(I tried not to do too much in the way of spoilers throughout this post, but if you're really worried about them I'd skip down to the read-alikes if you haven't read the book. If you're not too worried about spoilers, you should be fine if you've at least read the series up to the previous book or two.)
I'll start this off by admitting that I was one of the readers who was really upset when Hamilton introduced the ardeur (which I still see as a convenient excuse for rough, orgy sex scenes), shifted the tone of the series into something very different from what the series was originally like but remarkably similar to her Meredith Gentry series, and started writing long, graphic sex scenes. I read a lot of romance, so I'm no stranger to sex scenes, but these are more like what you might get in an erotica novel.
I was a little worried by the way this book started. Basically, Anita, Nathaniel, and Jason negotiate the terms of a threesome (seriously, it's like some sort of business deal or something) and then actually have the threesome, in graphic detail. Hamilton uses this scene to remind readers that Anita had agreed to BDSM for Nathaniel - that kind of thing doesn't interest me, so it probably contributed to my dislike of this scene. In previous books, the sex scenes got so detailed and so lengthy that there wasn't always time for much plot, and I feared that this might be one of those books - it's gotten to the point where, although I used to buy Hamilton's books as soon as they came out, I no longer even feel the need to buy them used. As far as sex goes, this book wasn't that bad - if you actually liked the copious sex scenes in the last few books, you might feel differently. There are maybe three and a half sex scenes - the threesome I just mentioned, attempted sex between Jason and Anita that keeps getting interrupted by their need to chat with one another, sex between Anita and Jason, and an unintentional orgy that Hamilton thankfully never describes in detail. The biggest problem is that, although there aren't a lot of sex scenes, much of the book is still about sex in one way or another - Jason trying not to appear gay, Anita's ardeur, women drooling on Jason, etc.
Besides the way the sex scenes are written, I think one of the things that bothers me about them is Anita herself. Anita, to me, has always seemed like a thinly veiled stand-in for Laurell K. Hamilton. They look the same, they might dress the same if the author photos are anything to judge by, and, from what I've read of Hamilton's writings when she's writing as herself and not from the point of view of a character, they sound the same. I don't want to find myself trying to get through yet another graphic sex scene filled with bodily fluids of all sorts and find myself wondering if the recent shift in the tone of the Anita Blake series and in the kind of sex Anita has has anything to do with Hamilton's own sex life. I don't want to know about her sex life, and I'm hoping that Anita's sexual adventures are just Hamilton writing down her fantasies like some sort of lame fan fiction writer.
I enjoyed reading about Jason seeing his family - it wasn't a pleasant meeting, by any means, but it's always nice to read about the lives and families that characters have outside of all the supernatural weirdness that Anita lives around. In fact, I would have liked it if the book had been more about Jason's visit with his family and his attempts to connect with them. Hamilton is fond of having Anita analyze and painstakingly think through what's going on in all her relationships (sometimes only after things have already gone to hell), and I would have preferred it if Anita's analysis had been restricted to bad, but fairly ordinary family relationships (Jason's father was abusive and several of Jason's family members figure Anita is a whore who's just pretending to be his girlfriend so that they won't think he's gay, but all of that's more ordinary than Anita's metaphysical problems). Instead, readers are treated to pages and pages of Anita trying to think through and deal with relationship, political (vampire and lycanthrope politics, mainly), and metaphysical problems that she didn't even see coming.
Readers who enjoy shapeshifters may find something to like in this book. Anita meets several weretigers, the first natural-born weretigers she's ever met, and she learns a lot about how their society functions, mainly because there's a possibility that they might force her to abide by their societal rules because of the tiger insider her. A few werewolves do show up, like Jason (of course), Richard, Shang-Da, and Jamil, but weretigers are the primary lycanthropes in this book.
If you've read the past few books, which you really should before you start this book, you'll know that Richard has gone from being Anita's very nice boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) to being an angry, unreasonable bastard. I can sympathize with some of his reactions to Anita and her ardeur - Anita's gone from being someone who resists sex in the earlier books to being someone who's regularly having sex with several different men, sometimes all at the same time. In this book, Anita does something that helps make Richard a little more like the guy he used to be, but the effects only last for a very short time. After that, he becomes a bastard of a different flavor, this time trying (and almost succeeding) to take Anita's choices about who she is with away.
One of the things I'm sort of sympathetic about with Richard is his attitudes towards Anita's fleet of lovers. I don't always like the way he deals with these feelings, but I can understand why it bothers him, even though the two of them aren't actually dating anymore. Personally, I feel like Anita's pretty hypocritical. Because she has to feed the ardeur, she has to have a bunch of lovers (like I said, it's an excuse for lots of sex with multiple partners), but I'm sure that even if she suddenly lost the ardeur she'd keep at least four or five of those lovers (Jean-Claude, Asher, Nathaniel, Micah, and maybe Jason - I can't remember if she and Damian are lovers). It's not so much the multiple lovers thing that bothers me as much as it is her rule that, although she's allowed to have multiple lovers, her lovers must in turn be monogamous. Anita gets to have her cake and eat it, too, and I'm never really quite sure why all her men put up with it. If Jean-Claude could just give her up, I wonder sometimes if he would, considering how much her "you must be monogamous while I sleep with everyone" rule hurts him politically.
Well, enough ranting. Overall, I think this book is an encouraging sign that future books will actually have time for a plot between sex scenes, although I doubt the series will ever go back to being what it once was. I no longer plan to buy any of the books in this series right when they come out, but I haven't yet gotten to the point where I'm just going to give them up. I didn't really like this book, but I didn't hate it either.
- A Kiss of Shadows (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - This is the first book in Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series. If you haven't read this series and you like how things have been going in the Anita Blake books, well, this series started at around the same time Anita's books changed. The sex scenes are similarly weird, there's lots of gorgeous guys who're all willing to have sex with the main female character, and there's a convenient reason why the main female character must have lots of sex. Besides the sex, there's faerie politics and supernatural action. The first book introduces Meredith Gentry, a faerie princess who's been working for a supernatural detective agency and hiding her identity from everyone. When her identity is revealed, Meredith discovers that she has a chance at the Unseelie throne, but only if she can manage to get pregnant before her cousin can get someone pregnant - you see, faeries are notoriously infertile, so pregnancy would prove the fertility of either candidate, and a fertile ruler means that the Unseelie in general will be more fertile.
- Full Moon Rising (book) by Keri Arthur - This is the first book in the Riley Jensen Guardian series. Riley Jensen and her twin brother are half vampire, half werewolf. In Riley, the werewolf side is pretty strong, but she does have a few gifts courtesy of her vampire side. In this fast-paced book, Riley's twin goes missing and a naked vampire turns up on her doorstep. Riley and Quinn team up to find her brother and end up uncovering lots of scary stuff about clones of supernatural creatures (cloned vampires are only the tip of the iceberg). Those who want action, vampires and werewolves, and a heroine who sees no problem with having multiple lovers (werewolves have many lovers until they find their mate) may enjoy this book.
- Bitten (book) by Kelley Armstrong - Elena found out that werewolves are real when her boyfriend bit her while in wolf form and turned her into one. Since then, she's worked hard to gain enough control over herself and her abilities so that she can pass as human. She's now living in Toronto, trying to have a pleasant and ordinary relationship with a man who has no idea what she is. However, she's called back to the Pack in order to help out with murderous mutts (the name used for werewolves who aren't affiliated with the Pack), and she's forced to deal with her unresolved issues with her Pack and her feelings for the werewolf who made her what she is. Those who'd like a main female character who's strong, introspective, and trying to deal with both supernatural and ordinary life, and a story that's got both action and family issues ("family" in the broader sense in Bitten and in the more literal sense in Hamilton's book), might like this book.