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Incubus Dreams

by Laurel K Hamilton

(US: Berkley, $23.95, 658 pages, hardcover; September 1 2004. UK: Orbit, £10.99, 658 pages, trade paperback, October 2004)

Review by Robert I Katz

Incubus Dreams is the twelfth book in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. It's a big book (658 pages in hardcover), and it cover scan (US)starts slowly. Anita Blake, Lupa of the local werewolves, Nimir-Raj of the local wereleopards, lover and human servant to Jean-Claude -- vampire master of the city of St. Louis, animator, necromancer, licensed vampire executioner, Federal Marshall -- and one very tough babe, is at a wedding reception, whence she is called away to view a body. The body is that of a stripper at a local nightclub. The stripper has been drained of blood -- obviously killed by vampires. There is the usual tense banter with the cops, most of whom do not know Anita and therefore resent her, or know her very well and are afraid of her, some speculation as to the motive and the identity of the perps ... After this, nothing much happens for seventy pages or so, which is quite unusual for a Hamilton book.

What sets Hamilton's books apart, among other things, cover scan (UK)is their relentless energy. Things happen one on top of the other, the first event often not quite reaching resolution before the next problem is upon us. Hamilton's heroines typically get very little sleep, since they're rushing about, solving crimes, fighting enemies, dealing with various crises and having sex at all hours of the night and day. Once it gets moving, Incubus Dreams is no exception. The direction in which the book moves, however, is one enormous detour. It is not until page 516 that we return to the murder. Most of this very long book is devoted to Anita's relationships with the many men (well, males) in her life and to the compulsions of the ardeur.

Those who have followed the series will know that the basis of Jean-Claude's power is sex. This is true of all vampires descended from the line of Belle-Morte, the master vampire who made Jean-Claude. Anita, having been magically bound to Jean-Claude, is compelled to have a lot of sex (or at least foreplay, though in some cases, a little blood sucking can substitute) -- every fourteen hours at least. For this reason, she keeps a lot of men around. She has been told that, as time goes by, she will gain at least partial control of the ardeur, though she will never be entirely free of it. Anita is wearily looking forward to this eventuality.

In earlier books, Anita joined in a triumvirate of power with both Jean-Claude and Richard, Ulfric of the local werewolf pack. In this book, she inadvertently joins in another triumvirate with Damien, her vampire servant, and Nathaniel, a werewolf who has to this point operated primarily as her pomme de saing (literally, blood-apple). Damien undergoes a psychic breakdown, driven mad by his former master. Anita cures him with a bout of quick and violent sex. Nathaniel, among many others, declares his love for Anita and, after some hesitation, Anita comes to the logical conclusion that she might as well have him too (a roundabout message from God that tells her it's OK helps her decision). A visiting master vampire tries to take over St. Louis, and Jean Claude can only fight him if Anita boosts his power reserves. Necessity is the mother of invention, or at least of X-rated psychic adventure, and so Anita "takes one for the team" and has sex with Byron, one of Jean-Claude's vampires. She finally manages to gain control of the ardeur, but proceeds to drain energy from her servants, particularly Damien, if she chooses to forego the sex.

The necessary time frame, it becomes clear, is now six hours. By the famous page 516 little more than a day has passed, and Anita has had sex with six different men (one of them twice), each time in graphic detail. Richard, her conflicted former boyfriend, returns and Anita tells him that he must be true to himself, give up his own self-loathing and come to terms with his nature. Using herself as an example of coming to terms with one's nature, Anita declares that a ménage-a-trois "just flat out does it for me".

At last we return to the mystery, which involves a band of rogue vampire/serial killers ... but Anita still manages to get in one last round of vigorous sex before the book ends.

All of this gets a little tiresome, for the reader as well as for Anita. Few of the story arcs introduced in earlier books are resolved. We see nothing of Anita's murderous friend Edward, nor of the psychopathic killer Olaf, first introduced in Obsidian Butterfly. The "Mother of All Vampires" is not here. Belle-Morte and the Vampire Council play no role. In Incubus Dreams, Anita's love life evolves, as do her powers, presumably to better equip her for the more demanding confrontations that will come in later books. The mystery element in this book seems, if not completely superficial, merely an add-on to satisfy those readers who liked the series when it was simply a smart, hip, horror/fantasy/mystery series with a plucky, sympathetic heroine. Hard to believe that the first few books had no sex at all.

Oh, well, Incubus Dreams is what it is ... bloated, melodramatic, pornographic and at least fairly engrossing. I still enjoy the adventures of Anita Blake, but the reader should not expect tight plotting nor much in the way of character development from Incubus Dreams. I suspect that many of Laurell K. Hamilton's original fans have long since left her, and those who like the direction the series has taken will probably stick with her. This book, however, will garner her no awards, little acclaim and, I am fairly certain, no new readers at all.

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