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Laurell K. Hamilton: Cerulean Sins (Berkley Publishing Group)

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Anita Blake's relationships with love and power are anything but easy. Cerulean Sins finds Laurell K. Hamilton's signature character dealing with more of each than one person should be expected to handle. But that's what makes Anita, and the latest volume in this series of supernatural detective stories, so layered and fulfilling to read.

With each novel, Anita's powers seem to unfold in ever greater scope and intensity. Unfortunately, those powers never come without a price, and in this book that's still the case. Anita, professional raiser of the dead and licensed vampire executioner for the state of Missouri, is doing her best to achieve a balance romantically between the two men in her life-Micah, a shapeshifter king who spends some of his time as a leopard, and Jean-Claude, the master vampire of the city of St. Louis. She is also dealing with the ramifications of the power that comes with being mystically linked to Jean-Claude, and that's making her do some things she wouldn't normally do. (Let's just say good Catholic girls don't behave like that.)

If that weren't enough, she also has to deal with an unexpected visit by a vampire from Jean-Claude's past whose presence also sheds light on the origin of vampires themselves. On top of that, there is a new player for Anita's affections, and she also has to find out why a professional hitman has hired her to raise a dead relative, and as is usually the case, the reasons are anything but simple and could spell even bigger trouble for Anita in the future.

With all that going on around her main character, Hamilton still manages to provide added insight into the lives and motivations of her secondary characters. That's one of the satisfying things for faithful readers of the series: the minor characters are far from insignificant. Someone who is only briefly introduced in one book may have an expanded role to play in a subsequent novel, or may even become the focus of a novel (as was the case with the assassin Edward in Obsidian Butterfly, one of Hamilton's best novels in the series).

One of the most poignant and heart-rending plotlines in Cerulean Sins is the continued meltdown of Rudolph Storr, head of the police taskforce that handles the vampire, shapeshifter, and other preternatural crimes. The cauldron of anger in him that started heating up in Narcissus in Chains regarding his son's relationship with a vampire finally begins to boil over in this book. It's anger he takes out on Anita, which also provides an opportunity to bring his sergeant, Zerbrowski, to the fore and add to Anita's, and the reader's, depth of understanding about him.

Because the books are told in Anita's voice (and it's an infectious voice; she gets to say the sort of things you only wish you could), she is by necessity at the heart of the story. Character development is conveyed through her perspective, which means a lot of it is revealed to the reader through dialogue, so as Anita learns more, so does the reader. And, as that interaction causes Anita to challenge her own preconceptions about the characters, we learn more about her as well.

And it's a fast-paced ride. Hamilton keeps the action moving to an unexpected resolution that is gripping and enjoyable enough to overlook some seemingly repetitious passages. That breakneck pace keeps up almost to the very end of the book, leaving the reader wondering what could possibly be up for Hamilton's heroine after this. Chances are, though, it'll be anything but simple.

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