Oh my. Where to begin? How about this: SEX.
If you are the type who skims through plot to get to "the good stuff" in romance novels, jump at "Incubus Dreams." No sexual situation goes unexplored. Rough, three-way, oral, voyeurism, BDSM, vamp, bestial (werewolf, so I don't know if it counts), anonymous stranger, public places, leather.
I read LKH's blog, so I know that she herself got frustrated with the sheer volume of sex. But LKH has a different writing approach than most. She lets the characters dictate the story. She sees them as independent creatures she tries to force through her plots. She often refers to them "fighting" her as they want to head the book in a different direction.
She also opened Pandora's goodie drawer when she gave Anita the ardeur, a sexual hunger that must be satisfied on a regular basis or it overtakes her mind. I wish she would explain why a simple vibrator isn't sufficient.
This series used to be vampire police procedurals or vampire mystery-thrillers, with Anita as the vampire executioner who helps the police solve supernatural crimes. It was fascinating stuff, and Anita was a strong, powerful character I respected.
In this book, however, LKH got so wrapped up in sex that the plot was forgotten. The last few books have been heading in this direction, but they were still interruptions in an overall plot structure. ID has a brief murder early in the book before we descend into 20-odd chapters of nothing but sex. Seriously, someone on the Anita Blake fan community compared it to a porn movie, and there are strong parallels.
Let me make it clear: I am no prude. I write erotic vampire mysteries. My books are published by Ellora's Cave, the number-one erotic e-book publisher. And I have a hell of a lot more plot in my books than you'll find in "Incubus Dreams."
To make matters worse, we just expanded the cast. Again. LKH killed a major character in the first book, and it was emotionally stunning. Since then, she has never killed off a character we care about. Unfortunately, that means the cast keeps growing. Werewolves and vampires and leopards, oh my! You nearly have to keep a chart going to remember who belongs to whom.
I've argued for a long time that we need a major supernatural disaster to hit St. Louis. A vampire gang on a rampage, some old enemy come to revisit Anita. The Wrath of Olaf, or something. Thin out the goddamn cast. Get it down to a number of speaking characters I can count on my fingers, not a calculator.
Instead, we gained about six new vampires. I think Anita banged or engaged in erotic behavior with ALL of them except Primo the Psycho. Even for erotica, this is stretching the disbelief pretty thin. I was about to just toss it.
But the last third of the book returns to the murders, the mystery and the bad guys, and Anita becomes what she truly is: a killer with a conscience. LKH even wrote in that Jean-Claude (master of the vampires) was using his powers to shield all the weirdos with metaphysical ties to allow Anita space to do her job instead of fucking all the time. The last third of the book nearly redeemed it for me, as we deal with the Church of Eternal Life and bad vamps and cops and all that good stuff.
The problem is, by the time we get to that point, we don't have time to truly wrap up the story. The salient plot points are resolved in a goddamn letter, for heaven's sake, and most of the stuff that was really important happened off-camera. And I'll have to put a spoiler-tag on this thing for my biggest complaint: WE NEVER SEE THE BAD GUY. He gets away. And it flops. I guess we're supposed to see him another day, but it leaves us with no climax. Pardon the expression.
In my opinion, LKH needs to stop letting her characters run the story. Hey, my characters get unruly sometimes too. That's where the author comes in. Time to exercise a little discipline.
Kill off or chase away about half the cast - we have way the hell too many people.
And set Anita free. Have some metaphysical force strike her and break her ties to Damian the vamp and Nathaniel the wereleopard and Micah the wereleopard and Jean-Claude the vampire and Richard the werewolf and anyone else I've forgotten that she's tied herself to. Release her from the fucking ardeur that's ruining the plot by forcing her into sex with anyone who comes through the door.
The one good thing about character development in this story was that Anita is coming to terms with her sex life. For the last several books, she continually whined that she was raised a good Midwestern girl and she's having a hard time reconciling her new life with her upbringing. This was an interesting internal conflict - four books ago. By "Cerulean Sins," you wanted to slap her. Finally, she's at peace with it, and good riddance to bad dogma.
So the ardeur is no longer necessary, forcing her into contrived sex. Set her free. Let her stay with Micah or whomever she chooses because it's her choice, not because she's forced into it by a metaphysical lust. Because that's the real sexual freedom that LKH claims to be promoting with these books.
And let her go back to being what she truly is. Give us the mysteries we love. Because we're sick of watching the ceiling tiles for twenty chapters.