Laurell K. Hamilton,
A Kiss of Shadows
(Del Rey, 2000; Ballantine, 2002)

The Anita Blake novels, during the qualitative nadir of The Killing Dance and Burnt Offerings, had one good thing going for them: Laurell K. Hamilton's incredible ability to write erotic scenes. Even as the plots became unbearably convoluted, readers simply had to continue reading for the next time Anita reluctantly used her sexuality to calm some were-leopards, flirted with a werewolf or seduced a vampire. Although Hamilton's most recent Blake novel, Obsidian Butterfly, proves that she can still write an incredibly entertaining horror novel, the first book of her new series, A Kiss of Shadows, shows that she's putting her erotica-writing talents to good use as well.

The star of A Kiss of Shadows is Meredith Gentry, also known as Princess Meredith to the Fae. She's half human, has relatives in both the Seelie and Unseelie courts, and unlike Blake, she doesn't have the slightest qualm about getting laid at any and every opportunity. Oh, and she's on the run from the Unseelie Court (after many attempts on her life by her evil cousin) and is posing undercover as a Fae detective in L.A. And that's just where the novel starts.

Hamilton clearly hasn't lost her ability for complex plotting and political shenanigans. As with the world of Anita Blake, the supernatural creatures of this alternate Earth don't live in shadows, but interact with human society. Humans still know all too little about the fae, and tend to follow them like celebrities. Hamilton's Faerie society follows many of the "traditional" rules: we've got a Seelie Court, comprised of beautiful purebreds who are arrogant and intolerant, an Unseelie Court comprised of the Faerie royalty with imperfect lines and other flaws, and the everyday Faerie creatures who are in neither court, such as the goblins and selkies.

In this world, Gentry has been hiding (Hamilton acknowledges the transparency of the Gentry pseudonym during one scene, a nice touch), until a case her agency takes on exposes her as the long-missing princess and reveals that someone on the Unseelie Court might be a traitor. From here, she's buffeted through many near-death experiences, which also reveal her previously unsuspected powers (for all that this character is far from "innocent," she still very much follows a traditional hero's quest). She also encounters various members of the Unseelie court (sent by her cruel aunt Andais), ending up in many of their beds (or car seats, as the case might be).

For all the orgasms we're subjected to, it's 350 pages before we reach the climax, as Hamilton pulls the plot threads together into a satisfying conclusion, while managing to leave enough threads loose to provide plenty of potential for the next few novels (including lots of hints that All is Not What It Seems with the "traitor"). As the first novel of a series, A Kiss of Shadows does a great job of introducing a full cast of characters, while still providing a solid story. Hamilton has grown into her own as a writer, and in spite of the occasional bump in the road (does Gentry's selkie boy-toy really have to be named "Roane"?), she has put together a first-rate novel that toes the line between fantasy and erotica.

[ by Adam Lipkin ]
Rambles: 12 August 2000

Laurell K. Hamilton books are a lot like potato chips. There's not a lot of substance and they're probably not all that good for you, but once you try one it's hard to stop.

When I first tried her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, I read through all of the available books in fairly short order. Still, as new books in the series were published, I had no strong urge to revisit that particular world of vampires and lycanthropes, assassins and sorcerers, color-coordinated Nikes and bench-pressed Buicks.

When the paperback edition of A Kiss of Shadows arrived for review, I yielded to temptation and decided to sample her new series. Meredith Gentry is a faery princess -- really. On the lam from a hostile fey queen, she lives among us in a world where faeryland overlaps our own, working as an anonymous private investigator until a sexual trap exposes her true identity.

It's probably fair to mention that Merry loves sex. She has a fey's voracious appetite, skills and perversions, and most men she meets want her instantly. No fears, men -- she usually comes around and ends up wanting them, too.

But Kiss is definitely empty calories. Two-thirds through the book and I was still looking for a plot. Oh sure, Merry is a P.I. with a secret, and when she's exposed she's chased down by the Unseelie Court's brutish minions, who want to take her home to their queen. But do they mean her well or ill? Do we care? It's impossible even to identify a villain here -- every time a decent bad guy comes along, Merry has sex with him and he turns out to be not so bad after all. Then she's off again, looking for the next one -- Merry, it seems, is in a permanent state of arousal.

And that, really, is the selling point of this book. It's softcore porn in faerieland. Where Anita Blake hesitated whenever she found herself attracted to a man, Merry throws herself into every opportunity with minimal delay. On the other hand, Merry, like Anita, is short, and they have a similar predilection for concealing weapons in whatever hidden spaces their bodies and wardrobes afford.

So, should you give Hamilton's Gentry series a try? Well, sure, if you liked the Blake series and wished Anita had more sex -- and if you don't think you'll miss the vampires. Would you care for a chip?

(If that's not enough an incentive, the brief sample of the next book in the series, A Caress of Twilight, implies Merry will extend her passions to women as well.)

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 14 December 2002

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