Burnt Offerings  - Laurell K. Hamilton "Why does everything with you have to be so [darned] serious?"

A fire chief approaches Anita Blake to let her know about vampires going up in flames. She notes that then heads off on a date with boyfriend and Undead Master of the City, Jean-Claude. But Anita never can have a date without a million things going off at once. Richard is off his rocker and creating a vacuum in his pack, one that Anita as his lucoi must fix. Jean-Claude is being pressured to join the Council--or face being destroyed. People are getting raped right and left. Can Anita save the day once again?

This is probably one of my more favorite of the Anita Blake books. That said, pretty much every single problem I've had with the previous books in the series remains.

One of the things I liked about this book was the interesting story elements. The combustible vampires. The appearance of the Council. Anita having to keep her pack together. The new, highly fascinating character, Asher. Even the tendrils of reconciling between Anita and Richard (whom I think have amazing chemistry and actually FEEL like lovers, not just people in lust) were fascinating. There are some really great ideas in this book, ones that most definitely kept my interest.

Which is why it is so frustrating when LKH gets in the way of her story with the usual suspects:

1) Anita Blake. What a misogynistic, hypocritical b!tchy woman! I swear to God, there is no pleasing her! If people ignore her, she is upset at how she isn't the center of attention. But when Tammy tries to befriend Anita, Anita brushes Tammy off as a shallow person only interested in the zombie raising aspect of Anita's life.

As for Anita's rampant misogyny, I'll let her speak for herself:

"Women are just not designed to look tough."

"No, I was not in tune with my feminine side."

"It made me feel girlish in the worse way."

And then some random character makes the absolute stupidest remark I've ever heard:

"'What a man you would have made!' I'd spent enough time around macho guys to know it was a compliment, a sincerely meant one. They never understood the implied insult."

I work in a male-dominated field. Before that, most of my classmates in college were men. NEVER have I heard ANYTHING so sexist.

The other thing I can't stand about Anita is her raging hypocrisy. She tries continually to sell us that she is "in love" with Jean-Claude, but then she makes statements like this:

"I had to trust him. Trust him not to hurt me. Trust him not to do something awful or embarrassing. I realized that I didn't trust him. That no matter how much I loved his body, I knew he was other. I knew that what he thought of as okay, was not necessarily okay at all."

What does Anita love about Jean-Claude other than his body or his seduction techniques? Does she love how he makes breakfast? How he calls her up at work to check on how she is? How he makes coffee in the morning? Does she like spending time with him mountain climbing or watching musicals (two things she enjoys doing with Richard)? The only things Anita appears to like about Jean-Claude are A) his incredibly, breath-taking body and B) the sex. Last I checked, both those things were lust. But when Ronnie attempts to call Anita out on her dating Jean-Claude, Anita becomes snippy.

What's even worse is that when either Ronnie and Louis or Larry and Tammy act like a couple, Anita immediately jumps to the conclusion that they are in lust with each other and probably not in love. Honestly, I see more examples of love in Ronnie and Louis' relationship than I ever had in Anita and Jean-Claude's.

2) Clothes, clothes and more clothes! LKH can't go a few pages without detailing everything that a person is wearing--or not. Which means Anita talking about the evening gown she's wearing, and, of course, griping about not wearing her black Nikes, which hide all the blood she steps in.

And because LKH's entire male cast pretty much goes commando in the entire series:

"The pants were black linen, clinging smooth and perfect to his body, so form-fitting that I knew there was nothing under the pants but him."

LKH makes it even worse by having Anita stop in the middle of a scene where people are seriously injured to detail all the flowers she planted in her yard. Yes, people, flowers.

3) Too much in too little time. LKH has no sense of pacing. Instead of giving her characters breaks or time to process events (and her audience as well), she pretty much has them facing one crisis after another. Which is why for most of this book, Anita is wearing some stupid dress that would flash her @$$ if she attempted to reach her gun hidden in a belly band (if she felt the need to bring a gun, why make it so unreachable?) and ridiculous 3" heels (that she b!tches about endlessly--honestly, Anita, if you hate them so much, wear something else!). Anita goes from the office to a date, to several posturing events with vampires, to rescuing some of her weres, to a shootout at her house, to Dolph calling her to a crime scene--it's TOO BUSY. It's like eating an entire package of Double-Stuf Oreos in one sitting: SICK and BLOATED!

4) Constant arguing. As usual, most of the "investigating" occurs in long dialogue sessions. And during these sessions, people of course have to argue with Anita for half a lifetime. It's so bad, that when someone DOESN'T put up a fight with Anita, she has to mention it:

"Truthfully, it was a damn relief not to have to argue with anyone. No debate--what a relief!"

You gotta wonder, doesn't Anita ever perhaps notice how SHE'S the one involved with all these super-long, drawn-out, excessive talky scenes?

5) Rape, rape and more rape. My God Almighty, is there rape in this book. I swear, everyone gets raped or sexually assaulted. Nathaniel, Sylvie, Jason, even Anita (though Jean-Claude "helpfully" tells her to turn it into "enjoyment" to make it "more tolerable"--instead of, I don't know, KILLING THE GUY WHO IS SEXUALLY ASSAULTING HIS F@#$ING GIRLFRIEND!!). It's just...disturbing. Rape is a serious subject; it shouldn't be tossed around helter-skelter and not treated appropriately (no one really needs any therapy).

6) Good Old Fashioned Misogyny. There is no other woman in this book whose name isn't "Anita Blake" that A) can rescue herself, B) isn't a victim, C) isn't an evil biotch, or D)isn't hated by Anita. Ronnie resolves into a puddle of tears after shooting a guy (Anita also does not respect her opinion); Sylvie is raped and must have Anita enact revenge on her killer (although Sylvie is a shapeshifter). Vicky is a horrible woman who tried to kill a vampire and lied about sexual assault. Liv participated in Sylvie's rape. Yvette abuses Jason and makes him rot while taking Pleasure from him. Anita views Tammy as a slut who sleeps with Larry to learn more about Necromancy and questions Tammy's shooting abilities, even though Tammy is a cop. The female fire officer is killed. Other than Anita herself, there are no strong, capable women in this series that aren't psycho or evil and who are at least respected by Anita. It's sick. It's disturbing.

7) Sex. Already, I can see how sex is beginning to be a more dominant force in the book. I have no problem with it cropping up in Anita's romantic life. My problem with it is this: LKH is starting to use it to solve problems. To heal people. To feed vampires. Anita basically gives Nathaniel a lap-dance, but she is in a dating relationship with Jean-Claude that seems pretty steady. She does something similar with Asher when he demands to be fed (after a billion years of arguing about it, of course). In the previous books, Anita would have rolled up a sleep and slit her palm, and the vampire would have fed off her blood. Slowly, that is going away. And it seems a bit odd, since it hasn't been established in the past.

If you are a fan, you'll probably enjoy this one just as much as the others, maybe a bit less because of the Jean-Claude vs Richard or because of the increasing sex. If you are brand new and wonder if this is indicative of the previous ones: yes and no. Yes, Anita pretty much acts like this in the previous books; no, the previous books had less sex.

My personal opinion: there are probably better vampire hunter books out there, with better action, better plots, better romantic interests, and better heroines. You could do worse, of course, but there is better. I'll be hanging on to the ride, because there are bits I'd like to see how they are addressed in later books.