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A Kiss of Shadows

Laurell K. Hamilton

Ballantine Books

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-345-42339-9

Publication Date: 10-3-2000

435 Pages; $22.95

Date Reviewed: 08-07-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Horror, Mystery


I enjoyed the first Laurell K. Hamilton novel I read, 'Guilty Pleasures'. It fully lived up to its name. I quite enjoyed the voice adopted by Hamilton, and though the effort showed some frayed edges -- it was, in fact her first novel in the genre -- I looked forward to reading the others in "the fullness of time" to quote Horace Rumpole. But the others came out so fast and furious that I was never able to catch up. Thus, I looked forward to a new series being begun by the now mature-as-a-writer Hamilton. In 'A Kiss of Shadows', Hamilton begins the story of Meredith Gentry, born Meredith NicEssus, an actual fairy princess. 'A Kiss of Shadows' certainly demonstrates that Hamilton is mature, all right. She's so mature, in fact, that she'd get an NC17 rating from just about any film review board. Yes, her writing is much smoother than it was back when she wrote 'Guilty Pleasures', and her character's voice is surer and stronger. But just about every other aspect of this novel is submerged in a sea of sex.

'A Kiss of Shadows' begins as Meredith Gentry, Supernatural Private Eye, takes on a new case. Hamilton's set up is excellent. As with Anita Blake, Gentry's voice is sassy and very enjoyable to read. Likewise, Hamilton's version of a present infiltrated by the supernatural is quite entertaining. However, anyone looking for a rigorous alternate history had better look elsewhere. Alternate history is not what Hamilton writes. She simply revises the present to include in this case a very complex and well-thought out Elfin society that is partially integrated into the reality we all know.

If you're willing to go with Hamilton's flow -- and if you start reading, it's hard not to -- you'll be sucked into a novel with a wonderfully complex plot, lots of interesting characters and more sex than a Skinemax after-midnight marathon. Hamilton's characters and creature creations are often very imaginative. Her incarnations of magic and sorcery, spun out into Los Angeles of the present are gripping and often scary. But just around the corner from any scene is sex, or more sex, or lots and lots of sex.

To be fair, Hamilton writes well of sex. She's enthusiastic, positive, positively experimental and wild, wild, wild. In one particularly effective scene in an LAPD squad room, the sex boils over into a positively Lovecraftian special effect. It's actually quite powerful and frightening, in a way most readers would never expect that sex could be powerful and frightening. But the subtler pleasures of her interesting characters are often lost once they disrobe and have at it. Even Merry's voice gets diluted once she's stripped beyond the first layer of whatever clothing she's about to remove.

The problem here is that the uninitiated reader will notice that there's more sex in this novel than there is sex and violence in the average horror novel, and after a while an overdose of sex, like an overdose of violence, gets boring. Hamilton relieves this with some very nice political intrigue in and out of the elfin kingdom and a cleverly plotted mystery.

To be sure, it's heartening in a sense to see that a novel of fear could utilize sex as a substitute for violence. Hamilton adds a number of interesting dimensions to the word sinister. And it's healthier for the psyche, one would suppose, to read about all this rutting instead of the usual cutting. But in the end, this reader found himself wishing that Hamilton's characters would take a cold shower and get back to the mystery and magic at hand, to their own complex interactions beyond all the instances of the old 'in-out'. This series has a lot of potential. Hamilton's writing and characters are strong and her creation is very complex and interesting. If the creation finds a life of its own, one would hope it would be outside the bedroom.