Incubus Dreams is just short of a nightmare. Review by S.K. Slevinski
As a long-time fan of epic fantasy, I'm not one to be daunted by the length of a novel. And I thought nothing of the length of Incubus Dreams when I first picked it up—but I found this novel utterly exhausting.
At the opening of this novel, Federal Marshal Anita Blake—a vampire hunter, necromancer and preternatural criminologist—finds herself in personal and professional crisis. At the murder scene of a vampire-bitten stripper, Blake clashes with her colleagues, in no small part because of her preternaturally-populated personal life. While not a vampire or were-creature herself, Blake is connected in a supernatural triumvirate with Master Vampire of St. Louis, Jean-Claude, and leader of werewolves—and ex-boyfriend—Richard. Linked to them through her powers as a necromancer, Blake finds herself prone to many of the same desires as these men to which she is connected. In order to keep the ardeur—the vampire's passion for blood—in check, she keeps Nathanial, a young were-leopard, around her house to sate the desires as they rise. But her increasing affection for Nathanial, and his own increasing insistence on a more intimate relationship (i.e. sex in addition to feeding), leaves her in conflict. Why? Because she is wrestling with her feelings for live-in boyfriend, Micah, the leader of the local were-leopard community. Which is not to say Micah would mind—Anita already counts Jean-Claude and his beau among her "boyfriends" with little concern from Micah. The supernatural community is generous with their lovers, but Anita hasn't quite gotten used to it.
But that's just the first few chapters. The book proceeds to branch off in a dozen different directions. It is no easy task to pinpoint a unifying plot in this book. The crime show standard "murdered strippers" storyline may be an obvious choice, but the second murdered stripper doesn't show up until over half-way through the book. The conflict with Nathanial? It comes to something of a conclusion about two thirds of the way through. Anita's efforts to become more accustomed to the preternatural way of life? Maybe. But it's certainly not a unifying factor, or an impetus to keep the reader reading, or to connect one scene to the next.
This novel is, predominantly, a chain of events giving rise to a chain of sex scenes. It reads like a horror-genre porno novel with deeper character issues. But to say there are deeper character issues is not to say that they are unique, interesting, or creating a unifying conflict. Blake's meatiest and most promising inner conflict—over the vampire execution warrant—doesn't come until the very end, after the murder-crime conflict is semi-resolved. Otherwise, Blake's inner conflicts result in Blake advocating a predictable Leftist philosophy. While I'm sympathetic to a lot of liberal principles, myself, I found Blake's constant villainization of "Right-wingers" to be predictable and lacking in any potentially interesting ambiguities. In other words, I don't read fiction to experience familiar perspectives, and Leftist viewpoint abound in modern fiction. When Blake is not dealing with chauvinistic men or seeking to free herself from sexual repression, she is tackling a series of unrelated supernatural crises. As each crisis reaches its "metaphysical"—as Hamilton puts it—breaking point, Blake inevitably finds herself having to solve it by having sex with someone. While the sex scenes may provide a source of voyeuristic fascination to many readers, they are ultimately too numerous and disconnected to have any deeper consequence for Blake's character conflicts.
This novel may pique the prurient fascinations of some readers, but even the sex scenes quickly become a yawn. Those who want a challenging character conflict with surprising and thought-provoking twists ought to pass over this book on the shelf.
S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.