Narcissus in Chains, by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley, October 2001)

The next time someone I know has relationship problems, I’ll point out that no matter what, they have to have it better and less complicated than Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. In Narcissus In Chains, the tenth novel to feature the popular character, things have reached an all-time level of complexity. SNAFU: Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.

For starters, Anita’s not the nice, innocent little necromancer/vampire hunter she was back in her first outing, Guilty Pleasures. She’s dating, at the same time, the Ulfric (King) of the local werewolves, and the vampiric Master of the City, respectively Richard and Jean-Claude. She shares in their power, but only in an incomplete sense, and if she doesn’t do something about it, who knows what’ll happen? Furthermore, she’s the Nimir-Ra (pack leader, more of less) of a small group of wereleopards. Makes the single life look good, doesn’t it? Between her dating life and her permanent houseguests, Anita’s about ready to scream, even after six months of self-inflicted celibacy and ‘alone time’ to try and get herself back in order.

Guess what? Things can always get worse.

For instance, when Nathaniel, one of her wereleopards, gets in some serious trouble with Narcissus, the werehyena owner of the popular club Narcissus in Chains (most of the Anita Blake books seem to be named for the club or hotspot they feature … Circus of the Damned, Guilty Pleasures, Lunatic Cafe … ) Anita goes rushing in, and finds herself up against some very nasty snakemen. After rescuing her wayward ward, and a few other innocent victims, the true fun begins. Let’s summarize, shall we?

A) After being potentially infected by her own wereleopards, Anita’s in danger of actually becoming one with the next full moon.

B) After merging her supernatural side with Richard and Jean-Claude, she also has to worry about taking on -their- aspects. Namely, Richard’s rage and Jean-Claude’s “ardeur,” the need to emotionally or sexually feed from people.

C) One of her wereleopards is to be judged and executed by the local werewolves, in response to a conniving new enemy among their ranks. Richard, in his role as Ulfric, can do nothing to help her anymore.

D) The snakemen, and their enigmatic leader, Chimera, want Anita dead.

E) There’s a second wereleopard pack in town, and their Nimir-Raj, Micah Callahan, could either be Anita’s best ally, or another enemy.

F) A deadly conspiracy is preying upon the local werecreatures. No one is safe, be they rat, wolf, leopard, hyena, cobra, fox, bear, swan, or hamster. (Okay, I made up the hamster … )

If Anita can’t rally her allies and master her own abilities, innocents will die, and Saint Louis will never be the same again. Nor will her poor love life.

If you think I’ve given away too much, think again. Narcissus In Chains is densely plotted, reeling and turning from plotline to plotline with exhausting complexity, interweaving the various strands until they all come together in one final explanation and showdown. It doesn’t let up one bit, offering no relief or reprieve to Anita and her friends, or the reader. With some books you read until you find a good place to stop. Be warned. There’s not much of a good place to stop once you get started. The book may take place over the course of days, even weeks, but it doesn’t feel like time’s really passing. From one thing to the next, it’s a nonstop ride of erotic dark fantasy.

That’s right, I said erotic. From the boudoir to the back alleys, Laurell K. Hamilton continues to redefine the image of vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night as creatures of dark passions, sensual desires, and dangerous temptations. The book doesn’t just steam, it fogs up the windows. The pages drip with the same sort of erotic imagery and romantic entanglements and outright lust that have popularized the vampire of late, stopping just sort of explicit with the same grace and style of the best softcore Cinemax offerings. And yes, this is a good thing. Narcissus In Chains knows full well what it is, and isn’t embarrassed in the least. It combines dark fantasy/horror and eroticism in a way that would make Anne Rice stop to take notes.

On the flip side, I’d have to label the book with a big old “R” rating. Most definitely not for children, people with weak hearts, prudes, or those who find shapeshifters ‘icky’. Mature, consenting adults, this one’s for you. If you’re not familiar with the Anita Blake series, I do recommend starting with Guilty Pleasures and reading in order. They’ve all been recently released in paperback with a series of gorgeous covers that would look great unencumbered by cover copy, either as posters or prints. You can’t miss them.


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