Sunday, December 9, 2012

Narcissus In Chains--Overview and chapter one

I want to get this out of the way before we go any further. I don't beat other books down because I want to feel better about my own writing.

When you're a would-be writer and you get rejected over and over and over again, there are two paths you can take. You can assume that the publishing world just doesn't get you, man, or you can understand the painfully obvious truth: those terrible writers you hate are still better than you.

As much as I hate to say it (and you guys have NO. IDEA. how much this hurts) Laurel K. Hamilton, Stephenie Meyer, Hubbard, John Norman and even Cassandra Clare are writing gods compared to me. They are published. They are popular. They have something, some spark of ability, some marvelous coloring of word, phrase, or plot, that my writing sadly lacks. Otherwise, I'd be published too. You know. For real. I respect them for what they've accomplished, and accept that I am not that good and never will be. Those of you who read my self published books ought to understand this, if nothing else. I am not self publishing because I want to be a famous, rich writer in spite of the mountain of rejection letters I got. I am self publishing because I have given up.

But there is a difference between respecting these professionals for the pure accomplishment of being professionals, and saying that their work does not suck. Their work freaking sucks. Meyer's books are colorless and unhealthy. John Norman hates women, Cassandra Clare doesn't give a shit about what she's copied as long as it's shiny, and Hubbard was a sad old man who had consumed far, far too much booze and drugs in his long, lonely downward spiral, who was also responsible for some of the worst violations of human rights and dignity in human history. I love to hate them, partially because I never liked their work to begin with.

The same cannot be said for Laurel K. Hamilton.

I started out as a huge fan of her books. Her narrative voice is addictive crack, her heroines are kickass, her ability to present a plot is very, very good. Even now, when I hate every fucking word she puts out, I have to admit she knows how to present those first, all important pages. She does it so well that I continually fall off the wagon and start reading her work again. I know I shouldn't. I know I will be sadly dissapointed in what I read, but...

Let's back up for a second.

Way back in the eighties, when your only choices for vampire/human relations were Dracula and Buffy-the-movie, when urban fantasy was not even a thing, Laruel K. Hamilton published Guilty Pleasures, in which a vampire hunter has to cooperate with vampires to save her friend...and also has to deal with vamps being legal people for the first time, ever. Guilty Pleasures gets its name from the vamp-run strip club Jean Claude the vampire runs as a front for other things. And unlike Twilight, the vampires are not, and never will be the good guys, although Jean-Claude came pretty close. He was hot. Scenes between him and Anita were hot. A good time was had by all.

A little while later, Richard the werewolf was introduced as the other member of the love triangle. I was young enough not to consider this the unavoidable love triangle, yet, but I was old enough to get frustrated with Anita, fast. I liked both Jean-Claude and Richard equally, I didn't want to pick between them, and as the books progressed, I REALLY wanted Anita to just fucking pick one and get back to the kick-ass awesome paranormal politics plots I was actively reading the books for.

I forget which book Richard proposed in (Anita accepted), but I think things started getting resolved in Burnt Offerings, when Richard shape-shifted on top of Anita, freaking her out and sending her straight to Jean-Claude. In Blue Moon, Richard, Jean-Claude and Anita formed some kind of metaphysical...triad...thing in which the powers of one individual were greatly augumented by those of the other two. This was a huge boon for Jean-Claude and Richard, who had become Master of the City and Alpha, respectively, and could use the power boost to keep from getting demoted, aka made very, very dead. For Anita, this was more problematic.

Anita Blake was the first professional character I reluctantly had to name a Mary Sue. Her powers increased with every book, starting with her ressurecting an entire graveyard in The Laughing Corpse. Her necromancy powers gave her an increasing hold over vampires, to the point where a rival to Jean-Claude was willing to jump through extremely complicated hoops in order to force Anita to his side. Plot began to revolve around her exclusively. Half of my wanting her to just fucking fuck already was because I hoped her settling down would pull the plot back to the relm of possibility. Because remember, kiddies, a good character doesn't cause the problems. They just solve them.

Blue Moon promised resolution that actually made me really excited. Anita would not, it seemed, be choosing between Jean Claude or Richard, but rather would have both Jean-Claude AND Richard. The dynamics, I thought, would be very cool. Equally exciting was the prospect of having active plots in the novels again. The Murder of the Book would no longer be second fiddle to Anita's romantic issues, and not being shackled to Primary Plot Position would, bizzarely enough, allow that romance to grow. I couldn't wait for the next book, and boy was I happy.

Obsidian Butterfly was probably my favorite book in the series. Sure, we had neither Jean-Claude nor Richard to advance that plot, but we were reintroduced to Edward, the psychotic vampire-killer who killed monsters because only monsters presented any challenge at all, anymore. When we last saw him, he'd promised Anita that he and she would fight to the death one day, and damn if you didn't know that Edward could probably take her, necromancer powers and all. In OB Edward is revealed to have a weird secret life a'la Dexter--he has a fiancee, who has two kids, and he is protective as fuck of this proto-family. Edward called Anita to Arizona to help him deal with a vampire problem that turned out to be two mayan vampires who both believed they were gods.

Don't get me wrong. All of these books included more sex than you could shake a dildo at. They were also violent as fuck, sometimes at the same time. Anita was grating whenever she had to interact with a female, most of the villians--and heroic characters, for that matter--were one-sided cardboard cut outs. But Laurel K. Hamilton still played a good game and in OB she had never been better. Some of the sex scenes pushed my envelope and nearly triggered my gag reflex, and the main villain had a serious eyelid fetish (his. skin. was. blinking) but none of that, not my discomfort at some of the descriptions, not my total disgust at the leopard orgy scene, not my misgivings about some of Anita's choices, could distract me from the ultimate pleasure that book was. Better yet, Anita went home at the end of OB. Back to Richard and Jean-Claude, back to the complex and challenging life that lay ahead of her as Servant to the Master of St. Louis and as Lupa to Richard's Alpha. I was dead certain the next book was going to be good. 

The next book was Narcissus in Chains.  

How bad is it? Let me put it this way. Every book I have done for this blog so far? Are books that I read before I started blogging. Yes, my lovelies. I read Mission Earth, Captive of Gor and City of Bones for the hell of it. I'd heard that these books were bad, and hey, I liked bad books. I read them, I loved them.

I have never finished reading Narcissus in Chains. I have read books about sparkling vampires, chained kidnapped love slaves, HP knockoffs, Lakes that have sex with you, Charmed ripoffs that find the bad guys using Google Earth, and the granddaddy of all terrible books, The Caterpillar's Question, and this is the book that broke me. It broke me because, unlike all the other books I've blogged so far, I read it expecting it to be good. I had high expectations. I was excited to have it, I could not wait for more Anita awesome, and I remember this weird, floating, funny dread that got deeper and deeper the more I read.

What happened? Well, fans and former fans of the Anita 'verse have a lot of theories. One of them is that LKH's personal life went to shit. Another is that her contract with her old publishers expired and, as they informed her that she shouldn't write porn in her books (meaning, not that porn shouldn't be in her books, but that SHE, specifically, shouldn't write it) (because she couldn't) and wanted a great deal of editing done that she did not wish to have done, when she jumped publishers she got a no-editing clause in her contract. Another theory is that she just plain lost her mind. All of these are questionable. I believe in the second option, personally, but that's mostly because LKH's personal life is, to be honest, none of my fucking business. But regardless of the reason, one thing is very, very obvious. For nine wonderful books, LKH not only did not suck, she was one of my favorite authors.

Immediately afterwards her quality dropped so hard it exterminated the dinosaurs.

So without further we fucking go.

We open with Anita and her best friend Ronnie sitting in their car discussing Anita's love-life.

There is a test somewhere that requires two women to sit together and have a conversation about something other than men. Personally? I think this rule is bullshit. It ignores a fundamental with writing: Dump everything you don't need. There are two reasons to have characters talk to each other. Develop interpersonal relationships, or advance the plot by talking out the problems. And if you're constrained for time, you might not have a chance to have a guy-free moment with the girls. And oh, Jesus I forgot how fast-paced LKH's writing is. There's something about her flow that's kind of like honey. This is gonna be painful, isn't it?

The point of the conversation is which guy Anita should have. This was when my younger self got confused, because I'd been pretty sure this was settled at the end of Blue Moon.

And then Anita points out that she hasn't seen either dude for six months.

Uh...girl? I'm pretty sure this means you're not dating either of them.

Also? Anita dresses like a hooker. Consistantly. When she's supposed to be working as a vampire hunter/paranormal expert on loan to the cops. This is usually explained away as her being fresh in from a date, but I remember one costume several books ago where the slits in the skirt ran up to her belly button. I remember this because it took her three pages to think through how to put her gun away without flashing her unmentionables to the whole world, only to give up and just do it anyway, with Richard, I think, there to hide said ladybits from view. This would be alright if Anita were presented as that type of character, but there's this facade of "former good girl" that doesn't exactly mesh with "let's go to the crime scene in a corset, tights and heels."

Also-also? She goes everywhere armed to the teeth. In fact, you could argue that Anita doesn't need a concealed carry licence because nothing she carries could ever be concealed.

Anita and Ronnie are on their way back from a club. Because they had a car-fight over Anita's love-life, our heroine is now walking around the city wearing two inch heels. I like heels, but I only wear them when I know I'll be spending most of the day sitting down. If I am not cautious, I will utterly wreck my feet.

Anita gets into her house, Ronnie following her and apologizing, when the phone rings. Anita picks it up and...oh, God. We're there already.

I forgot how much I hated this. I got to this mention, no, it's okay. We're going to continue.

It's a member of the wereleopard pack that Anita is sheltering. EVERYTHING in this universe, apparently, has a were-form humans can catch--cool fax: blood donors in this world have to be tested for lycanthropy. That's how Richard the Overpowered Werewolf became a werewolf--and the wereleopards became Anita's through a weird kind of rescue thing. Anyway, another wereleopard has been kidnapped. His name is Nathanial.

Uh...I'm gonna cut the rest of this review as a trigger warning. BE WARNED. Okay?

Rape in your backstory is a major trope in this book. As in most of the characters have been passed around to varying bad guys like party favors. One of the reasons Richard became Alpha via murder when it was strongly against his principals was because the current Alpha and Lupa were basically treating the wereleopards like their personal sex dungeon. Nathanial, the wereleopard in trouble, got it especially bad.

This is where LKH's writing starts to fall apart, incidentally. Apparently in the Anita-verse being abused makes you crave that kind of abuse. Nathanial was abused during BDSM sessions with the former Alpha. In the real world this would mean that Nathanial would be REALLY careful about being chained up, would only use doms with good bounderies, definately employ safewords, and basically do everything to keep himself and his lover safe--first, because that's what victims of sexual assault do to avoid being triggered, and second, because he's a freaking leopard inside. This is not a house cat, boys and girls. This is a thing that can and will eat you.

In the Anita-verse Nathanial seeks out situations where he loses all control over his own safety. And he's gotten himself into one such situation now, and Anita must go rescue him. Here's an idea of how clueless this description is:

A healthy bottom will say stop when he’s had too much or he feels something bad happening, but Nathaniel wasn’t that healthy.

Fuck me, at least Fifty Shades of Gray had the sense to have Christian give Ana a safeword. And it's not stop, LKH, because stop is the word you use when you're in scene. And if you're not healthy enough to safeword there is no fucking way you're going to BDSM bars. The sight of chains alone is probably enough to freak you out.

Anyway, Anita and the wereleopard on the phone info dump for a few minutes--which translates to pages and pages of minutae--the wereleopard is yanked off the phone and one of the kidnappers comes on. Awful nice of Leopard-Dude, AKA Gregory, not saying up front "Anita, these guys have a gun to my head". The kidnappers want Anita to come to the club Narcissus in Chains to liberate her "pets".

End of chapter.

Next Chapter: How hard is it for an overpowered necromancer to go to a bondage club? Well, if you're Anita Blake, everything is hard.


1 comment:

  1. "There is a test somewhere that requires two women to sit together and have a conversation about something other than men. Personally? I think this rule is bullshit"

    The Bechdel Test. I don't go out of my way to write anything that could pass it directly, but I still find it useful. Just ask yourself 'Can I imagine this female character chatting with her friends or family about anything other than men?' If the answer is *no* then the female in question isn't really a character, she's a prop.