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Author's Message

LOVE AT FIRST BITE

LAURELL K. HAMILTON CASTS A SPELL ON READERS WITH HER DARKLY ROMANTIC FANTASY NOVELS

By Cindy Cruciger

Most fans of romantic fiction know exactly where the aisle with their favorite novels is in their local bookstore. They head right to it when out hunting hot reads for the weekend. These die-hard romance fans may not know it, but they are passing by some scorchers burning over on the science fiction bookshelves. Fans of Laurell K. Hamilton's popular fantasy series already know what romance addicts are missing and are hoarding these keepers from secondhand stores to read, re-read and read again while they await the next book in the series.

Hamilton has been climbing steadily up the New York Times bestseller charts since her first series, featuring necromancer, vampire executioner and hard-boiled paranormal detective Anita Blake, was launched with the cult favorite Guilty Pleasures in 1993. Anita staked the way for another critically acclaimed fantasy series seven years later. The first in Hamilton's Meredith Gentry, P.I., series, Kiss of Shadows (2000, Ballantine), followed the exploits of part-sidhe (fairy royalty), part-brownie, part-human private investigator. For three years, she's been living under cover in Los Angeles, trying to escape her murderous aunt Andais while solving supernatural whodunits for the Grey Detective Agency.

Three books and five years later comes A Stroke of Midnight, due in stores in April. Princess Merry and her friends are invited to her uncle's court, but danger lurks. Her cousin, Prince Cel, tries to eliminate her, since they are both in a race for the Unseelie throne, and the first to breed and restore fertility to the Fey wins. Merry gathers her allies, a fascinating, horrific amalgam of goblins, demi-fey, monsters and things best left to the darkness, for a fight to the death.

Fairies and royalty may bring to mind the sweetness of fables like Cinderella, but the Gentry series is more Grimm than Disney. Dark scenes of violence and copious, illicit sexual sequences stud the series (it's basically Merry's "duty" to have sex).

"The Fey have been here for over 200 years," Hamilton explains. "[People forget] the fey are more dangerous than any genie you will ever read about. There are categories of fairie that like nothing better than to harm, or even kill, humans."

With danger afoot, a male harem to die for, court intrigue, magic and battles that literally move the earth, this fourth installment of the Meredith Gentry series should be another page turner.

And it's a tribute to the author's talent that fans keep reading, not only the Gentry novels but also Hamilton's wildly popular, long-running Anita Blake series. Berkley released the 12th installment, Incubus Dreams, last October, and the entire series is being reissued in hardcover, with The Lunatic Cafe bowing this month.

The gritty paranormal series is set in Hamilton's hometown of modern-day St. Louis. But Anita's St. Louis must deal with the existence of vampires—who pay bills, buy groceries, work for a living and are fully fledged citizens under local law. Anita is a woman of great power who's responsible for both raising the dead and killing them. When a vampire breaks the law, she is called on to stake them, since no ordinary human execution could kill the undead.

When Hamilton began the series, she had just moved cross-country, relocating to the West Coast. "When I moved to California, I was out of my element," the author says. "I felt alone. I carried that feeling of isolation over to Anita." Publishers initially balked at buying the debut book, Guilty Pleasures, saying that it had too much violence and sex. Ironically, there are no actual sex scenes, but Hamilton's writing—which is full of "adult situations"—is so lush that her prose oozes with omnipresent sensuality. You can "feel" it even if you can't "see" it.

Hamilton sees the violence issue as a double standard. "Guy detectives get to cuss, kill people and have casual sex, and women don't," she observes. "Well, Anita doesn't really cuss much, but she makes up for it with a lot of killing."

Hamilton says that she wanted Anita to be tougher than the men—to break all the rules. But as the series progressed Anita started to care about the other characters. Hamilton resisted this chink in Anita's armor but eventually found herself promising her heroine that as long as she cared for someone, they wouldn't be killed off.

And that's actually what keeps readers coming back for more—the relationships, more than the witty wordplay and breathtaking fight scenes. The series' popularity largely rests on the shoulders of the fearless Anita and her compelling interactions with not one but two ravishing men.

"From the moment Jean-Claude graced my keyboard with his magnetic charm and otherworldly beauty, I knew he was nothing but trouble for Anita," Hamilton admits. "Anita is beautiful, tough and can dress up for a night on the town with a hidden arsenal of weapons like nobody's business, but Jean-Claude's pursuit demonstrates that even the best weapons in the world are useless if the woman wielding them can't bring herself to use them."

Hamilton admits she tried to kill off Jean-Claude in book three but couldn't bring herself to do it. "It was my daughter's fault. She was a baby and motherhood is exhausting. I was so tired all the time, it gave Jean-Claude the edge he needed to whittle my resistance down," she laughs. "But I've regretted it ever since, because Jean-Claude is almost unstoppable. Almost."

With the introduction of junior high school teacher and werewolf Richard Zeeman in Circus of the Damned, Hamilton had every intention of marrying off Anita and getting her away from Jean-Claude. But Richard—like most of the series' characters—had issues, and Jean-Claude… well, as Hamilton says, "Jean-Claude is French and pragmatic about the necessity of sharing."

The balance of this threesome's tricky love triangle shifts with each new installment keeping the series fresh and readers awaiting each new adventure.

So, on your next trip to the bookstore, turn away from the romance aisle for a few minutes, stroll over to the science fiction shelves and check out Laurell K. Hamilton's novels. You may miss work on Monday, your house will be a mess, but you'll be so wrapped up in Merry's and Anita's exploits that you won't even care. Edgy, dark, violent they may be, but these books are so compelling you'll have no other choice— you'll just have to sink your teeth into them (pun intended).

THE MEN SHE'S LOVED BEFORE

HAMILTON'S ANITA BLAKE HAS STEAMED UP THE PAGES WITH A BEVY OF SEXY HEROES. HERE'S A WHO'S WHO OF THE DEVILISH LOVE INTERESTS SHE'S ENJOYED.

JEAN-CLAUDE—Vampire, Master of the City of St. Louis
HAIR: Long, soft black curls
EYES: Caribbean blue-green
AGE: 400 years
PAYS THE BILLS? Nightclub entrepreneur; owner of Guilty Pleasures, Danse Macabre, Circus of the Damned and part owner of the Lunatic Cafe.
"I did not want you to love me because you would be my fail-safe, as you put it. I wanted you to love me, because I was in love with you."—Incubus Dreams

ASHER—Vampire, Master Jean-Claude's second
HAIR: Shoulder-length, golden
EYES: Ice-blue
AGE: Over 500 years
PAYS THE BILLS? Manages Jean-Claude's clubs
"You told me you wanted me inside you, as I remember. And when I bared your neck you said, 'Yes, Asher, yes.'"—Cerulean Sins

DAMIAN—Vampire, Anita's vampire servant
HAIR: Blood-red
EYES: Emerald-green
AGE: 1,000 years
PAYS THE BILLS? Male stripper at the Danse Macabre, a nightclub where humans can dance with vampires
"I feel half-crazed. All those women touching me, rubbing themselves against me, pressing their warm," he leaned in so that his hair brushed my cheek, "soft," his breath felt hot against my skin, "wet," his lips touched my cheek, and I shuddered, "bodies, against me."—Incubus Dreams

RICHARD—Werewolf, Ulfric Leader of pack
HAIR: Deep brown with shots of gold and copper
EYES: Sable
AGE: 30s
PAYS THE BILLS? Junior high school teacher and part owner of the Lunatic Cafe
"You've seen me naked before," he said softly.
"Not like this," I said. "No stopping, no questions."
He stood up. "This will change everything for me, Anita. It has to change some things for you too."—Blue Moon

MICAH—Were-leopard, Nimir-raj, Leader of pard and Anita's mate
HAIR: Waves of dark, rich brown
EYES: Yellow-green
AGE: Under 30
PAYS THE BILLS? Unknown
"It's alright to be attracted to me. You can't help yourself."—Narcissus in Chains

NATHANIEL—Were-leopard
HAIR: Ankle-length, auburn
EYES: Lilac
AGE: 20
PAYS THE BILLS? Male stripper at Guilty Pleasures
"I've had hundreds of people tell me they love me, but they didn't mean it. They just wanted to use me. You may never say the words out loud, but you mean them."—Incubus Dreams

EDWARD—Human, (based on the British actor Edward Fox, who played the dashing title character in Day of the Jackal, a 1973 film about assassin Charles H. Calthrop)
HAIR: Pale blond
EYES: Blue
AGE: Early 30s
PAYS THE BILLS? Assassin.
"Even Death has needs."— The Killing Dance


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