Book Review: Skin Trade by Laurell K. Hamilton

486 pages in which very little happens. Mercifully there is not much sex. If you are already a fan, this 17th volume is just one more for the shelf, but it is definitely not the time for the uninitiated to join the party.

Explicit and spoilerific review follows.

I feel a bit guilty about Laurell K. Hamilton (LKH) and urban fantasy in general because I was an early adopter. Waaaaaaaaaay back when, I remember reading a review in Locus magazine for Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter) and deciding it sounded like a good thing, bought a copy. I whole heartedly and unreservedly recommend early LKH. It’s not deathless prose, but it’s page-turning fun. But now it seems like most of the books on the shelf are urban fantasy with a high romance quotient tending heavily to vampires and werewolves. Maybe if I didn’t want all the vampires and werewolves in my urban fantasy I should have given more money to Charles de Lint… but I think I did my part for him and his antlered people.

Long ago, I read an interview with Laurell where she said that if we are going to not look away from violence then we should not look away from sex (“love”) either. I believe that it’s book 6 of the series (The Killing Dance) where Laurell first decides to take an unblinking look at Anita’s love live and then never stop staring. The thing that bugs me the most, besides descriptions of sex drowning out plot, is this unblinking look at “love” which is kinda sideways squinty. Maybe it’s the sex ed for parents talk they gave at school, or maybe it’s that Laurell’s euphemisms aren’t my euphemisms. Whatever. If you’re going to talk about sex, use the words. Enough with “the edge of me”, “the length of him” or “that most sensitive bit”. Say it! Say labia, penis, and clitoris. If there’s supposed to be some poetry here then enough with the blow by blow, lick and thrust.

As I mentioned in the preview, the sex doesn’t start until the last 100 pages of Skin Trade and is relatively brief. There is even an extended event that takes place entirely off-stage (huzzah!). Maybe she’s finally getting as tired of it as we are. Now that I think of it, the last Meredith Gentry book (Swallowing Darkness) was also lighter on the prurient events.

Unfortunately in Skin Trade, the sex is not actually replaced with action. There’s so much description and exposition that very little actually happens in the day and a half or so of book-time. Mostly, everyone talks about Anita. About her reputation and what they would like her to do. Anita feels conflicted and aggrieved by turns. Sometimes her friends and acquaintances defend her honour and protect her secrets, sometimes everyone is disgruntled.

One lover moves away and four and a half more are added to the roster. One major villain is disposed of, or is she? It happens off-stage through 3rd party reports. Another villain turns out to be a bigger fish than we originally thought, but he’s still thoroughly dead now.

The fine details of preternatural U.S. Marshall legalities was weird and felt a little like an indulgent tour around the Enterprise in space dock. The Vegas SWAT team, if only they didn’t drip testosterone and then still keep stopping to ask questions were an interesting idea. As I was anticipating this book, I was musing about how any helpful entities like the police officer witch (Tammy), the other animators (Larry), her PI friend (Ronnie), the occasional psychic, etc not to mention her police friends were for one reason or another not allowed to help anymore. It’s nice when the whole thing doesn’t feel so insular.

For hardcore/overly loyal fans only.

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