Top critical review
The only afflicted person is the reader
Reviewed in Australia on 5 March 2016
Ever since Micah Callahan was introduced, Laurell K. Hamilton has been determinedly shoving him down the throats of her readers, despite him essentially being a Stepford Husband with freakishly huge gonads.
And in "Affliction," she finally decides to give him some attempt at character development... thirteen books after he was first introduced. While the plot of this book sounds appealing (family drama AND a horrifying new type of zombie!), Hamilton manages to choke it to death on her own mediocrity -- when the book isn't preaching the gospel of polyamory, it's stupefying readers with grotesque sex scenes, tedious repetitive dialogue, naked misogyny and a cop-out on the only interesting parts of the story.
While being hostile and misogynistic at work, Anita receives a call from Micah's mother. Apparently there's a new type of zombie out there, whose bite causes gangrene and death -- and Micah's father is one of the victims. Micah deliberately alienated his family years ago, but he agrees to go back and make peace with them. And because polyamory means you have no individuality, Anita and Nathaniel are coming along as well, only to find that Micah's family is a bit more similar to their relationship than anyone thought. Yes, more "polyamory is the only way!"
And after reaffirming that she's manly and tough, Anita gets involved in the hunt for these new strange zombies, which she does by making a complete fool out of herself. Think bondage gear for search-and-rescue. Yes, it gets that silly. But it turns out that these zombies are not what they seem, and Anita will need assistance from her merry band of thugs, assassins, sociopaths and serial killers to deal with the villain. Also, there's some marriage proposals floating around, just to completely kill any tension.
Most of the Anita Blake novels have been dreadful, but "Affliction" is something far worse -- disappointing. In the hands of a competent author, the plot would have had a solid mixture of personal tragedy, character development, action and horror. And the promise of flesh-eating zombies could have injected (or rather, INFECTED) a fresh new danger to a shallow fictional universe that has gotten very flat and stale. All the parts of an excellent book were there... except that Hamilton managed to wreck every single one of them.
There are a couple well-written scenes, such as the battle in the hospital. But 99% of the time, "Affliction" is like wading through clammy chest-deep quicksand in search of a lost pin -- Hamilton pads the flimsy plot out with a lot of people getting into squabbles over nothing (especially Anita posturing in front of law enforcement like an angry baboon), and characters endlessly expositing to each other about things they already know ("but you are my human servant, one leg of the triumvirate of power that we share with my wolf to call, our reluctant Richard"). Every single writing rule that exists, this book breaks.
That includes actual character development. Anita is her usual bratty, ragey, barely-aware self her, like a psychotic id made flesh, and Nathaniel remains her freaky enabler (think a more attractive version of Gollum, with Anita as the One Ring). And though it seems like Micah SHOULD be developed by all this, Hamilton guts that subplot with a dull knife -- we're assured that his family doesn't hold his hurtful behavior against him, and the dying-dad hook ends up going exactly nowhere. No, the only new development is the news that he's off killing and having sex with other were leaders to gain control of their groups, in a futile attempt to make him seem more "alpha."
And Hamilton is at her most Hamiltonian here. Every negative trait of the series seems to be emphasized -- rage attacks, rancid misogyny, religious bigotry, Anita fighting with half the people she meets, a truly horrifying sex scene involving strangulation, and endless descriptions of how short/gorgeous/macho/tough/sexually adept Anita is. And of course, lots of pithy little pellets of "wisdom" that Anita dribbles out every few minutes, which sound like the philosophical ramblings of a four-year-old ("A smart friend told me that it's okay to cry; sometimes you're so happy it spills out your eyes").
Perhaps the worst part is what Hamilton DOESN'T show us. For instance, a new vampire council has been formed on American soil... so of course it happened between books, and JC is (naturally) the one in charge rather than a vampire whose whose testicles AREN'T in a jar beside Anita's bed. A better author could have gotten a whole trilogy of stories about the bloody, espionage-fraught, divisive formation of a new council, like an urban fantasy version of "Game of Thrones"... but that doesn't interest Hamilton, because it's not about polyamory.
Yes, Hamilton wants us to know that the only kind, intelligent, beautiful people in the world are the polyamorous ones, while monogamists are all homophobic, hypocritical ugly Christians who are just jealous of her polyamorous bliss and kinky sex. This is presented with all the sanctimonious smugness of really bad religious fiction, but without the excuse.
There is no more fitting title for this book than "Affliction" -- it is a giant festering boil on the diseased carcass of a once-promising urban fantasy series, afflicting the reader with a vague sense of nausea and regret. Avoid like a vial of smallpox.