A few semesters of vampire LARPing failed to lure me into drinking blood or worshipping Satan. But it led me to read more books written by women.
Is that a guarantee of quality? Reading a book written by someone who doesn’t look or think like you will expand your horizons, full stop. But sometimes those horizons include Richard Alaric Zeeman, a terrible broccoli fart of a character.
In short: the vampire LARP exposed me to stories about supernatural creatures and social ties, and to people who enjoy those stories. I met my friend Sara because of LARPing. She introduced me to the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton.
All bets are off with an author who makes her own setting, instead of an author who writes in a licensed IP. If you’re reading a Star Trek book and it’s like, “Captain Picard faces his greatest challenge in the form of [some jobber the author invented who’s never appeared in the show or films]?” Yeah, I like Picard’s chances.
But authors with home-grown settings, that’s a whole nother animal. Could Star Trek authors get away with wrecking everything the way J. K. Rowling does in the last Harry Potter book? Could Star Trek authors get away with a multi-plot book about whether or not a supporting character’s penis was disfigured? They could not. But Laurell K. Hamilton did.
Should she have? I mean… ehhhnh? But she could, and did. The multi-story plotline about genitals isn’t even the worst thing about the series. The Anita Blake books are a mixed bag. The early stuff skews more toward a police procedural, with exciting dashes of horror and erotic encounters. The later books are straight up sex-stories with hunks in monster costumes. Somewhere in the transition between the early stories and the later ones, we meet Richard Zeeman.
We’re doing this, right now. OK. So in the Anita Blake books, the initial point of romantic tension is between Anita, a necromancer who consults for the St. Louis police, and Jean-Claude, the local big-time vampire. Jean-Claude is like someone took Lestat, filed off the serial numbers, and told him that people really like Pepe le Pew. But he’s all got his eyes on Anita as a potential catspaw. He grows to see her as a power in her own right, and romances her with the pull of an ocean storm. It’s adorable.
But then! There’s the werewolf book, right? Because urban fantasy settings are contractually obligated to provide the reader with werewolves. Anita meets Jean-Claude’s foil – the werewolf Richard Zeeman, a hunky middle school teacher with the body of a Greek god. He commands the local werewolf pack.
FIRST OF ALL. Richard takes Anita to his home, and it is this lavishly appointed MTV crib. I don’t know if you’ve talked to a middle school teacher lately? They’re not raking in money. A St. Louis public school teacher makes between $45,000 and $60,000. That might get Richard a gently-chewed-on townhouse or a nice apartment in a saltine box complex with some money to save, as long as he doesn’t plan on ever having a child or a nice car or a treatable illness.
The book says later, if I remember, that Richard gets tithes from the other members of the werewolf pack. Those must be some crazy tithes to pay off his big sexy house. But whatever. WHATEVER.
OK AND THEN. His big torment is that he likes rough sex, and he’s so anguished because he’s just so strooong and dominant that if he makes love with Anita, he’ll maul her. And on top of that, he’s a werewolf.
Urban fantasy writers write werewolves like jerks, and let me tell you why. They take what they learned in grade school about wolf behavior and map it to a person. You know what I’m talking about: all the business with alphas and omegas and dominance and submission and constant tests for positions in the hierarchy. There’s two problems with this approach.
The first problem is that wolves don’t act like this in the wild. All the stuff you’ve read about alphas and pecking orders comes from study of stressed animals kept in captivity. The second problem is that if you write humans acting like this, what you have are a pack of assholes.
You have urban fantasy werewolves who end up as hypermasculine and concerned endlessly with dominance and submission and establishing a hierarchy of alphas and followers. It’s like someone’s performative Fetlife profile wished upon a star and became a real boy.
Richard is like that. He’s a big dumb Gorean mess. He sucks all the air and glamour out of the Anita Blake series and replaces it with dumb macho posturing. By the time he recedes to the background, Hamilton has changed gears in the series, and writes it mainly as a drama where sex is the cause of and solution to all problems.
Which is fine. But it’s jarring to read the transition, where Hamilton goes from being embarrassed to talk about her characters’ groins to ONLY talking about her characters’ groins. She started another series, the Merry Gentry books, after her shift into writing about heavy petting, so it’s much more coherent. The Merry Gentry books are what they are and don’t apologize for it. You know what you’re getting.
But crummy old Richard Zeeman appeared right at the fulcrum between “early” Hamilton and “modern” Hamilton. Stupid craplord Richard Zeeman, who Wikipedia assures me is so filled with primal masculinity that his presence causes other werewolves to involuntarily shift into their wolf forms.
And here’s the worst part, aside from all the other parts! When Richard’s stories take prominence in the Anita Blake books, Jean-Claude disappears. Jean-Claude wins Anita’s heart, but it’s like Wile E. Coyote catching the Road Runner. He has no idea what to do now that he’s gotten her and the seduction is over. Hamilton has no idea what to do with the character. The chase is concluded, so now what?
Her answer is to have Jean-Claude fade into the background while Richard drags Anita into a world of Men With Problems who can only be reconciled with lots of vigorous scrumpin’. Jean-Claude eventually slinks back into the limelight, but it’s never the same. I blame Richard for this. I do not like him and I will yuck his yums forever.
You can keep your Team Edward and Team Jacob. I’m on Team Throw Richard Zeeman Onto A Burning Trash Barge.