One of the most difficult versions of fiction is a series of stories centered on the same characters. On the one hand, readers get to see an evolution of those characters over time, otherwise known as a character study. The downside is that a series can become stale and rote after awhile. Sadly, the latter option is the conclusion I came to after reading the latest Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter book Kiss the Dead. This is not to say that there are not enjoyable bits in the book (which there are) but those bits are few compared to the overall disappointment I felt reading the book.
First among my complaints are the dropped plot point moments and contrivances that make no logical sense. Halfway through the novel the audience is told that something important will happen at dawn and Anita will be involved and then the entire dire situation is forgotten in favor of home-life issues and sex (I’ll get to those scenes in a moment). It doesn’t make logically sense that Anita would run into a hostile situation at the start of the novel wearing a slinky, sexy outfit rather than taking the time to change into tactical gear for a potentially lethal situation. This isn’t just a nitpick, this is common sense. It appears to be shoddy plotting on the part of the author. The main plot is forgotten until the end of the story where it is wrapped up in a severely rushed fashion (which, unfortunately, has become a staple of this series as of late).
And now to discuss the other elephant in the room: the erotic scenes. I’ll preface by saying this isn’t my first Anita Blake book (I’ve read everything except “Beauty” and Hit List). I don’t mind sexually active characters or characters that offer a view outside of the standard, monogamous model of living, when they are done right. In fact, I would give Laurell K. Hamilton a great deal of praise for exploring such territory in her books. There are three erotic scenes in Kiss the Dead (4 if you count two kind-of separate scenes involving Anita and the same character) but all but one of them are completely unnecessary for the story or the plot. The love scene involving Anita, Micah, and Nathaniel would fit as a way of Anita forgetting the terrible aspects of the earlier chapters, in essence reclaiming her humanity through love. The other scenes don’t have this merit and feel more tacked on than essential for the story.
Hamilton has the unfortunate habit of repeatedly telling the audience the same information multiple times in the same novel. The series has always been a first-person narrative, meaning the majority of it is spent inside the mind of the protagonist (which takes on new meaning in a series that deals with metaphysics like this one does). It’s just a shame that there isn’t more to explore in this world that Hamilton has invented beyond the sometimes unnecessary hand-wringing and angst felt by the main character. The human moments Anita experiences are endearing, such as when she’s enjoying a meal with her partner Zerbrewski or when she’s in the happy home setting with Micah and Nathaniel. But these moments do not make up for the glaring deficits of a virtually non-existent antagonist and too much unnecessary filler.
Long-time, devoted fans of the series will read this novel, regardless of my recommendation. If you’re a newcomer to the Anita Blake series though, I can’t really recommend starting with this book as it is one of the weakest books in the series. I would suggest starting off with Guilty Pleasures, the first book in the series and moving forward from there.