My favorite thing about the Anita Blake series is that each book builds off from the previous one, but if you happen to skip a book or two, LKH’s descriptions and recaps will helpfully fill you in, and then throw you to the wolves. Or the plot.
Circus of the Damned is one of those books that sets up one of the more far-reaching plot arcs in the story, but you wouldn’t know it when you read. Skipping it on my first read through of the series taught me the important lesson that in the ABVH world everything is of crucial importance.
COTD introduces one of my favorite secondary characters – Stephen Deitrich, who is absolutely delightful to read about, and who also forces Anita to acknowledge and examine her anti-werewolf prejudices. It also brings Richard to the stage which. Whatever. In book 24 now, he’s just starting to redeem himself to me, and he has a rather long way to go, but that’s fine, because in COTD he’s likeable enough, and if this is your first time reading through the series you will definitely end uo rooting for him. (Don’t trust Richard Zeeman!)
COTD brings to the stage a few very important players, and continues to expand the already established supernatural world, but more importantly – it sets up the continuing appearance of the Vampire Council in Anita and Jean-Claude’s life. I am a die-hard fan of the old school vampire genre, where more often than not there is some type of ruling authority established in the old decrepit halls of rotting European castles. Anne Rice brought us Mekare and Maharet and Akasha and Enkil, and to a lesser extent some Dracula adaptations brought us the Order of the Dragon. LKH gifted us the Vampire Council, who will later serve as a prototype of the equally terrifying Authority in True Blood.
The Earthmover is to my knowledge the most ancient vampire written in the genre – a vampire so old he isn’t even homo sapiens definitely trumps however many measly millenia Mekare and Maharet used to have on everyone else. He can probably contend for most ancient supernatural baddie period. His only competition at this point are the Biblical figures in Supernatural. Of course, given how old and powerful he is, it takes Anita the whole book to defeat him and bring him to heel, which she does beautifully.
There is something very satisfying about reading how the good guys win, and Anita fighting fiercely, this time not only for herself, but also for Jean-Claude was absolutely wonderful. Wether she wants it or not, she now has something to protect, and that is a huge step up for her from the first book. Slowly and with attention to detail, Hamilton begins to shape her into the character we come to know and appreciate in alter books, but it starts as early as the third one.
Even though it’s a long time until Anita actually heals for good, or even begins healing, rather than just aggresively opening old wounds, it all starts with COTD.