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The Harlequin (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 15) by Laurell K. Hamilton
Cover Artist: Craig White
Review by Drew Bittner
Berkley Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425217245
Date: 05 June 2007 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In The Harlequin, Anita Blake's life seems to have settled into a satisfying routine. She should know, from bitter experience, that this is exactly the moment everything goes to hell.

Also see Harriet Klausner's review of The Harlequin in this issue.

Kicking off with a startling encounter with Malcolm, leader of the vampiric Church of Eternal Life, Anita suspects there is something dangerous loose in St. Louis--more dangerous than run-of-the-mill vampires, shape shifters and faerie folk, that is. Before long, she receives a white mask, which provokes terror in Jean Claude, her lover and the vampire Master of the City. He can tell her nothing... except that they are in terrible danger.

Anita and her family of lovers and friends are soon under attack from a group of vampire cops called The Harlequin. Armed with terrible powers--including the ability to amplify emotion to the point of madness and to empower servants with vampire powers--they move like ghosts in the city, setting members of Anita's group against each other with horrible ease. One of these is Richard Zeeman, Anita's werewolf ex-fiance, whose jealousy is twisted into homicidal rage; his outburst nearly destroys all of them, when he rips apart Jean Claude and is nearly killed in turn.

And this is only their opening salvo.

Anita is forced to call upon powers and resources that are truly "for a rainy day." Given that this threat is hurricane-level, she can afford to hold nothing back, so she learns how to channel powers vastly greater than anything she has tried before--using the many latent were-shapes caged inside her psyche. But doing so has a terrible price, as Jean Claude's mistress Belle Morte seeks to claim Anita for herself.

Caught between these opposing threats, Anita calls for more tangible backup in the form of Edward. If Anita is the Executioner among vampire hunters, Edward is Death. He comes from his quiet country home with his teenage stepson in tow, hoping that the boy can work through a past traumatic experience; if not, he may end up becoming a rabid killer himself and Edward would have to put him down. Anita suffers the guilt of realizing that she bears some responsibility for this but cannot afford to pass up their help.

The nature of the threat to Anita and her group becomes clear, even as Anita fends off a spirit tiger, deals with a betrayal and learns to better master (and exploit) what has been a curse. There are devastating realizations along the way, as well as an impending threat vastly worse than anything Anita has ever faced. Unless Anita can put her personal and professional lives in order--fast--there may be no way to survive what's coming.

Okay, I was a skeptic. No, worse, I was an unbeliever. Having been a fan of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter books from the start (I own a first-printing Guilty Pleasures, after all), I found I was enjoying the series less over time. It was a combination of factors: Anita was becoming an unstoppable demi-goddess, her personal life had swallowed up her professional life, the supporting cast (mostly human) had vanished and left only the monsters behind, and so on. Laurell Hamilton wasn't suddenly a bad writer; far from it, her abilities continue to grow, but it reached the point where I didn't enjoy the books any more. It was sad but it happens.

I agreed to review The Harlequin out of hope. I'm very pleased to say that my hope was rewarded. This is the Anita I was missing. Not that all the elements I disliked were gone--there's still a lot of sex in the book, for one--but these elements were better balanced, and more of what I liked early on came back strong. The human supporting cast made a strong showing, with Dolph, Zerbrowski and Edward all returning in significant, non-walk-on roles, while the many lovers were pared down to an essential few. Nathaniel emerges as a more fully developed character, with an issue that Anita addresses in a thoughtful and introspective way, while Micah has little "screen" time but a very pointed role. Richard and Jean Claude are more fully present as well, with their situation reaching a crisis point of sorts--and hopefully the start of a final outcome. Lastly, the nature of Anita's ardeur was more fully explained (and, dare I say, justified?) than ever, which is very welcome.

On the villain side, Marmee Noir is shaping up to be a tremendous enemy for Anita, as is Belle Morte and diverse members of the Harlequin. The climax of the story leaves little doubt that there is lots of unfinished business here, even if Anita and her group have a "win" of sorts at the end.

Fans of "classic" Anita will feel like this is a homecoming novel. New readers should go back and catch up first, as there is a LOT of back story (and not all of it is neatly summarized), but long time readers--including some lapsed fans like me--should find Harlequin well worth their time.

Recommended.

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