Like the Perfect Pizza, it depends on what you like. Give it some time.
As this is her first male lead, I didn’t know what to expect from Zaniel Havelock except a male version of her other (female) lead characters. What I got was a book that was really human, showcasing trauma, mental health awareness, and real connection that isn’t as well represented when compared to the first Anita or Merry books. Yes, it’s mentioned in other parts of her others work but we’re really seeing it in this book ( I haven’t read all of Merry, still waiting!). To be fair, the first Anita book came out in 1994 so she’s certainly improved.
These are people first and foremost, their gender part of their description rather than their sole defining characteristic. The characters you’ll meet in this book almost make it seems like there’s a prequel or an appendix of history that you the reader are not privy to and perhaps it’s better that way. There will be jokes and history that you the reader won’t know and good or bad, only you can decide if that’s something you can accept.
The same is true of the Angelic and other religious elements within this story as well. Faith here is different from how it’s shown through Hamilton’s previous work. It definitely has it’s mysterious parts, which I’ll talk about, but for the most part, divine intervention is powerfully obvious and results are direct in this book. You might expect Anita Blakes cross to glow around vampire threats but here? Zaniel himself see’s the glow of the world and it’s magical splendor. There’s definitely room to grow here in this urban jaunt.
There was some purposeful editing to keep things a tad more mysterious and anticipatory given the new supernaturals she was working with in this book. I admit that I am more familiar with how Were-animals and Vampires work, much less so with Angels and this kind of supernatural. I can forgive that so long as the characters and the world are real but it still feels a tad more forced than in her Anita works. I’m not a fan of characters passing out as a method of ending a scene but this seems to be something that happens more than a few times in past books she’s written.
The differences in the reviews we as fans are seeing is the result of readers’ preference. What do you want in a book? Do you care more about character development and authenticity? What about Pacing? How about the World Building? Quirky cast of characters? Certain elements do need work in this book (looking at you Pacing) but I can really forgive it since the book pulled me in and left me wanting more.
There are a lot of characters we’re meeting and I’m sure we’ll meet them again in the next one (hopefully) but some folks have pointed out that there are a lot of people in this book. That can be trying for some but that only means the next books will bring these characters even more vibrancy and detail. If however, those characters never surface again, it may feel like a temporarily useful but wasted long term world building to introduce a solid character only to discard them completely in the next books. It’s a fine line that Hamilton hasn’t always balanced well.
The world itself feels real, like a place I could visit (but would probably not survive in for very long), and that’s worth it to me. The world feels, as always, well researched, and written with a very specific focus. Maybe too specific? Only in a few places but that could be because author Laurell K. Hamliton felt pressure writing a male lead character? Only time will tell but Zaniel definitely felt like a guy, where guys can get focused and be poorer at multitasking. It’s a different voice from what we’re used to with Anita but still have sprinklings of the witty banter we’re accustomed to reading.
As we expect, Hamilton writes realistic characters with human foibles, the mistakes and biases are what makes them so real. We can also probably expect to connect with her cast of characters but be forewarned that you may not see them after a certain point. Oh they’re likely still alive within the world but probably won’t take center stage once their story arc finishes in the authors minds eye. For better or for worse, as incredible as her characters can be, they don’t stick around forever. One of rarer elements that Anita books dealt with was the perma-death of a character that the lead was close to. Many have come close to the brink or had been brought back but something in this readers gut says that this time, it’s about to get serious.
I do like the way the main character interacts with the world around him and is written as a very self-aware (dare I say self-possessed?) character without the rose-tinted glasses that early Anita material possessed. Early Anita, for example, fell down the rabbit hole of the supernatural in her world and that led to much of the sex-capades that took place, which is fine. I just enjoyed the police work and supernatural bad-assery more. We can definitely see more of that painstakingly researched police work and fans have been told that we’re going to dive deeper into police work which I’m hopeful for even if it does include mountains of paperwork for Zaniel.
With Zaniel, you’ll get someone who is of course going to uncover supernatural things about this brand new world but he already knows a ton about the Angels and about Angel Speakers so there’s less chance of the book taking a path into the overly sexual that people seemed to dislike about some of the Anita books. There is an already established romance or two in the book that I’m certainly invested in (in all shades of the rainbow and not Zaniel centric), that indicates this won’t turn into a giant sex-athon. Again those are fine but I don’t see it for the character of Zaniel given his history.
There are seeds sprinkled in this initial outing for future books to expand upon for Zaniel Havelocks relationships, romantic or otherwise. The same can be said for event and showdowns foreshadowed in this first book that will keep readers waiting for the next book. You can bet it will be plenty violent but according to Hamilton, it will also lend itself to a greater degree of hope as well. The stakes are different in this book (haha Vampire joke) and so there’s a bigger sense of world-altering urgency in this book. It’s different from Anita and that’s okay.
It’s like she hasn’t gotten the recipe for this pizza pie perfect yet. Too many ingredients and it falls apart. Too few or the wrong few and it’s boring. The wrong flavor combo tastes a little funny and might not be everyone’s cup of tea. This time around, it’s a rocking good time and I can’t wait for more. She’ll get there, have a little faith.