That didn’t smolder very much

This post contains moderate spoilers for the Laurell K. Hamilton novel Smolder and mild spoilers for The Divide series by JS Dewes.

I’ve been reading the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton since I was 17 years old. It’s gone through some good points, and it’s gone through some bad points. I’m invested in the characters at this point, so I keep reading, but sometimes I really wonder why.

I just finished Smolder, the latest book, and I was only able to rate it with three stars on Amazon. Mostly because it wasn’t a complete book. Every time I looked at my “percentage complete” counter, I wondered how she was going to give us a satisfactory climax. Answer: she didn’t. She introduced a new major villain, a new police problem to deal with, and a new personal problem for Anita. There was a somewhat-climactic scene at the end but it took so fucking long to get there that I just didn’t care.

The main problem I have with these books is the cast of characters. There are so many of them that each time she writes a new book she has to reintroduce everyone and remind the reader how they’re all connected. Plus, Anita has this humongous poly group. Look, I’m thrilled beyond belief that the author has a healthy polyamorous relationship (she’s talked about it online) and that she’s trying to portray polyamory in a healthy way in her books, but this is too much. Anita is the center of a polyamorous relationship constellation and as a result we the reader have to be taken on a tour of said constellation every time a new character is introduced. (At least in Smolder she didn’t bring in any new main characters.)

The entire book takes place over the course of one day and night, which isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but if you think about how many “serious conversations” the characters have throughout, it really breaks up the narrative flow and takes away from the intensity of each scene. There’s a reason most books don’t have a massive cast of characters where everyone is boinking everyone else. Plus, I just read a couple of books where there is a good number of characters but I was still able to easily keep track of all of them — the first two The Divide books by JS Dewes. In those books, we meet at least twenty characters, but I’m able to keep them all distinct in my head because they’re given a few important traits and then they all take action. I can see Hamilton trying to do the same in Smolder, but every time things start to happen the action grinds to a halt with a multi-page discussion about relationships, the benefits of therapy, and polyamory dynamics.

I will give her credit, though — the reintroduction of Richard is handled very well. Almost too well. Suspiciously too well. It makes me worry that, in the next book or two, we’re going to have the same discussion with Richard, Anita, and the next member of the poly group they sleep with. Over and over again.

This is why, in real life, people generally don’t have 25 different lovers in their poly groups. (I might be exaggerating, but if I am, it’s not by much.) It’s hard enough to keep track of two or three — their wants, needs, desires, loves, hates, food preferences, media preferences, and so on. Then there’s the whole “giving each partner enough time” aspect; I have three partners — one lives close to me, one lives about 45 minutes away, and one lives on the other side of the country. That’s probably the only way I’m able to give each one enough time and attention. I mean, sure, I’d love it if they all lived within 15 minutes of my house, but this way seems to work pretty well. I can communicate effectively with each of them, and remember not only what they like and dislike but what they’ve said and what I’ve said. Just imagine how long it takes Anita to say good morning or good night to everyone in her poly group. And what if more than two of them have an issue at the same time? I’m not talking about an issue with her, but, like, what if one person is having trouble at work, another is having an argument with their mom, and a third is dealing with a metamour problem and wants Anita’s input? How can she manage to do her job and be in the moment with the partner in front of her when she has to keep track of all of these different things? And I haven’t even begun talking about the latest preternatural abilities that show up in the book.

It’s just too much. It’s why, about ten books ago, I started writing some fanfic about pruning off the various partners. I never finished it, but I know how it would go. I’m sure it would lead to a hellish series of discussions, but if we could trim maybe twenty characters that would be perfect. I mean, when you reintroduce a recurring character and lover who then has to spend two pages discussing what’s going on before she kisses Anita and Jean-Claude, you really drag the energy of the book to a messy halt. I’m not saying I could do it better than Hamilton does it, but I know I would do it differently, and I would be more conscious of the fact that the climax of this book really feels more like the end of the first act of a much longer one.

If you’re an avid reader of the series, you kind of have to read this book. But if you’re a new reader, this is not the book to pick up. I would start with Guilty Pleasures, skip The Laughing Corpse, and then read up through Danse Macabre. After that things get and stay messy for a while before slowly resolving themselves in the late teens and early twenties of the series. Then we get into the poly relationships, and we end up with a book that has so much discussion that by the time the characters finally get where they’re going (Ireland) more than 50 percent of the book has passed. (I can’t even remember which book that was anymore.)

I’ll just say that Smolder didn’t leave me very heated, and leave it at that for now.

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