the current favorite. He’s gotten her embroiled in one of the most dangerous situations to date. The Council of Vampires is determined to wreak vengeance on Anita and Jean-Claude. Even with their combined powers, our two main characters are no match. They do have wits and cunning, but will it be enough to save them? In addition to the peril of the Council, there’s an arsonist on the loose who’s targeting the vampires.

Before you rush out to read this extraordinary series, be warned. These books are GRAPHICALLY VIOLENT. Humans and non-humans are killed in record numbers, with most deaths quite graphic. This series is not for the faint-of-heart or the squeamish. Part of the gore is due to Anita’s unofficial role as a police advisor. In each book she’s called on to help solve a preternatural case, such as serial vampire murders.

Also, to call these a romance would be stretching the truth too far. There are two heroes -- Jean-Claude, a Master vampire and Richard, an Alpha werewolf. Here’s Anita’s take on the two men in her life. Most women complain that there are no single, straight men left. I’d just like to meet one who’s human. You have to read one thousand nine hundred and sixty-three pages before one of the relationships is consummated. Mental foreplay abounds, but true consummation doesn’t occur for a really long time. Anita’s attitude toward love isn’t the typical one found in a romance, either. I loved him, but love isn’t enough. All the fairy tales, the romance novels, the soap operas; they’re all lies. Love does not conquer all. Here’s possibly the biggest reason why these books aren’t romances. There’s no Happily Ever After. It’s really a To Be Continued.

Lest you think that this series sounds all dark and dreary, then let me correct this misconception. I did laugh aloud frequently, particularly as Anita deals with Jean-Claude. I shook my head. Asking Jean-Claude not to be a pain in the ass was like asking rain not to be wet. Why try? In another book, Anita is attending a lycanthrope ritual dressed in leather, and not much of it. She thinks of herself as Barbie Does Bondage. Campy humor abounds.

If I had to describe Anita Blake in terms you might relate to, then she’s a cross between Eve Dallas and Stephanie Plum. Just throw in lots of supernatural ability. In terms of her employment, when she’s not raising the dead (Don’t sneer. You gotta read the series to appreciate this talent), she’s sort of a female soldier of fortune. Only she goes after the undead, the monsters. One of her ongoing dilemmas is that she’s in love with two men she considers monsters.

Anita Blake is a complex heroine who often says that she’s not consistent. What she sees as monstrous in others she can accept within herself. No, she’s not consistent. But she is feisty, sassy, tough and habit-forming. Count me among the cult readers who are ready for her next adventure.

--Linda Mowery

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