On the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series

Ambiguous Anita

By Lilith Saintcrow

One doesn’t have to precisely blame Laurell K. Hamilton for the explosion of paranormal romance and kickass-chick urban fantasy currently filling bookstore shelves. Hamilton started out, a decade or so ago in Guilty Pleasures, with the same type of urban-fantasy-with-a-touch-of-noir that has been a small, important subsection of fantasy ever since someone first decided to cross a detective story with something supernatural. From Wilkie Collins and Bram Stoker (Dracula is, after all, a detective story as well as a psychosexual morality play) to Charles de Lint and Simon Green, the supernatural detective is alive and well–for which I am profoundly grateful.

What separated Anita Blake, Vampire Executioner, from the common run of schlock and fantasy was two things: Anita’s gender and Anita’s ambiguity. I don’t think I’m far wrong in stating that Anita was one of the very first “kickass” female characters in urban fantasy, a template for all those ladies with tramp-stamp tattoos and tight clothing hanging out on so many covers nowadays. However, she was not the first, and her popularity has its roots in a different dynamic: the fact that Anita Blake is one of the first female protagonists with the noir hallmark of moral and ethical ambiguity guiding her actions.

The phenomenon I refer to as “ambiguous Anita” only shows up in the first five books of the series. By the sixth she is embroiled in a process of becoming a more standard female character, whose primary concern is her interpersonal relationships with the monsters she is embroiled  …

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