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The Harlequin
Laurell K. Hamilton
Orbit hardcover £12.99

review by Duncan Lawie

The Harlequin is the 14th 'Anita Blake' book to be published in the UK and the author offers little succour to those unfamiliar with events so far. Anita Blake, a federal marshal, necromancer and vampire hunter is surrounded by lycanthropes of every kind, from swanmanes to were-rats. She lives with a pair of were-leopards and shares another household with the vampire who is master of the city of St Louis. Blake has also become a sex-vampire, draining energy from her partners in lust. This appears to be a new thing in the world she lives in, and is upsetting the balance of power in the global vampire community. Her activities and relationships put her at the centre of the turbulent politics of her city and now the Harlequin are moving in. They are the wild hunt and the vampire police rolled into one, thousands of years old, with strength unknown, and their very name strikes fear into all vampiredom.

There are all the elements here to build a fascinating novel. Unfortunately, they are drowned in a stream of conciousness first-person delivery from a shallow, vain and self-centred young woman who seems to have learned few lessons from her repeated exposure to dangers, violence, murder and sex of every kind. Anita spends most of the book arguing with her many non-human lovers and adding more notches to her bedpost. The latter is explained by her sex-vampire nature, where she will die if she goes more than a few hours without a penetration. Fortunately, the whole tale takes less than 48 hours to tell, so there is a limit to the number of episodes of (generally violent) intercourse. The author's decision to not use any gynaecological terms or rude words in the sex scenes makes their graphic nature all the more bizarre - there is a remarkable focus on getting the angles right between "his body" and "my opening."

This avoidance of interesting words is a constant of the book. The language is so thin that the third Harry Potter book already expects more from its audience in terms of vocabulary, sentence complexity and conceptual reach. A small vocabulary need not preclude telling an adult story - Ken MacLeod did so in The Highwaymen - but there is no depth to the characters either. The key to this may be that almost every non-vampire character appears to have a therapist. The Harlequin, more than a 'dark romance' or a 'shoddy horror novel' is in fact a 'therapy novel', where no-one holds back in any discussion, every character repeatedly throwing all of their feelings into the open for everyone else (and their therapists) to deal with. Rather than being centred on the Harlequin, who are killing humans and vampires alike, the book is shaped by a series of arguments between Anita and Richard, a werewolf to whom she was once engaged. He doesn't like being just one of her six regular screws while she needs him on her roster for his personal strength, huge equipment and political influence as the leader of the local werewolf pack.

It is clear that Hamilton has given Anita Blake many powers and powerful allies over the course of the series. The organic growth has mangled the metaphysics and moral bounds of her universe thoroughly. It seems likely that Anita cannot describe or deal with the mess she lives in because the author can't understand it either. Although the Harlequin are an attempt to present Anita with a serious threat, they are rapidly destroyed when the pages run out. In a final ignominy, the book finishes with two pages of bullet point style paragraphs wrapping up all the other plot points neatly and a final few words outlining the probable themes of the next volume.
The Harlequin

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