Morgan Briarwood (briarwood) wrote,
Morgan Briarwood

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Review/Rant: Blood Noir

So I just finished Blood Noir, the latest - ahem - novel in the Anita Blake series. According to the LKH blog it's now #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Gotta love Laurell K Hamilton. She has the world's worst editors. She has no idea how to construct a plot. Her characterisation is inconsistent and sloppy. She created a magical universe with immutable rules and has broken every single one of them. She does great research on guns, but falls down on the kind of basic biology any teenager should know (and doesn't she claim to have a biology degree?) And her latest excuse for a plot depends on the kind of cliched and unrealistic contrivance that would never, ever get published if she were a new author.

Sometimes I think I read her novels just to boost my own ego: I mean, if she has enough fans to make a living off this stuff, then my own poor fanfic must be Nobel Prize for Literature material.

I "read" LKH as audiobooks. I don't buy paper copies any longer. I find the grammatical errors far less irritating when it's read aloud; I guess because normal speech does tend to be ungrammatical. Other faults in the writing, though, are way more irritating, 'cause I can't throw my iPod across the room the way I might a paperback.

So, Blood Noir. It opens with a surprisingly non-supernatural plot: Jason's estranged father is dying of cancer and Jason wants to visit and maybe reconcile. To achieve this, he needs to go home with a girl on his arm because his dad's a homophobic, abusive bastard and thinks Jason is gay. [At this point, to be honest, the plot loses me a little because if I were Jason I'd have sent daddy dearest a card saying "see you in Hell" and left it at that. But maybe Jason is a nicer person than I am.] Anyhow, Anita ends up volunteering to be his beard and they fly out to Jason's hometown in Jean Claude's private jet. Immediately they are met by one of LKH's stock characters: thug-bodyguard, who addresses Jason as "Keith" and starts ordering them around.

Here's the thing. Mistaken identity plots are always fun, and this was potentially a great idea. But even identical twins are never truly identical. Close enough to fool a casual acquaintance, sure. Close enough for the gossip columns to have a field day, yes. But so identical even their own family can't tell them apart? No. Jason is supposedly a distant relative of this other family. The story hints he might be a half-brother to to the man he supposedly resembles but it's not clear whether that's the case only that certain people believe it is. But even so, the notion that half-brothers could resemble each other so closely that no one will believe Jason's protests that he isn't "Keith" strains credulity way past breaking point. Some writers are good enough to get away with the twins-you-can't-tell-apart plot device. LKH just isn't that good, and her entire plot hinges on the reader believing these two men (one of whom never even appears "onstage") can be that alike. It just doesn't fly. Especially not when Jason is a minor celebrity in his own right: you'd think some enterprising reporter would already have dredged up sexy pictures of him from the Guilty Pleasures web site and tried to pass them off as this other dude.

Such issues aside, the plot chuggs along, with the mistaken identity causing big problems for everyone, but things generally progressing in a predictable way: Jason's dad proves to be every bit as bad as we're led to expect and his other family are either just as bad or totally wet. There is a fair bit of irrelevant pop psychology and talk about feelings. There is sex, though thankfully not as much as in recent LKH outings. For the longest time, nothing supernatural is going on. It seems like a strange choice. I mean, what LKH/Anita describes as "the metaphysical" aspects of her plots can be seriously annoying because she never bloody well resolves anything and keeps on breaking her own rules. But to strip it entirely out of a story for so long is even stranger, particularly given that Jason is, after all, a werewolf, and Anital is whatever the hell she's supposed to be this time around. So when the supernatural - sorry, metaphysical - actually does show up, it seems weirdly out of balance. And, naturally, it's at this point the whole plot just falls to pieces.

The second half of the book is an execise in frustration and how-not-to-write. I could give examples, but just thinking of them makes my blood boil. Anita started out as this fantastic independent character who wouldn't take crap from anyone. Now she pretends to be this strong, independent woman while utterly failing to notice she's in an abusive relationship with one man (JC) and lets another man (Richard) repeatedly rape her and get away with it. And I dare not even get started on LKH pushing some idiotic anti-abortion agenda through her characters. (That's the part where she fails on basic biology because what a certain character says is utter rubbish. Not to mention basic feminsim humanity, because when a woman has been repeatedly raped for two days straight, and she asks for a morning after pill, the only appropriate response from any man is to ask for directions to the nearest pharmacy. For him to even begin to imply she shouldn't get a choice is justifiable homicide. I really, really fucking mean that. Oh, goodie, seems I did get started on it after all. Stopping now.)

What I will rant on, though, is her homophobia. There's this conversation, see, between Jason, Anita and various members of Jason's family. The basic premise is they believe he's gay because someone once claimed to have seen him with another guy. And they have this whole talk about how no one will believe he and Anita are a couple because he's gay because he had this one sexual encounter with a guy. One sexual encounter with a guy, among apparently hundreds of girls (and Jason denies that it happened anyhow). During this conversation, Jason (who is canonically bisexual, not hetero) simply protests his heterosexuality. Anita proclaims herself his lover and gives lip service to being-homophobic-is-wrong, and various other characters display themselves as utter bigots. There's this one part where Anita takes exception to the language being used...yet LKH doesn't have the guts to put actual homophobic language into her characters' mouths. Now, I admit, I'm not American and my notion of what language would be appropriate - or not - in that scene is pretty much a British one. But I do have a rough idea of the American idiom from movies and it's not this. It's as if LKH - or maybe her editors - thinks that putting homophobic languge into the mouth of a character meant to be an indefensible bigot is somehow unacceptable. It seems supremely ironic that the writer of some of the most offensive pornography I've ever read, who peppers her novels with words like "fuck", "slut", "bitch" and "whore", would be too delicate in her sensibilities to put "queer" or "fag" in print even in a condemnatory context. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, actually, but I do know I found it extremely offensive.

*takes deep breath*

I can't stand badfic in fandom, but I seem to have this weird addiction to pro-badfic. That's definitely what this is.

I am happy to discuss any of these issues in comments, but I do ask that you refrain from using misogynistic or homophobic slurs against the real people and/or fictional characters under discussion. If you think Anita is a slut, that's up to you. Call her that in my LJ and I do have a problem with that.
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