Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 9

Every time I start a chapter, I have some faint hope I won’t end up tasting bile for hours after I finish. We’ll see.

Alexei storms off after throwing a fit in Gillian’s general direction. He’s mad because Gillian will “terminate their professional relationship in an instant if he showed interest in her outside of counseling.” Glad to know she has some kind of ethical boundary? For now? Naturally, though, I’m sure he’s going to push and coerce and manipulate and peck at her till she gives in, because that’s how men work in this fucking book.

We’re treated to just a little worldbuilding about how “complex and multilayered” vampire society is, how humans are “respected and guarded with a ferocity unmatched in Human society.” Remember that comic at the end of the last chapter’s post? Yeah. In other words, this is a built-in excuse for vampires to be sexist and oppressive under the guise of “protecting” Gillian. Yay.

Alexei is very disturbed by the idea of Gillian being nabbed by Dracula. It “nearly [stops] his heart; not that it needed to beat constantly, but the pain was still very real,” because that’s exactly the moment we needed to know that.

Blah blah, Alexei wants Gillian real bad. Suddenly he hears Dracula’s voice in his thoughts. Dracula wants Gillian to “assist [Alexei] in adjusting to [Dracula’s] authority,” whatever that means. Alexei calls on his own “impressive power” to use the telepathic satellite phone to call…wait for it…Osiris. I’m mildly interested in the idea of Osiris being a vampire, so I’ll roll with it. The book tells us this about Osiris:

One-on-one, face-to-face, he could obliterate Dracula with a single thought, command him to destroy himself, make him his slave. Osiris, however, was honorable and benevolent. A civilized ruler, he had kept his own sect peaceable and as secret as possible.

So he could get rid of this villain who’s supposed to be terrorizing the world, thereby preventing (presumably) uncountable deaths, etc. etc., but he doesn’t…because he’s a nice guy, and nice guys…don’t kill big bad villains.

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Look, I could actually maybe buy it if one incredibly powerful being were so old and reclusive that he gives no shits about the world anymore and thinks everyone else should deal with Dracula. That would make him a dick, but that thought would be somewhat more in line with incredibly powerful, ancient beings. More convincingly, Osiris could be evenly matched with Dracula but not want to risk his comfortable life. The whole “I’m such a good guy that I won’t kill the bad guy” thing, however, is complete bullshit, especially if all Osiris has to do is step on a plane, confront Dracula, and whap Dracula with his gigantic mind-dick until he’s dead. Inaction does not a good guy make.

More world building that’s basically a repetition of what’s already been said: Dionysus is chaotic, Osiris is orderly, Dracula is a tyrant. He’s REALLY BAD, you guys. Really really bad. So bad there’s pages and pages about how bad he is. Part of his method of building allies is “the revolution of the Goth culture worldwide,” because every Goth person wants to be a vampire, I guess? He also has allies among other paramortal people, including “Werebeasts, Ghouls, Ghosts, even some of the darker and light Fey.” Why has it taken until Chapter 9 for these other paramortal types to even be mentioned? World building: this is not how you do it.

Finally, Alexei goes to sleep. Vampires apparently have to sleep in a coffin or in the earth to rest. Mildly interesting, but only mildly. Now we’re hopping to Tanis’s mind so he can tell us more about Osiris.

Gillian wakes up the next day and calls her superiors at the IPPA (this universe’s version of the APA only presumably more apt to interfere with things). They give her “carte blanche to do what she needed to stay alive and pull her client through, since he was apparently a main stumbling block in Dracula’s plan.” I guess somehow her madd therapy skillz are supposed to keep him alive? Also, in what way is Alexei a stumbling block? Oh, apparently the IPPA only now sees fit to tell her that Alexei “was sort of the unofficial major domo over the Vampires in Romania” and they want to be nice to Alexei because they want client referrals.

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That’s why she should be nice to him? Client referrals? Also, why are we just now being told this? I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: I feel like I’m reading the author’s first draft, where we’re told world building shit as it occurred to the author rather than where it actually needs to be.

There’s some weak “oh but we need information from Alexei” thing. The IPPA wants Gillian to stay and keep learning what she can. ABOUT WHAT, AND WHY?! Who knows.

We’re informed for the hojillionth time that Gill had never been prone to anxiety of any kind. She was calm, cold and calculating on the battlefield.” Because saying things makes them real and believable! Because she’s such a badass, she’s going to fly in the face of (presumed) danger (I guess) to visit Dante, her ghost client. Oh boy, this ought to be wonderfully boring.

La la la, we basically have a reprise of their first session. Now Dante is calling her “sweetness” in Italian. Why the fuck will nobody just call her an English pet name, or better yet, not objectify her with a pet name to begin with? We’re informed that “Dante had never really taken a female seriously. Until now.” Because…fuck, I don’t know. Because.

Dante is all over her trying to thank her, and it’s established once again that he has body heat. “Ghosts were about scaring the shit out of you. Okay, he was doing that too. Point for Dante. Gads.” But, as you may remember, Gillian is such a badass, she’s not prone to anxiety. Except she’s afraid of literally every other character in this book. I’m not saying she hasn’t earned the right to be afraid of the abusive, manipulative Rachlavs, but if you keep fucking telling me she’s not supposed to be afraid, what am I supposed to think? WHAT, I ask you?

Help, I've fallen and I can't get up

Dante feels “heaviness growing between his legs.

Testicular cancer infographic

Two in a row. Too much? Sorry.

Dante’s narrative says, “There were many things the lady did not know about the dead, it seemed.” I’m kind of astonished by the level of general cluelessness Gillian displays. I mean, really. She’s been doing this paramortal psychologist thing for a while, presumably. In this world, magic has been around for a long time, if it hasn’t been around forever (this isn’t really clear). Why does she need so much shit explained to her, and why does she not know so much? Because the reader doesn’t know anything? Having a character who isn’t knowledgeable can be a good avenue for explaining things to the reader, but it’s not always necessary, and in a situation like this, it’s awkward and makes Gillian look stupid. She doesn’t need any help in that regard.

Blah blah, Dante has a boner. For some reason, that’s weird. “Ghosts didn’t have blood, blood pressure or arteries with which to fill a penis.” But he’s not a zombie, right? He’s a spirit who can change shape and form at will? Presumably? Why does he need blood vessels to get hard? THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE?!

Gillian wants to know, “What the hell just happened?” Please god someone tell me.

Dante wants Gillian bad. “Living or dead didn’t matter to him but he made up his mind in that moment that she would be his.”

Could you fucking not?

OH BOY ANOTHER MAN WHO WANTS TO POSSESS HER THAT’S MY FAVORITE TROPE EVER

Gillian ruminates on Dante on her way back to the cabin. We’re basically told the same shit about Dante that the book has told us before. She doesn’t know why he can transubstantiate to the point where he can touch her. Presumably this is important to the plot, but she doesn’t actually make any effort to figure out how, and certainly no connection is made to the larger situation with Dracula. I don’t know about you, but that’s certainly the first place my mind would go if I ran across something that was terribly out of the ordinary.

And can I just stop to wonder again why there’s an Italian ghost in fucking Romania?

This is the most awkward chapter break so far, which ends after a semi-complete treatise on ghosts that I don’t care about and can’t be bothered to explain. At least Gillian admits that she should do some research before she goes back to see Dante. Every now and again she actually displays some competence, though only to the level that I would hope the average fucking person would rise.

Takeaways

I, like, can barely be mad at this chapter because it’s so pointless and confusing. There’s a bunch of muddled shit that does not in any way make a whole or even add in a clear, concrete way to what we know about Gillian’s situation, which is precious fucking little at this point. We are now 30% of the way through this book and I have no idea what’s going on. I do know I give zero fucks. This chapter is little other than an endless info-dump about things I should have known about chapters and chapters ago. The only bright spot is that I didn’t get heart palpitations of rage.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 7-8

Chapter 7 is really short and boring, so I’m going to tack it onto Chapter 8.

Chapter 7

We’re taking a break to meet Gillian’s other client (remember him?), which is a good fucking thing, because I cannot take any more of Tanis right now. I’m not sure why we’re taking this side-trip, but if it makes something plot-related happen, I’m all for it.

The other client is a ghost name Dante Montefiore. I really want to know why there’s so much Italian shit in here. I feel like I’m missing something. Every time I see Tanis use his stupid Italian endearments or this character appears, I do more research trying to figure out why the Italian shit is here, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why. One paragraph from the author explaining this would alleviate my desperate confusion, but I know I’m not going to get it. Sigh.

Dante was an expert swordsman who was hired by the family who owns the castle, the Boganskayas, as a mercenary. Basically, he got drunk and killed in the hallway. From his character description, he sounds like a real ass, “a ladies’ man and a true gentleman.”

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It’s too much to hope for one character I don’t hate in this novel. Definitely too much to hope for one male character who is neither a dick-waving alpha male or a flaccid cardboard cutout. Gillian is called in to “help Dante with some anger management and get him the hell out of their castle.” Actually mildly interesting. Maybe this subplot is so the touted “paramortal psychologist” line in the blurb can be further justified. Apparently Dante can also “transubstantiate,” meaning he can become temporarily solid. Again, mildly interesting, but I’m betting this bit of worldbuilding will remain incomplete. We’re mostly told this because Dante likes to spray blood and “gobbets of flesh” around, and Gillian is so tough, man, she can totally take it.

Gillian sets up a little ritual to summon Dante. Holy god, more worldbuilding! Well, I never!

Dante is predictably gorgeous with a “cavernous” voice. I’m pretty sure that’s not an adjective you can use to describe a voice. There’s some description about all the gore and the fear he’s projecting, and she tries “not to run screaming from the hall.” Except a couple pages ago the narrative was telling us how tough she was and that she could handle this. I should stop expecting narrative and action to coincide.

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Gillian speaks some ritual words to bind him to her. I sense the author, for whatever reason, is more interested and engaged with this scene, like she had this cool idea in the middle of the draft and had to find a way to roll it in as a subplot, because it was more interesting than what was going on in the main plot.

Dante is pissed about being bound, and he spits blood at her. This pisses her off, and because she has zero tolerance for anyone being pissed at her, for whatever reason, “There was more than one way to handle him and Gill chose one. She’d tried ‘polite’; now she went for ‘bitch.’” PS, he’s done nothing to deserve this except be upset that she’s bound him.

Dante is impressed by her spunk, I guess, and calms down. Is that it? Does this author think the only way for Gillian to gain a man’s respect is by being angry and bitchy? That’s gross.

Dante grabs her hand to kiss it, and his breath/hand is warm, which is apparently weird for ghosts. Gillian says ghosts can’t touch. If they can become solid, why can’t they touch? That seems odd to me.

Even though Gillian is mad at him for no reason, she can certainly still think sexual thoughts. He’s apparently “a stunning advertisement for wet-pantie syndrome.” The phraseology makes me think of those Overactive Bladder Syndrome commercials. He’s scary enough to make Gillian pee herself, maybe?

We’re now in Dante’s head as Gillian is explaining why she wants to help him, because he’s scaring the tourists away from the castle, etc. To no one’s surprise, Dante is “smitten” with Gillian immediately and “he found himself telling her things about his life that he’d never shared with anyone.” Because if my therapist forced me to be there (essentially what she did by binding him), snapped at me and called me a son of a bitch within five minutes of meeting me, I’d certainly want to tell her everything about myself. But, you know, Gillian is the protagonist, so everyone has to have a raging boner for her.

We’re treated to an info-dump about Dante’s past. This is the first couple of chapters all over again, and I’m already bored. I can’t decide whether this is better or worse than being enraged. The narrative reminds us that Gillian is “a natural empath,” which we may very well have forgotten about, since it only pops up when convenient.

Dante wants to ghost-crawl into Gillian’s pants, and she reminds him that “This is a professional relationship. I can’t help you if you take a personal interest in me.” Which means, naturally, that he’s going to keep after her.

Still no clues about why this little side-trip needs to be taken, but at least the chapter ends in a sensible fashion with Gillian leaving the castle.

Chapter 8

All of a sudden, the narrative reveals that Gillian is going to be doing the same thing to Dante as she originally was doing to Aleksei, which is to say, using him for intel. I’ll spare you the rant about professional ethics, even though she repeats that she’s “legitimately a licensed psychologist and [enjoys] that part of her career as much as being a special operative for Marine Corps.” Just, you know, in case you forgot about her professions. Why she assumes a ghost who’s been trapped in a castle for several centuries knows about vampires, I don’t know.

HOLY MOTHERFUCK YOU GUYS THERE’S ACTION HERE

Something supernatural has snuck into the car and grabs her. Turns out it’s a vampire. She stops the car and jumps out, only to be grabbed by the vampire again. All action stops, because she has to describe him, noting how handsome he is (this author sure does love to stop everything at inopportune times and notice how stunning the men are) and how he’s scarred from holy water. She has time to “muse” about him, presumably while he stands there and studies her pores.

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The vampire is apparently there to deliver a threat from Dracula: “Consider this a warning as to how vulnerable you really are.” Then he up and wanders away.

Why the fuck doesn’t he kill her? There’s absolutely no reason not to, from his (or Dracula’s) perspective. If they wanted to send a message to the Rachlavs, they could just kill her and dump her body on their doorstep. The narrative notes that “It was Dracula’s way to toy with people first.” Yeah, okay, that’s marginally better than “because she’s the protagonist” as reasons go, but still pretty stupid.

She’s really upset from “her newest near death experience.” This scene is supposed to make her more human, and I would really appreciate that except she didn’t bat an eye at Tanis, who arguably did worse to her than grabbing her in the car. And he’s done it more than once. But, you know, he’s a love interest, so it doesn’t count.

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Aleksei notices she’s upset when he comes back and telepathically contacts Tanis to tell him something has happened. He smells another vampire on her and notes that “Dracula had announced his presence.” Aleksei’s “arm’s [ache] to hold her,” but since he’s her patient, he can’t. Since he is literally the only person who actually cares about her professional ethics, I should appreciate this, but I’m not sure that in this context, given that he can safely assume that she was just in a life-or-death situation, professional ethics really applies. This is really just an excuse to get Tanis into the mix.

Tanis approaches her and hugs her from behind. Let me repeat: Tanis approaches the emotionally overwrought, stressed combat veteran and grabs her from behind. This motherfucker is just a chronic boundary-shatterer and I hate him more every second. Fortunately, Gillian’s empathy recognizes him.

Tanis. Materializing as he pulled her close.” Wait, what? Materializing? I don’t know what this means.

Tanis “[feels] her body recoil, ready to fight,” so naturally he ignores her obvious physical stress, picks her up, and carries her to the porch, physically restraining her.

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Oh my fucking god, fuck this guy so hard.

While we’re at it, FUCK ALEKSEI JUST AS HARD.

A chilly glance at Aleksei from Gillian told him she didn’t appreciate his interference. It didn’t take a genius to know that he’d called his brother. His smug smile confirmed it. He knew what she needed as Tanis did and would make sure she got it one way or the other.

The Men know better than she does what she needs, y’all. It doesn’t matter that they’re fucking forcing her, after being through an event that the narrative itself says was traumatic, to accept their help. Jesus Henry Christ.

Gillian finds it hard to accept comfort. Of course.

It had been a long time, like never, since she’d been able to lean on anyone, and it was nearly impossible for her to open up. Even when the source of comfort was wrapped in a six foot, six inch package that looked like a case study in Vampire virtues.

Apparently Vampire virtues include physical and verbal abuse, sexual coercion, and rampant, flagrant sexism. YOU PICKED A REAL CHARMER GILLIAN.

She tells him to fuck off.  “Do not be nice to me right now. I need to handle this. If you start with the tea and sympathy, I will fall apart.” This is a decent line if it didn’t express Gillian’s complete emotional constipation. Aleksei and Tanis are upset by this, and one of them (the narrative is unclear about whose perspective this is) notes, “Time for a little lesson in relationships for both of them.” OH BOY, LESSON TIME. “She didn’t want comfort but she needed it.” I could maybe, maybe buy this if the Rachlavs knew her very well, but even then, this is a violation of boundaries. She doesn’t want help. Maybe she does need it, but forcing it on someone does not actually make the situation better. But who the fuck am I kidding? Boundaries are for reasonable books, and this one is fucking INSANITY

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So they manage to convince her to “let it out” and she starts crying. I can’t even appreciate this display of humanity and vulnerability because everything else about the situation is fucked up. This could be a tender moment, except she’s being forcibly “comforted” by the dude who’s been repeatedly abusive toward her. Fuuuuuucked uuuuuuuuuup.

Aleksei is amazed at how Tanis is handling “their new little blond accompaniment,” since god fucking forbid they go two fucking pages without objectifying her. So she cries it out, and Tanis assures her that they don’t think less of her and that it’s normal to be upset. There’s “a wealth of reprimand in his voice.” I have honestly never hated a character in a book more than I hate Tanis.

As she’s telling them what happened on the drive home from the boring ghost appointment, Aleksei and Tanis have a telepathic conversation, which would be benign except they’re talking about her while she’s sitting right there in front of them. There’s some vague talk about bonding, and I’m starting to dread reading further.

Aleksei broaches the topic, though not before Gillian pauses to note his “overwhelming ‘maleness.'” Oh, he wants to create a blood tie. Gillian refuses, and then we get this:

She would refuse the offer out of hand, whether it would keep her alive or not, simply because she wanted no permanent attachment to them or anyone else. So she was stubborn as well as volatile. That irritated him. Personal preferences were one thing; simply refusing because she hadn’t thought of it first was not an option.

This…makes no sense. It’s one of those things that starts out relatively reasonable (putting herself in continued danger for her commitment phobia is silly), but where did the last sentence come from? What in this situation makes him think she’s mad just because she didn’t think of a blood tie first?

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Gillian gives a list of her qualifications followed by an admission of her vulnerability. The Rachlavs trap her, fucking again, and Tanis presses the issue, saying that all her training, etc. won’t necessarily help her in the vampire world. For the millionth time, we have that shining pearl of truth utterly mired in the kind of bullshit that comes from eating nothing but Taco Bell and drinking nothing but Rockstar for three weeks straight.

Gillian again refuses, and I am completely shocked when the Rachlavs don’t force her into the blood tie but instead say they’ll find another way. My god, you mean she actually has a choice in something? This says to me that maybe this book was edited, and the editor picked this battle, telling the author that no, she really can’t just be railroaded into the blood tie. Oh, but then Aleksei, who’s been Passive McStagedressing up until now, insists that they’ll have to consider it if it becomes necessary.

No, we will not argue this point until it becomes necessary. Your agency has given you authority to act as you see fit. It will not penalize you for staying alive, Gillian.

Yes, because her bosses’ disapproval is the only reason why she might not want to do a blood tie to two overbearing, abusive motherfuckers.

So they argue “into the night” about this until we have these absolutely gem-like sentences: “Aleksei angrily called a halt finally, and said he would find someone to shadow her. His dynamic, prevailing personality making an appearance when Gillian tried to protest.” The grammar, it hurts so much. Aleksei’s “dynamic personality” manifests as a manipulative bastard:

“There is no argument in this matter, Gillian.” Aleksei’s silvery eyes were positively sparking. “If you neglect your safety, I will contact the IPPA and demand the right to reprimand you professionally for causing me, your client, undue stress.”

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Now that Tanis has decided to be a “gentleman,” I guess it’s time for Aleksei to take over as Dickward Extraordinaire. Not only is he using her profession as leverage, but he’s demanding the right to professionally reprimand her, as if he has the fucking right to administer a reprimand. Whatever would he do…maybe…SPANK HER? I need to chew an aspirin.

Now he’s going to threaten her physically, too. I can’t even handle this shit. He repeats his threat and tells her that she has to do as he says. It’s Tanis’s turn to stand by and do absolutely fuck all. After Aleksei leaves, he tells her, “Do not judge him or me by Human standards, Gillian,” because heaven forbid she requires them to respect her and treat her like a person instead of a fucking possession. This book really ought to be read in a feminist studies class, the final project being an analysis of how many ways this book is shockingly sexist.

Oh boy! And it just goes on!

Tanis kisses her, because no misogynist censure is complete without some forcible sexual contact. She “[sits] passively, allowing the kiss, not wanting to enflame him.”

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KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN

Yes, folks, she’s been traumatized, restrained, threatened, coerced, and now she’s going to be sexually assaulted! Again! WHAT FUN THIS IS!

Oh, but it turns out okay, because Tanis is only offering comfort. He carries her off to bed and spoons her. She “relaxed after a bit when it was clear to her that he really wasn’t trying to seduce her tonight.”

Takeaways

I HATE EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE IN THIS BOOK. It’s so forced, pun kind of intended. The main character has to be humanized and vulnerable so she turns to the love interest(s), so I guess she has to get attacked. This is pretty standard and could be done well, but this is exactly the way not to do it. The author is moving barbie dolls around and smashing them against each other, but there’s no sympathy, no chemistry, just aggressive, manipulative douchebaggery cut occasionally with boring. I know I’m supposed to like and care about these characters and want them to succeed, but I feel like I’m being manipulated the same way Gillian is. The sexual politics in this book are absolutely abhorrent, and I’m not being hyperbolic.

This Sinfest cartoon demonstrates part of the dynamic here:

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The “fine print” is, “having my way with you.”

The Rachlavs care so much about Gillian! WHY WON’T SHE LET THEM CARE ABOUT HER?!

Fuck. Just..fuck. I’m rendered inarticulate by how offensive this is.

Chapter 6 here. Chapter 9 coming soon.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 6

Note: I realized I’ve been spelling Aleksei’s name as “Alexei” for five chapters, so I apologize for the misspelling. That shows how few fucks I give for his character, I suppose.

It’s been a while since I read this chapter. I think this is where the towering inferno of my rage transformed into

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…but I could be wrong, and as I reread this to recap it for you, I may again transform into a creature of molten rage, bile, and regret, which, if you ever wondered, tastes exactly like Five Hour Energy.

As you might recall, at the end of the awkward chapter break, Alekei was saying he hoped he wouldn’t have to intervene between Gillian and Tanis again, because he did such an amazing job the last two times they had a physical conflict. There’s some awkward sexual innuendo from Gillian, and Tanis comes over to kiss her hand, apparently having decided to be gentlemanly all of a sudden. He offers to walk her down the mountain and when she hesitates, he taunts her by saying, “Scared, piccola?”

I don’t know about you, but if someone had just physically assaulted me and then kept getting all up in my space, this would be my reaction to his “chivalry”:

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How much sympathy do I give her for being believably afraid in this situation before I think she’s just a fucking idiot? I think this is my limit, especially since, as I mentioned in the last chapter, the narrative says it’s no big deal.

Anyway, she replies to Tanis, “Not hardly.” I shouldn’t pick on grammar in dialogue, I suppose, especially since my own characters are uneducated and far from grammatically correct, but this particular double negative is one of my pet peeves. If you’re “not hardly” scared, that means you are scared.

Gillian “reached a delicate but strong hand up and ran a fingertip down the side of Tanis’s face,” though why I have no idea. Character behavior in this book is so weird. Gillian also says, “I have no reason to be afraid of you.”

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True to form, Aleksei is worried about their “sexually charged horseplay” but does nothing about it, letting Tanis and Gillian go off alone. Aleksei tells Gillian he doesn’t appreciate her lying about why she came here, a statement that seems completely misplaced. I just have this sense we’re reading a first draft, or close to a first draft, because it seems like things happen in the order they occur to the writer. I do this in my first drafts, too, forgetting I needed to address something three pages ago and tossing it in so I don’t lose it, but I, you know, edit to fix it later.

As they’re wandering down the mountain, she feels “a brief stirring of fear, [dismisses] it, then [takes] a moment and [admires] him.” See above Buddy Jesus. This might be the inconsistency I hate the most. She keeps saying she isn’t afraid, but then she’s afraid anyway. I can’t tell whether it’s bluster or bad characterization. Unfortunately I lean toward the latter, because there’s no indication that we’re supposed to be aware that her words and her emotions/actions aren’t consistent.

So they’re weirdly, awkwardly flirting. He threatens to spank her again, she backs away, and OH HERE IT IS WE’RE BACK TO RAGE. Let me go straight summary for a bit here before I begin frothing at the mouth.

So he threatens her, she backs away, he stalks her (the narrative’s word). She says she’s aware that he could “fuck [her] and leave with absolutely no affect on [his] conscience.”

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He agrees that he could do this, but he says, “Would you rather I left you strictly alone? Not express my desire for you? Tell me, Gillian. I will respect your wishes but do not play with me.” She suddenly realizes he’s hurt and that she thinks she’s been playing with him/leading him on:

Self-defense mechanism in overdrive. Why? Why, indeed. He scared her, that’s why. His attraction to her scared her but not because he wanted her in bed. He scared her because she saw things in him that she liked and admired, though she couldn’t put her finger on any of it. He disconcerted her.

THAT IS SO FUCKED.

This is the definition of sexual coercion. Making her feel bad because oh, he’s attracted to her and can’t resist her and how dare she play with his feelings like this. People very dear to me have been victims of coercive sexual assault, and out of respect for them I won’t detail this too much, but if here is information about sexual coercion if you want to know (trigger warning). Suffice to say that this is not fucking okay. What is most okay about it is that the author has set Gillian up to like and admire parts of his personality…though even she doesn’t know what parts those might be. MAYBE BECAUSE THERE AREN’T ANY.

Suddenly, Gillian turns into a reasonable person. Here’s her response:

Are you simply being an ass because you are unused to a grown woman who can take care of herself? I’ve commanded men on the battlefield, Tanis. I am not going to suddenly become agreeable and submit to whatever you want to do. I am not going to be one of those wide-eyed Humans who will worship you because you’re a Vampire and lower yourself to have sex with me. If you want a fan club, you’ve got the wrong girl. I need a better reason for going to bed with you than you being bigger and badder than me.

I’m almost happy about this, but really, all I can think of is the fact that, once again the author shows she knows how fucked up this is, but she does it anyway. So, so many mixed messages here. You can’t have her react as if she’s afraid but then say she’s not really afraid and stand up for herself one second and have her go along with whatever the next even though she is (might be?) reluctant. This is so confusing and I don’t know how to feel about any of it, except dirty.

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Predictably, Tanis gets pissed and lectures her. I’ve almost become numb to this bullshit at this point. Almost.

You need to learn a few things, piccola, like why a man might desire you and want to take care of you; or why I might find you attractive in ways that have nothing to do with sexual need. It is not an insult, Gillian, to be under my protection.

“No matter what your choice here tonight, I will never withdraw that, or the offer of my friendship, if that is what you wish.”

You know how when you’re so overwhelmed by a situation, you start noticing the weirdest shit? When I was in the hospice center with my estranged dying father, I remember noticing that everything was pink, and at that moment I recalled a TV show I’d seen once where they colored everything in a prison pink because it was supposed to be a soothing color. In that quote, all I could see the first couple times I read it were the annoying grammatical errors, like the misplaced semicolon and the nonsensical wording in the second paragraph.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is some patriarchal bullshit. Let’s start with you need to learn why men might want you. This is message every female-assigned-at-birth person receives growing up: men will want you. More often than not, this is couched in the form of a threat. The adolescent sex talk has to include warnings about how girls need to be careful about what they do, say, etc. and not encourage men too much. They’re taught to be afraid of their own sexuality, because it might result in them being assaulted or taken advantage of. On the flip side of that is this twisted message about how you should want men to desire you, and you shouldn’t do anything to endanger that desire or you’ll face repercussions (like dying a worthless spinster). So basically, we’re being told, through Tanis, that Gillian needs to stop standing up for herself and realize that he wants her, so she should give him what he wants and shut the fuck up about it, shame on her.

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Gillian admits that she needs Tanis’s and Aleksei’s protection. While I agree, I’m upset that it had to come to this to get her to admit it. Why does she need to be coerced, assaulted, and harassed into believing this? Oh, right, because she doesn’t actually have the mental or emotional maturity to come to that decision on her own. Fuck.

She says she’s “judging [Tanis] and Aleksei by Human standards, and that’s unfair.” So she’s excusing Tanis’s appalling behavior because he’s a vampire and therefore inclined to be a predatory paternalistic douchebag, I guess.

He’s so happy she said that that he hugs her and says, “I am sure that I have been a difficult man to deal with.” OH BABY I’M SORRY I DIDN’T MEAN IT I’LL BE BETTER DON’T LEAVE ME “It is not like me to lose control like that, but you needed it.”

I’m going to issue another trigger warning for domestic abuse. Allow me to point you toward this site that demonstrates, rather nicely, the cycle of domestic abuse. He abuses her, feels guilty, rationalizes his behavior, gives excuses.

I don’t know what made me think this scene wasn’t so egregious when I read it the first time. I want to point out that this is a romance book, and how many times have we seen outright abusive behavior? Just…fuck.

Gillian protests, they kinda-sorta grapple, and he kisses her. She’s suddenly all over it and she wants the Vampire D. He grabs her ass, she flinches, and he more or less demands to see her bruises. He wants to see his handiwork. I am genuinely sick to my stomach right now. She refuses because she’s “not dropping trou out here, in the middle of nowhere.” Pay attention, here. She’s setting a boundary. He taunts her for it, of course, and she walks off.

We hop into Tanis’s head as he’s ogling her. “Totally secure and unafraid, she had relied upon herself in the worst of situations as a combat veteran. It could be a definite problem, that kind of confidence here, in his world.” I just bet it is. I get what he’s saying, I guess, but given the context, it’s just digging that bullshit hole even deeper.

He keeps running out in front of her and fondling/grabbing/kissing her.

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She calls him a “grabtastic snotwad.” These weird little phrases might be clever if they weren’t so out of place. They just sound juvenile.

Tanis stumbles, and she rushes after him, suddenly all worried he cracked his head open. She trips, too, and ends up “falling partly across his lap.” Jesus fucking Christ, is that the only way she ever falls? Even she points it out: “Every other minute you’re either trying to fondle me or you’ve got me over your lap.” But she’s smiling, so it’s no big deal, you see.

Tanis responds, “It’s karma, piccola. The universe knows you need a guiding hand.”

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To be honest, I think certain people do need a guiding hand, more so than others. In a 24/7 BDSM arrangement, it’s commonly accepted that the dominant person will guide the submissive in most, if not all, situations, even outside of a sexual context. Two of my own characters are like this. They’re just not good at making their own decisions and probably never will be. In short, I don’t have a problem with the “guiding hand” on principle. But I’ll remind you that Gillian is supposed to be competent and independent, and Tanis does nothing but demean her and try to undermine the independence the narrative insists she has. I mentioned earlier that the dynamic is all about taking the strong woman down a peg, and that keeps getting truer and clearer. It’s fucking nauseating.

So now they’re going to fuck. He grabs her “feminine heat,” which I’m sure makes her “personal humidity index” skyrocket again.

They rub up against each other. There’s the typical bad romance euphamisms, which for the most part make me neither laugh nor roll my eyes because I’m too pissed about everything else. “Their tongues dueled” does make me smile a little if only because it reminds me of this:

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I’m just going to point out that about five minutes ago story-wise, she insisted that she wasn’t going to “drop trou” in the middle of nowhere, but here she is, “riding him to heaven.”

Oh, nope, sexytimes stop. She sets another boundary: she doesn’t want him to bite her. Reasonable, right? He suddenly takes to calling her cara mia, which is Italian for “my dear.” Again, why the fuck is he using Italian phrases? He admits, “I am trying very hard to play the Human suitor, but I am not sure what the rules are.” See, this could actually be good if Tanis hadn’t spent the last five chapters being an utterly repugnant asshole.

Thus begins a really bizarre consent conversation, which Gillian opens by saying, “This isn’t rape, you know. In fact, I’m practically raping you.”

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NO. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!

The fact that this scene is being written to minimize what he’s done to her thus far, and the fact that he basically tackled her to have sex with her, by saying that she’s raping him is beyond the pale. Ironically, Tiger Gray’s recap of Narcissus in Chains, an Anita Blake novel, contains a scene that is strikingly similar in theme (trigger warning for an even more overt rape scene). What the fuck would occur to the author to throw around the word “rape” as applied to the protagonist and not her aggressor? I ask you, WHAT. THE. FUCK?

I just have to note that it was at this point when my Kindle decided to freeze. It just could not take it anymore.

Consent conversation goes on. Tanis is all of a sudden Good Guy Tanis. He says, “Gillian, you only have to say stop and I will stop. You have nothing to fear from me, now or ever.”

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EXCEPT THE ENTIRE BOOK SO FAR HAS BEEN ABOUT ALL THE WAYS HE’S A CREEP AND HOW HE MAKES HER NERVOUS YOU CANNOT JUST SAY THAT AND MAKE IT TRUE I HATE EVERYTHING I WANT TO WATCH THE WORLD BURN

Oh, but then he’s ‘splaining to her. “If I am arrogant, overprotective or chauvanistic, it is not because I do not respect you. It is because I know no other way to be.” I just…remember what I said about excuses and rationalizing behavior? Yeah.

Talk talk talk, they come to some accord and get back to the fucking. He “[pushes] up against the V in her legs.” The preposition in rather than between turns it from a lame romance euphamism into what sounds like a medical issue.

So they fuck. Not much of note there, bog standard romance novel fare. There’s not much to recommend it. He keeps calling her Italian endearments, much to my annoyance, and it’s fucking boring hetero sex. I don’t mind slightly formulaic sex scenes in novels if I give a shit about the characters, but as you might be able to tell, my feelings range from don’t-give-a-fuck to seething hatred for these characters. I basically read it to see if there was anything funny. In that, it did not disappoint.

Jets of his seed erupted, pouring into her.”

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I actually enjoy some dirty shit in sex scenes, but you have to be so careful that it doesn’t turn out ridiculous. This scene is trying so hard to be serious, and then come the euphamisms. He came. He came inside her. A lot. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT.

Because it’s a romance novel, now that they’ve had sex, he’s all sweet and tender toward her. “You may have had sex, piccola, but for me, it was making love.” Predictably, Tanis’s personality takes an about-face now that he’s gotten what he wanted. He calls her cherie, which is French. PICK A FUCKING LANGUAGE. Here’s a gem:

“I hope you do not regret this moment, Gillian.”

“I’ll deal with it.”

How telling. “Well, yeah, this was a terrible idea, but I’ll suck it up, I guess.”

So they head back toward the house. Gillian hears a wolf and immediately wants to go chase it down because…why? She’s an idiot? Oh, right. Tanis needs to take her back to the house because he needs to feed and after he’s had sex, it’s not safe for her to be around him. This is the first honestly considerate thing he’s done in the whole book so far. Tanis? Is that really you?

Once again, Gillian insists she’s not afraid of him. I should start keeping a count of how many times she says this. He fangsplodes. Not kidding, “Fangs exploded in his mouth and fire blazed in his eyes.” That sounds really painful. He tells her she should be afraid of him, and he’s completely right.He was trying to warn her, to protect her. Gillian choked on the thought, but realized she had to accept his judgment.” Another moment where someone has a reasonable reaction, but the way it’s explained in the narrative is shitty and sexist.

This scene just goes on, goddamn.

Finally, they get back to the house. Aleksei waiting for them and is rather irritated and jealous, but he just blands at her. I guess this is what passes for tension with Aleksei. She locks the door when she goes inside. “It wouldn’t have stopped either of them had they wanted inside–they had both been invited.” But in the first chapter, it’s established that she can revoke the invitation at any time. Consistency? What’s that?

Aleksei and Tanis have a conversation. Sweet Jesus, is this fucking chapter over yet? They “set wards around the perimeter,” an ability that I didn’t even know about until now and which isn’t explained at all. The narrative tells us, “Now, they needed to find a Daywalking fait accompli.” In the second chapter, Aleksei mentions in passing that Tanis is a Daywalker. Did anybody edit this fucking thing?

As the chapter oozes to a close, Aleksei accuses Tanis of trying to steal his therapist, but Tanis says, “You cannot expect her to see you as anything but a patient at this time. To do so, for her would be unethical.” This from the guy who spent the first couple of chapters (rightly) dogging on her lack of professionalism is hilarious.

Takeaways

Oh my god, what a wretched chapter. I wish I could muster more surprise for Tanis’s hideous behavior and the pathetic efforts of the narrative to insist that everything is okay. I find the consent conversation really fucking weird, like it’s an attempt to be enlightened and feminist, but the whole thing is so anti-feminist it hurts my soul. The main takeaway I want to point out here is

YOU CANNOT JUST SAY THINGS AND MAKE THEM TRUE.

What your characters say, what the narrative insists is true, must be visible in action, thought, and emotion. Everything the narrative says is contradicted or mixed up in some bizarre fashion. Like, sometimes it takes a step in the right direction, only to completely undermine and trip over itself in the next few words. I mean, here is the whole narrative:

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Nice concept, could be interesting and compelling. WHIFFED IT.

I don’t even have a watchlist anymore. Everything is terrible.

Chapter five is here. Chapter 7-8 here. Brace yourself.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 5

Well, after a few days away from the last terrible chapter, I’m a little less like this:

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And more like this:

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Ah, but that will quickly change as I read through this chapter again.

So this chapter begins while Gillian is sitting by herself, upset about just being fucking spanked (see, it’s happening already). Tanis is laughing, and Alexei is like, “Fuck you, bro,” only in his completely flaccid, uninteresting way. Tanis claims, “The first time that little spitfire puts herself in danger, or the next time she lies to you, will be the time we see the calm Alexei come apart with fury.” Um, you mean put herself in danger like the time Tanis showed up and she attacked him and Alexei did fuck all?

Alexei tells Tanis he better make nice with Gillian, because going after her in the woods after assaulting her is such a good idea. Anyway, they both go off to find her. Gillian calls the Rachlavs “knuckle-dragging troglodytes.” This is another instance that shows me the author is at least partly conscious about the bad behavior of her protagonists but keeps writing them that way anyway. Ugh.

Tanis thinks Gillian is like “a lost fairy queen: small, blonde, magical,” which bounces me right back to the subtle diminishing language that bleeds through the narrative. She’s such a badass, you guys, but SHE’S SO DELICATE AND FEMININE. Why do female protagonists have to be tiny and blonde? Why can’t there be a big fat brown female protagonist for once? (That means I have to write one, naturally.) Tanis is attracted to her for her spunk (of course), and he actually wants to…GASP…APOLOGIZE?! What is the world coming to?! …oh…wait. Alexei ends up apologizing for him.

The narrative refers to “The gray-eyed Master Vampire,” which took me a minute to figure out. I had to flip back through to remember that Alexei has gray eyes and Tanis has gold eyes. Pro-tip: don’t refer to your characters by a vague descriptor when you can just use their names, especially when there are two very similar characters in the same scene.

Gillian is furious, fucking understandably, both about being assaulted and the fact that neither vampire told her they were descended from Dracula. Now I wondered how she didn’t know that before. Special Forces intelligence? Yes? No? Alexei tries to talk her down. She starts to think about killing them and she “[isn’t] going down without taking somebody with her.” This could be a fairly tense scene if there wasn’t so much fuckery and distance between Alexei’s announcement of their origins and this discussion. I also find it weird that Gillian didn’t really react this way when he had her, yanno, holed up in the pub or trapped in the car on the way back, but maybe she’s just now beginning to sober up and realize what’s going on. (PS, this is why it’s fucking stupid to drink on the job!)

Alexei is portrayed as being gentle and calm and reasonable here, but he’s not really saying much, which at this point doesn’t surprise me. He’s supposed to be the voice of reason, but he doesn’t really do much. Tanis, of course, has to undermine Alexei’s efforts by coming up behind Gillian and grabbing her. Here’s what fucking happens next:

“Tanis, either you let me go right now, or you kill me right now. I’ve had enough.” She spat the words out but didn’t struggle in his iron grip. It would have been futile anyway. She wasn’t moving unless he wanted her to.

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Once again, we have some truly patriarchal, unwholesome shit in the narrative. You could argue it completely undermines the surface message we’re supposed to get about Gillian being an empowered woman if she gives in, but it’s worse than that. What I find so hideous about it is that that reaction is completely understandable. She’s had her bodily integrity compromised by being assaulted, so of course she’s going to try to avoid harm by shutting down and being passive. Gillian is kind of an idiot and I don’t like her, but she’s being victimized here and I find that upsetting.

She says,

“You want me to listen? Fine. I’ll listen. I just love having conferences with Machiavellian undead in the middle of the fucking forest in the middle of the fucking night.”

That line actually made me smile, but I’ll point out that it’s only amusing because it’s absurd, and it’s absurd because the author set it up that way. I mentioned in my review of the first chapter that I’m not a big fan of absurd, especially since in this book it just comes off like this:

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To no one’s fucking surprise, this is Tanis’s response:

“Perhaps the lesson we began back at the gate needs to be reinforced, piccola, if you are going to begin with ill-advised and derogatory statements.”

But it’s okay that he’s now not only sexist and insulting but also abusive, because he genuinely cares, y’all. Oh my god, I cannot even take this. It’s classic abuser shit, policing language or tone with threats and retaliation. It sincerely makes me shudder. This book started out just stupid and ridiculous, but now it’s taken a sharp turn into god-awfully offensive. What’s just as bad is that Alexei is just standing there like, “lol Tanis you’re kind of a jerk but I’m going to be like the fence post and stand here saying nothing to stop your abusive behavior and threats.”

Gillian gives in and backs off, though she claims, “I’m not afraid of either of you.” I feel really sorry for her here, since she’s being confronted with two behemoth vampires in the middle of the fucking woods but still trying to keep her footing, but I don’t think I’m actually meant to feel that sorry for her, and the narrative just moves on like it’s not a big fucking deal. You can tell how pissed I am by the number of times I use “fucking.” I’m not sorry about it.

Alexei wants her to understand what’s going on, so he wants to enter her mind. Why this is necessary, I don’t really know. He says, “I will not force you, nor will Tanis.

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A little fucking late for that, yes?! I fucking hate Alexei just as much as Tanis, because he’s not only being complicit in Tanis’s abuse by not even trying to stop him, but also subtly gaslighting her by telling her that of course they wouldn’t hurt her.

Alexei opens his mind completely to her, and this wins her trust. She shows some competence in how she treats him, not going to deep, but he also notes that this means she has “a deep-seated fear of getting too involved on a personal level with anyone.” Oh, god, this again? Why does every protagonist ever have to be a commitment phobe? The 18th century called, romance writers. It wants its hard-to-get back. I’m not saying this trope can’t work sometimes–I certainly have characters like this–but shit, can we not have a romance protagonist who wants friends and wants a partner and doesn’t have to go kicking and screaming into relationships? There are other ways to create romantic tension.

The narrative doesn’t tell us what Gillian sees in his mind. The conversation wanders away from that subject immediately and completely. Gillian says she’s a sociopath because she “allow[s] [her] survival skills to take over” sometimes.

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This does not make you a fucking sociopath. Here is the DSM-IV-TR definition of sociopath. She meets a couple of these criteria (particularly about having a low threshold for anger and violence), but I really just blame that on her being a poorly-characterized idiot than a sociopath. Also, if she’s supposed to be this fantastically empathetic person, by definition, she cannot be a sociopath. Sociopaths can read people really well, yes, and one could argue that a socio/psychopath with the ability to magically read people’s feelings would make a scary fucking enemy, but we know this is not the way we’re meant to read Gillian. For one thing, it goes against genre. For another, everything in the book is meant to prop up this idea that Gillian is this amazing person. You cannot be an amazing person and a sociopath.

Alexei insists that she is not in fact a sociopath (THANK YOU) and that “Young and female to us, Gillian, inspires a deep protective instinct that is difficult for an older male Vampire to overcome.” I have to pause here for a grammar check and note that “young” and “female” are adjectives in this sentence and so can’t act as the subject of the sentence. It makes no sense. What Alexei is actually saying does make sense, though it’s more patriarchal bullshit that is handled poorly. Gillian doesn’t want to be looked after.

AUUUGGHHHHH

LOOK. It is not anti-feminist to accept or even want help. She is a human about to be in the middle of a vampire fight, and these are two centuries-old behemoth vampires. She needs help, for fuck’s sake. Now, I have a female character like this. She insists she has to do everything herself and gets mad at herself when she needs help. But she is not meant to be a strong, positive character yet–she needs a lot of time and development as a person to get there. We’re to assume that Gillian is supposed to be both strong and positive. There is so much you can get away with in a novel, so much that can make it interesting and nuanced, if you don’t keep insisting that fucked-up behavior and thought patterns are no big deal.

Back to this stupid conversation, where they finally get around to telling Gillian the danger involved in this vampire turf war against Dracula (PS, 16% of the way through this book and we’re only kinda-sorta talking about the stakes). Alexei tells her Dracula has a bunch of spies who probably followed her and might have seen her at the pub, etc. Gillian sits down to listen and Tanis sits down next to her, putting his arm around her. She doesn’t reject it, probably because she’s worried what he’ll do to her if she does.

Anyway, we’re treated to more worldbuilding, finally. There are three main vampire bloodlines: Dracula’s, Osiris’s, and Dionysus. I can see Osiris, I guess, but why Dionysus? And why are the other two supposed to be gods, and Dracula isn’t? The narrative doesn’t say. We’re also told that China and India also have kinda-vampires that are “mindless, damaged, self-directed corpses who chew more than they drink and who are the true horrors in our culture” because DEM ORIENTALS IS DANGEROUS Y’ALL. Why not throw some racial fuckery in there as well?

ImageGillian wonders, “how did I get a target painted on my ass?” even though Alexei basically just told her how (Dracula’s spies). Have I mentioned Alexei ostensibly showed her all this inside his mind? Why do that if we’re just going to go over this again? She also wants to know how she’s supposed to help them, which I’ve wanted to know for like two chapters. Alexei comes over to sit on her other side, effectively trapping her, because that’s the way to gently convince someone to stick around and help them. He explains some more shit about the situation but never answers her question about how she’s supposed to help, because I suspect the author doesn’t know either. Basically, they want her to stay because they want to keep her safe, which I’m almost positive they’ve said at least once before. Gillian admits she’s out of her depth (finally) and says they should all “keep a lid on our tempers.” She tries to make peace with Tanis, which he remarks makes her just cute…and brave.” BARF.

Gillian asks what piccola means, and Tanis confirms that it is in fact an Italian word (why??) meaning “little one.” Sigh. Gillian says, “I feel like a fraternity mascot,” which the vampires find amusing. Their laughter is awkwardly compared to, “a bubbling hot tub filled with chocolate or honey, but frothy and light.”

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This is what I got when I Googled “chocolate hot tub.” Don’t blame me.

No less awkward is Gillian thinking of the Rachlavs as “the two pantie-drenching males,” which makes them sound like they go around pouring some kind of liquid into ladies’ underwear. Maybe the chocolate and honey from their frothy hot tubs. (Oh, fuck, I’m sorry for that image.)

So some kind of accord is reached. Alexei says he doesn’t want to intervene between them. I don’t know what he’s worried about, since he hasn’t been bothered to lift a fucking finger up until now. Tanis and Gillian have a staring contest, and she notes that “he wasn’t trying to bespell her.” What does this mean? It sounds mildly interesting. But of course we aren’t told. We’re also told,

If Tanis wanted her, willing or not, he could make her his and she would have no idea the thought wasn’t her own. The fact that he was obviously offering but allowing her a chance and choice said something about his inherent character.

DOES IT NOW. Not the physical abuse, intimidation, and threats, but the fact that he hasn’t fucking mind-raped her and/or torn her apart makes him worthy of trust?! I can’t even blame Gillian as a character for this. I place the blame clearly within the narrative–nay, within the author for trying to sell me on this shit.

The chapter ends in the middle of a conversation again. I’m not even mad, because I’ve reached capacity for dealing with this shit.

Takeaways

This is supposed to be the pivotal scene where the protagonist makes the decision to get involved in the over-arching conflict, the stakes are explained, etc., but it’s yet another scene of them standing around talking in some random awkward place: first the doorway of Gillian’s guest house, then the pub, now the middle of the woods. Five chapters of this. If I weren’t fueled by rage at this point, I would be so fucking bored. The sprinkle of plot and worldbuilding is not enough to sustain my interest, and I certainly don’t give a shit about any of the characters enough to care about what happens to them.

I’m torn between feeling awful for Gillian because she’s in a shitty, abusive situation and she seems to be trying to minimize harm done to herself and being frustrated with her because she’s still waltzing merrily into some kind of compact with the Rachlavs. They tell her Dracula will find her if she leaves, etc. etc. but what reason does she have to believe them? She doesn’t even try to confirm any of this information with her bosses. She clearly wasn’t aware of this turf war or the stakes until the Rachlavs told her, but she decides to stick around anyway, acting like she doesn’t have a choice. Sure she does. Why doesn’t she at least call her bosses and ask to be extracted? She has zero reason to stay, unless it’s that weird contrived therapist-client relationship she’s kinda-sorta-but-not-really established with Alexei. One would suppose that imminent danger, if she believes the Rachlavs, would be a decent reason to break that arrangement. She also has zero reason to help someone who assaulted, belittled, insulted, and threatened her.

In short, I don’t know why she cares so much. I don’t know why this matters to her personally. I don’t know why I should care.

Watch list

  • Sexual politics. This is my very articulate impression of the development of sexual politics in this book:
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TOWERING VOLCANIC RAGE

This chapter might be an even bigger travesty of sexual politics than the last one. Again with the mixed messages: Gillian reacts in a realistic way when being threatened again just after being assaulted, but the narrative treats it like no big deal. We’re meant to believe this paternalistic bullshit about how the Rachlavs just want to protect her and that the assault and threats are just lol tempers flaring it’s all a misunderstanding. It makes me so uncomfortable, especially since I’m being bounced around between empathy for Gillian’s fear and discomfort with her stupid decisions and actions. The narrative goes out of its way to explain that they’re not trying to coerce her into staying, though that’s certainly arguable given the situation. I’m never sure how to feel about anything that happens and I don’t trust anything in this book and excuse me I’m going to hide under my desk with my cats and drink heavily.

Not much to say about professional ethics or competence this chapter.

Chapter four is here. Chapter six is here.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 4

Well, here we are. The big, dangerous, tense standoff between Tanis and Gillian. Wonder what’s going to happen.

I’ll give you a hint:

Roller coaster

IT’S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE

Tanis is pissed that Gillian is smoking, drinking, and lying, i.e. he’s a paternalistic douche. Gillian tells him to fuck off, basically, and his “golden eyes literally [shoot] sparks.” Literally. I mean, what are we talking, here?

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No one is injured, presumably, by the eye sparks, though he’s “aggressive, male, and very dominant.” Rather than describe someone’s characteristics or manner, isn’t it better to, you know, show them instead?

Gillian reacts like, well, Gillian. She yells at him and calls him a pretentious prick (which she’s right about), though she says “an entirely sober Gillian would not have started this line of rudeness to begin with.”

I’ma stop you there and just point you to this entire chapter.

Tanis grabs her. They grapple. He’s a hundred times stronger than she is and gets her pinned. She says…wait for it…

“Well, fuckadoodle doo.”

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I just want you to savor this moment. After reading this, I spent the next hour periodically giggling over that intensely lame phrase, which helped me get through the next part without breaking my Kindle by throwing it against the wall. I would almost think this was meant as comic relief. Almost.

Tanis says he needs to teach her a lesson. They keep grappling. She kicks his “rock hard, amazing abs.” What a weird, sexual descriptor for a fight. She ends up across his lap again.

Ned Stark

No text needed for this one, I think.

He spanks her.

HE. SPANKS. HERRRRRRRR.

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Maybe I don’t need to enumerate how many kinds of fucked up this is. BUT I WILL ANYWAY. Let me give you the context.

To her abject horror, she did the utmost girly thing she could have. She was very inebriated and a whole lot scared, and when he didn’t immediately release her, she reached up and slapped Tanis across the face. It shocked him more than inflicted damage, but it served as a goad to push him over an edge he didn’t know he had.

Later, Tanis would not be able to recall what had come over him, but he had never encountered a female of any species with so much audaciousness and so little common sense. Before the slap and her last scathing comment, he had been prepared to let her up and lecture her as soon as she calmed down, but not now.

[…]

Determined that this young female learn some manners, Tanis was swift and resolute. It was obvious no one had ever cared about her enough to take her to task for her insufferable insolence and inclination toward physical aggression. Rectifying that situation was his pleasure for the evening.

Let’s start at the beginning.

1) Why is slapping someone in the face “utmost girly?” (PS, grammar alert: utmost is not an adverb and therefore cannot be used to intensify girly.) Surely slapping isn’t solely the domain of women–no, not women, but girly women.

2) The mid-paragraph POV shift is so awkward and she does it so often.

3) The part about “so little common sense” is surely accurate, but the fact that he takes it upon himself to punish her for it is where I go

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If I had the time, I’d research and write out the entire history of paternalistic douchebaggery about acceptable female behavior and the “correction” of any behavior that fell outside the norm. So at first he was going to “just lecture” her on the virtues of being an acceptable, compliant, submissive woman, but now he’s going to fucking SPANK HER because she slapped him for being shitty. At this point, I don’t give a single fuck that she’s had her own bad attitude. He isn’t just going to hit her back. He’s going to punish her for being a woman, because it pleases him, in a completely humiliating and degrading way.

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There are not enough rage gifs in the world.

I’m not against spanking, when it’s consensual. Kink spanking is a thing. It actually sounds kinda fun. But this is not kinky, sexy, OR CONSENSUAL. Gillian is clearly scared and humiliated (THE TEXT SAYS SO), but he cares about her so much he wants to teach her a lesson oh my god you guys my left arm is going numb

I’ll stop now, because I could write an entire fucking treatise on this shit. Gillian manages to get up and punches him in the mouth, which is the one violent reaction she’s had thus far that I’m completely on board with. Alexei intervenes, “inserting his body between Gillian and Tanis.” The combination of “insert” and “body” makes me think of Anita Blake, which makes me picture Alexei sliding his dick in between them.

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Gillian runs off into the woods away from Paternalist McDickerson and Passive McStagedressing, which I cannot blame her for. She’s torn up about it, and this is the first bit of genuine emotion we’ve seen from her. That would be appropriate and good if it weren’t written so poorly. One of her remarks is “Hathor’s hells,” which seems out of place considering that, to my understanding, Hathor was an Egyptian deity with mostly positive associations. Had you said “Sekhmet‘s hells” instead, that might be an actual curse.

We’re treated to some weird, bullshit backstory about how “her temper [had] gotten her into the Special Forces in the first place.” Seems slightly odd to me that special forces of any branch of the military would want a temperamental loose cannon in their ranks, but okay…let’s see what the story is.

So she was part of a security detail during the “Human-Vampire Peace Talks,” a small bit of worldbuilding that’s somewhat interesting. Some vampire propositions her and “Gill had refused because he was an insincere prick.” Or…because she was on the job? Whatevs. Anyway, he insults her, so she throws her career out the window tells him to go fuck himself, thereby jeopardizing peace talks getting the attention of a psychologist who wants to hire her for a “Clinic for Paramortal Understanding and Intimacy.” Gillian’s boss takes her side, claiming that he’s amazed she didn’t kill him outright, and “he had new recruits and diplomatic liaisons who would have killed the Austrian Vampire just for making a pass in the first place.” Where the fuck does this guy find his recruits, anger management programs?

Anyway, so her “punishment” is basically to go on a black ops mission. Somehow this is supposed to redeem or…or something. The book tells us

“it would send a clear message to all the delegates that she was being entrusted with further responsibility rather than being officially reprimanded.”

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WHY WOULD THEY EVER DO THIS?

Some hothead in security insults a member of a diplomatic entourage, and she gets fucking promoted? Don’t get me wrong, I’d have been so incredibly pissed, too, if this asshole was hitting on me, but this is past the level of the personal offense. If you have a problem with someone at a very sensitive political gathering, would you seriously handle it this way? This is the issue I take with Gillian’s reactions. It’s not that they’re wrong, per se. She has a right to get pissed and a right to throw punches and yell. But the fact that she does so at the worst moments possible makes her stupid. This is the book’s version of empowerment: her only reaction is violence, regardless of context.

The chapter limps to a close with Gillian’s “wounded pride and tingling butt.”

Takeaways

Jesus fucking Christ. The first time I read this chapter, I just went “IS THIS REAL LIFE??” but the more I thought about it, the more it infuriated me. Tanis fucking assaults her, and the narrative basically tells us it’s okay and no big deal. It’s a blow to her pride, and that’s it. Weirdly, this is the moment where Gillian’s reactions are completely appropriate and I sympathize with her. It’s too bad it had to be in the context of assault. It’s even more disturbing infuriating in the context of what happens in the next couple of chapters (I don’t feel like I’m giving away much by saying she ends up fucking Tanis). If I seem like I’m overreacting here, it’s because I am so tired of seeing paternalistic behavior, much less violence, treated like it’s no big deal in romance novels. lol he wanted to teach her a lesson though! Fuck you.

Watch list

  • Sexual politics. This is the ultimate fucked-up sexual politics chapter. Let me be clear: Tanis’s behavior is not just a character quirk. If you want him to be kinda sexist because he’s old school, fine. If you want him to be kind of an ass at first, fine, though that “I’m an asshole until I put my dick in you” trope is so, so tired. If you want to portray this later as an unhealthy relationship, fine, but that is clearly not what’s at work here. There are no indications in the narrative that we’re supposed to believe that’s where this is headed. What makes it especially egregious, in my mind, is that we have these flashes of insight where we can tell the author knows this is fucked up, but she’s doing it anyway. Gillian is shaken up by what happened, as well she should be. She got put over the knee of a predator who probably has a foot in height on her and outweighs her by a hundred pounds and physically assaulted. But yanno, it’s just her pride that’s wounded. It’s the kind of hideous “bringing the woman down a peg” bullshit that makes me blow my stack.
  • Professional ethics. Not much in that arena in this chapter, unless you count the flashback scene, but that was pretty bad, endangering a diplomatic negotiation for a personal issue.
  • Competence. So I’m actually going to reverse this a little from calling Gillian’s general competence into question, since I’ve done that enough previously. I’ve come to realize that, although Tanis is pretty on point about his criticisms of Gillian, it’s not because he’s actually perceptive. It’s that he assumes incompetence because she’s a woman. And the worst part is, the narrative actually tries to prove him right.

Goddammit, I hate this book.

Chapter three is here. Chapter five here.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 3

Sorry for the delay. Let’s get back at it!

Chapter 3

So, when we left our dear Gillian, she had just attacked Alexei the sex behemoth’s equally large and sexy brother, Tanis, and ended up across his lap.

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(Yeah, this will become significant later. Unfortunately.)

Tanis looks pissed, understandably. Gillian remarks that he smells good. This is a detail frequently overlooked by authors, so I appreciate it. Even though he has her across his lap and has her wrist in one hand, she thinks getting pissed will help matters. Alexei picks her up and sets her on her feet, calling her “the small blonde,” the first of many tiresome and objectifying references. Alexei asks her to let Tanis in and…she does, for whatever reason, despite having some protection against the giant, furious vampire if she doesn’t give him permission to enter. At least she has the sense to grant him entry if he doesn’t mean her any harm. Tanis informs her, “I mean you no harm, but you are sorely in need of manners, piccola.” Oh boy, a nickname in a foreign language. Who does that sound like?

 

Hint:

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I should note that piccola is an Italian word, which doesn’t make a lot of sense given that the Rachlavs are ostensibly Romanian, and they’re in Romania. There are some historical links to the Roman Empire (which predates the Rachlavs by several hundred years) and Romanian is a Romance language, but a quick bit of research doesn’t indicate that piccola is actually a Romanian word. Maybe the author actually did more thorough research, which would be a pleasant surprise.

Gillian tells Tanis off for barging into her session with Alexei, which is kind of deserved, but honestly, can this woman react with anything other than sarcastic anger?

Gillian’s voice was hard and clipped. Her drill instructor would have laughed her ass off. Dr. Gerhardt, her IPPA contact, would have killed her on the spot. Major Daedelus Aristophanes, her commanding officer, would have laughed his ass off, then killed her. Oops. Her cover. Right. Dammit.

I’m…not sure what this means. The first part, I understand, because losing her temper is a fucking stupid thing to do when she’s caught between an anxious client and an angry brother, not to mention incredibly unprofessional. The part about her cover, though, is what confuses me. Is the fact that she’s a stupid hothead supposed to indicate she’s military? I don’t know.

Tanis says he’s “never met a woman as cheeky as this one,” which I can well believe, because if vampires have always existed, I can’t imagine most people would forgo their sense of self-preservation just to mouth off to one. He remarks, “the women I am used to, Dr. Key, are less sarcastic to guests in their home.” She replies, “Obviously you’ve been hanging around the wrong women.” Or, you know…just women who don’t fly off the handle? The book is trying so hard to present Gillian as empowered, and she just comes off all wrong.

Alexei, who will continue to be the voice of reason (even if, as you’ll see, he’s the most passive voice of reason ever), tries to smooth things over. Belatedly (so belatedly), Gillian realizes she needs to be polite. Tanis says, “Let us hope that your professional skills far exceed your social abilities.”

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Tanis is a sexist dickbag, but for a couple of chapters, at least, he’s the only one who makes sense in this situation. This is one of those moments where a secondary character calls the protagonist on their shit, but it falls on deaf ears and no change ever comes of it. But then comes the rest of that statement: “…or you will find yourself placed across my knee once more for a rectification of your appalling conduct.

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Alexei finally, finally asks Tanis what he wants. Tanis, it seems, has arrived with the plot. Gillian decides to beat feet for a while (the first sensible thing she’s done for two chapters) and leave the brothers to talk. She wants to go to the pub, which…okay, you’re on assignment, but whatever. Alexei worries about her but reassures himself she can take care of herself. “She was a successful combat veteran and would not be easily daunted or intimidated.” Except she was totally intimidated when she met him. I would argue she’s still intimidated, given her loud-mouthed postering. She makes a remark about Tanis’s shitty attitude as she leaves.

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She drives into town, and there’s more decent description. This is the author’s one strength and the thing that tells me the book could be so much better if the stupidity were wrung out of it. When she gets to the pub, she notes that the bartender is good-looking, a detail that seems oddly irrelevant. He addresses her in English, which also seems strange. She quizzes him about the Rachlavs, and he tells her they’re vampires. It’s a needless little conversation followed by a summary of more conversations that sound more interesting. Radu, the bartender (how does she know his name?) tells her “some very strange tales,” which we don’t get to hear about but which she memorizes. No idea what that means, either. If it’s significant enough to note, why isn’t it actually written out?

Abruptly, we switch to Alexei and Tanis. Alexei notes that Tanis hasn’t visited in 20 years, which explains why Alexei was startled to see him arrive earlier. It would have been nice to know this in the last chapter. There’s not much sense in the way details are presented here; irrelevant details here, not enough details there, relevant details in the wrong place.

Anyway, Tanis tells Alexei that Dracula, their “Lord,” has turned up in Romania. Tanis says they need to gather their reinforcements and “defeat this ancient evil.” I’m not sure why Dracula is evil or why they’re so worried save he’s Dracula and it’s assumed the reader will know he’s evil. IMHO, you can’t lean on what the reader may or may know about various supernatural legends to make your case that the bad guy is bad. Tanis says that now that Gillian is here, she’s a target, which is somewhat sensible, but then he also says “She can advise us tactically.”

There is nothing, nothing in the text that Tanis knows that Gillian is a Marine. After all, he just showed up. There’s also nothing to suggest that Gillian is in any way competent at tactics. (Or…anything military related other than flailing around with a knife.) Alexei says, “She did not come here to be a soldier, Tanis; that is in her past.” …what? But she’s still active duty, as far as we can tell. Maybe he doesn’t know she is? Christ, just a few simple explanations would make this make so much better sense.

Another Tanis gem: “No true practicing psychologist would have lost her temper with me as she did.” FUCKING THANK YOU. He goes on to say,

No one but a veteran soldier would have stepped in front of you with nothing but a ten-inch silver blade between her and death to face whatever was coming through that door. Gillian Key is not what she seems.

That’s meant to explain how he knew she was a soldier…I guess? I suppose I’m willing to grant Tanis might have strong powers of perception. I guess.

Alexei says, “And how did you come to this particular conclusion, Tanis?” HE JUST. FUCKING. TOLD YOU. My god, the way this text stumbles around during interminable scenes of tone-deaf dialogue.

Tanis goes on to explain, in essence, what a shitty psychologist she is, saying, “Demonstrations of logical behavior and thought are important to those in her profession. Blatant aggression is not.”

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So THE AUTHOR KNOWS THIS. She knows her character is a shitty psychologist, yet she insists Gillian is competent.

Tanis makes reference to “idiotic Human feminist principles,” which I’m not convinced are Tanis’s biases and not the author’s. I promised I wouldn’t dog in the author herself, but as I’ve noted before, the sexual politics going on here are still pretty shady. He tells Alexei there will be “repercussions if Gillian attacks him again. Why does the chauvinist have to be one that makes the most sense?!

Alexei goes off to find Gillian at the pub and ruminates about Tanis. It’s established that Tanis is a Daywalker, which doesn’t really come up again. Alexei refers to Gillian as the “thoroughly liberated therapist,” which seems more sarcastic than not given the tone of the book in general. He “finds Gillian in the pub, teaching Peter, Paul, and Mary songs to a rapt audience of locals.” This rather extroverted performance seems utterly out of character for Gillian, not to mention stupid. If she’s undercover, why the fuck would she bring so much attention to herself? Low profile? Yes?

Well, apparently she’s drunk, which is equally stupid. Whether or not she’s playing therapist, I’ll remind you she’s on a covert mission. Getting drunk. And singing to locals.

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Alexei takes her to a corner of the pub and explains the situation to her, though why he doesn’t just take her home, I don’t know. We’re treated to an info-dump about Dracula. I can’t help but remember that Gillian referenced “a Dracula” like it was a type of vampire earlier, but now they’re talking about him like he’s the only one. Consistency? What’s that? Anyway, the Dracula story is quasi-historical. It’s implied he was Vlad Dracula (Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, whatevs) and that he was the Romanian King Arthur until he went bad somehow. He’s inherently evil, a sociopath, etc, etc. He’s one of the big vampire lords. Apparently Gillian has run into a couple of his descendants, one of whom almost killed her. Given what I’ve seen so far, I’m pretty sure that was because she did something idiotic. Here’s the kicker:

A centuries-old Vampire like Dracula who was a true sociopath was not something she was prepared to deal with.

YOU ARE A FUCKING PARANORMAL PSYCHOLOGIST. How are you not prepared to deal with a sociopathic vampire? Somebody utterly failed in training this woman.

She finds out Alexei and Tanis are both descended (vampire-wise) from Dracula. Blah blah an angsty story about how Alexei and Tanis got turned blah. Vampire suicide, which Tanis attempted, is called Facing the Sun, which I actually kind of like. Anyway, we find out Alexei was thirty-five when he was turned. Um, what? Thirty-five isn’t old in the 21st century by any means, but 400 years ago, the life expectancy was somewhere between 25 and 49, depending on your source. For royals. Even accounting for the inbreeding in royal families that might have contributed to congenital defects and early death, Alexei would have been either dead or just old.

PS, that research took me all of five fucking minutes to do.

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Life history etc. etc. words words words. Alexei tells Gillian he and Tanis know she’s a soldier (it was in her CV, as stated in Chapter 1, so it should be no surprise to her that Alexei knows). Gillian is embarrassed for being so obvious (CV aside, she fucking should be). The narrative says she’s “still able to operate legally in soldier mode.” Why does legality even matter? For one thing, she’s supposed to be a Special Forces operator, and for another, if a world-ending bad guy is showing up, fuck legality.

Also, this is another conversation that is summarized in the text when it really needs to be written out. Alexei is annoyed she’s been using him for cover (cover for what?), but that’s understandable. It speaks to the inherent unethical conflict of interest I mentioned in earlier chapters. I wish Alexei were more upset about this, but he brushes it off because they have bigger things to worry about. All find and dandy, but Alexei doesn’t really react to anything.

Blah blah, Gillian realizes she has to stay because she was assigned to figure out what’s going on in Romania, which is the first time we’ve heard mention of this in two chapters. More boring shit, Gillian calls Dracula “Big D,” which is simultaneously eyeroll-worthy and an amusing dick joke that I’m pretty sure is unintentional. Gillian agrees to stay, but she says she has to check in with her superiors. They agree to allow her leeway to do what she needs to do. She notes that “her license would have been on the line if she had blurred the boundary lines too drastically between client and counselor as she might have to do to keep them all alive.” Meaning, what, that she might have to get on Alexei’s dick to save them? I suspect that’s what’s going to happen anyway, but that’s some weird foreshadowing.

Blah blah fucking blah, this scene is interminable. Alexei wants her to put out her cigarette and let him do the talking when they get home because Tanis “does not have a liking for inordinately liberated women.” Yep, I knew that comment about the liberated therapist was sarcastic. Gillian gives no fucks.

Tanis:

“Apparently someone needs to put a stop to the damage you are doing to your body from your smoking and drinking and your inclination for deception, Dr. Key.”

And there we have the most offensive, paternalistic remark thus far. This time I’ll give Gillian a pass for being belligerent, because I probably would be too. Aaand there we have another awkward chapter break.

Takeaways

Tanis is often right, but he’s an unmitigated douchecanoe, which gives Gillian an excuse to be like,

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This book has so many mixed messages in that regard. On the one hand, Gillian is the biggest dumbass ever, but on the other hand, the situation is set up such that her belligerence kind of maybe almost makes sense if you squint sometimes. I don’t normally say this, and I do so very carefully, but they’re equally at fault here in different ways, Tanis for his douchebaggery and Gillian for being a reactionary asshole. She’s again presented as this unreasonable harpy in contrast to his paternalistic dick-wagger, which I guess is supposed to make her seem like she’s standing up to The Man. It doesn’t work that way. She just seems like a reactionary, incompetent asshole. Tanis is hideously offensive and sexist, and she has every right to protest that, but her behavior in general has been unprofessional as fuck. It’s not like she gets pushed to the point where she’s snappy. She starts out that way right out of the gate.

Also, this is the first chapter Tanis has really been in, but already, as a character, he’s completely eclipsed Alexei. I don’t know or give a single shit about Alexei other than he has fangxiety (a word I can’t even type without making a face). I don’t actually see any evidence of depression or anxiety, either. If you’re going to write about mental illness, write about it.

Watchlist

I covered all three points of my watchlist above, but I’ll briefly summarize them here:

  • Sexual politics. Tanis has become the face of everything sexist, though Alexei takes some shots in there that tells me he’s just as bad. Their repeated references to Gillian as “the small blonde” is not-so-subtly objectifying. As a reader, I’m put in a frustrating position where I want Gillian to stand up for herself, but not in the stupid ways she does. This is really common in the urban fantasy and PNR I’ve read. You don’t have to raise your voice to be liberated and feminist, but that’s all Gillian does.
  • Professional ethics. There’s nothing professional or ethical in this chapter. Nothing. See above.
  • Competence. Tanis keeps pointing out her complete incompetence, but because he’s a fucktard, nobody’s going to listen. He’s a paternalistic dick-wagger, but goddammit, he’s right. It also, however, speaks to a subtle and uncomfortable dynamic where she’s bumbling around while he keeps pointing out her flaws.

Ugh. Goddamn.

Chapter two is here. Chapter four here.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

This chapter begins with Gillian’s brilliant insights into Alexei’s problems at the end of the therapy session. I’d like to just point out one thing that’s relevant to the previous chapter:

[His problem] wasn’t unique by any means; “she met with conflicted and unwilling Vampires almost weekly.”

This makes her nerves and her hyper focus on her turgid moistness even more baffling. Such is the contradiction of so many romance novel heroines: they’re supposed to be experts, even geniuses, in their professions, but they act like this:

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It turns out, to no one’s surprise, that Alexei has an angsty romantic past. He had a lover before he was turned into a vampire, and he refused to turn her, so he’s been depressed and guilty ever since. The text notes that “Four hundred years was a long time to embrace guilt.” I agree, and I’m not sure whether we’re supposed to believe Gillian is being critical or just stating the fact.

Another mention of the ghost she’s supposed to be working with. She uses the pronoun”him” (quotes are hers) and points out that the ghost is male. Why she used the quotes, I have no idea. She also notes that there are good vampires and bad vampires (no, really?) and that “her natural empathy stood her in good stead with her Paramortal clientele.” We’ve seen zero evidence of this, but that’s to be expected in a book like this. Anyway, she goes on to explain that if someone was a good person when they were human, they’d remain good as a vampire. This idea of a fixed persona is a little bit bizarre to me. Over hundreds of years, isn’t there a possibility someone would change? If I were 400 years old and bored shitless, I might do some nasty things.

Later, with more oblique references to her vast experience, Gillian talks about “a ‘Dracula,’” as if there’s more than one, which is confusing because everywhere else, there’s only one Dracula. We also find out Alexei has insurance, which is also a head-scratcher. We’ve seen no evidence thus far that vampires need any kind of insurance. Even if they were so susceptible to mental illness to need insurance (which I might be able to buy), wouldn’t you think someone with a huge manor house would be rich enough to pay out of pocket? Maybe the recession hit him hard, I dunno. This is all assuming he would even need insurance, as I’m pretty sure Romania has universal healthcare.

Alexei shows up again, and it’s established that she has to invite him into the house before he can enter because he handed custody to her when she moved in and blah blah. I’m sure this rule will become important and/or broken later on. Gillian says,

her own personal humidity index tipped into the red zone.

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Jesus, just say your pussy is wet. I get that she’s trying to keep squarely inside romance euphemism territory, but so far we’ve seen genitalia that’s turgid and moist and now a weather reference. I can’t wait till we get to the sex.

Gillian wants you to know that she’s making every effort to be professional even if she’s about to die from vaginal heat stroke. She references ethics guidelines about how long she’d have to wait after their therapy ended to interact with him outside of a professional setting. I find this reference to ethics rather ironic considering the whole “infiltrate and report” thing. Alexei wants you to know that she’s the best therapist ever, and that, of courseshe reminds him of the woman he’s so depressed about. We’re treated to paragraphs of description of her appearance, in which he mentions “the small diamond studs she word [sic] as earrings.” The text is peppered with weird little diction choices like this. It implies that she has a bunch of other options as to how to wear those diamond studs. I suppose she does, if we’re talking about body piercings, but again, heaven forbid our romance novel heroine have any of those. (Also she’s a Marine and presumably active duty, so I find that somewhat unlikely.)

We find out that Alexei’s former lover was a gold digger who wanted a vampire sugar daddy and nothing else. I suppose this reference to the shallow ex is supposed to make Gillian, who’s clearly the most emotionally mature and deep individual in the world, look better.

Here’s where the chapter turns from mildly boring to unintentionally entertaining. Alexei and Gillian both sense another vampire, and Gillian leaps in front of Alexei to protect him with a silver knife in her hand. Alexei is understandably surprised, since this tiny (of course she’s tiny) woman thinks she can protect her sex behemoth client from whatever other vampire has showed up. He makes some remarks about how he’s sure she’s a good soldier, but she’s female and human, so he should protect her. Okay, I can buy that he’s old fashioned and therefore probably somewhat sexist, even if I’m not entirely convinced that sexism was done on purpose. But let’s be real, he’s right. She might be the most badassy badass soldier, but she’s still a human, and her protective instincts aren’t really going to help against a vampire they’ve both described as powerful. Anyway, they fuss at each other over who’s going to protect who while the other person continues to approach and “the door drifted ethereally open.” For some reason I find ethereally to be an amusing descriptor here.

Ethereal marauder

I was trying to find an image for “ethereal” and ended up coming up with this from D&D. Maybe appropriate?

Because she’s on a hair trigger, Gillian throws the knife “with deadly accuracy and purpose” just as the other vampire calls Alexei brother. Wait, no, she manages to stop her throw…somehow. She loses her balance and flips forward (what?) basically throwing herself into the stranger’s arms. He reaches out to steady her and to, you know, control the knife she was trying to stab him with, and she flips out, “knife gleaming and blood in her eye.” That sounds painful, and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean what you might think it means.

Basically, they grapple with each other, and he “bounce[s] off the open doorway, stopped by an invisible barrier.” Well, remember that whole vampires can’t enter without being invited thing? There it is again, and Gillian looks like a complete idiot. She ends up basically across his lap, and all action pauses to describe the new guy. He looks a lot like Alexei, which is to say, Hotty McLargehuge. Alexei introduces him as Tanis, his brother, to which Gillian says, “Just fucking lovely.”

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Is this a flash of insight from Gillian, or complaining about the presence of another vampire? I’ll let you guess.


Takeaways

Remember what I said about Gillian being the worst therapist ever? This is only the beginning, but it’s a good example. Not only is she a terrible therapist, but she’s a terrible soldier. I’ve never served, but it seems like common sense not to attack blindly. Why in the name of fuck would you not assess the situation enough to realize you can’t, according to your own universe’s rules, kill a vampire with just a silver knife? Admit that Alexei is probably more qualified to deal with whoever it is. If you feel like you need to help, okay, fine, but protecting doesn’t always mean throwing yourself headlong into danger. One of the things that really irritates me about a lot of novels with allegedly badass female protagonists is not only practical incompetence, but a very narrow definition of how a person (especially a woman) can be strong. That’s actually a cue to move to…


Watch List

  • Sexual politics. One subtle sexist remark from Alexei, but as I mentioned above, the problematic elements within the narrative itself are getting slowly but steadily worse. Gillian is fighting to keep her professional cool, but as we know this is not going to last by virtue of the genre, that only goes so far. In addition, Alexei speaks disparagingly about his ex as a “gold digger,” which is a term applied exclusively to women to discredit them. What a shallow bitch she was! No wonder he let her die. Gillian is the much younger and more worthy version of her, clearly.
  • Professional ethics. Oh lawd, where do I even start? I’m going to point out the obvious and say that resorting to violence in the middle of a therapy session except under extreme duress (which this wasn’t) is probably a violation of any code of conduct ever. If Alexei were helpless or unable to defend himself and clearly under imminent threat, sure, it would be warranted, and I’d cheer her on, but this entire scene just makes Gillian look like a fucking idiot.
  • Competence. I’m going to add this to the list for the myriad reasons stated above. I’m really annoyed with this already because it ties into both sexual politics and professional ethics. In this scene, I see a subtle but still very clear and troublesome dynamic here: Alexei, the mild-mannered, reasonable man, and Gillian, the reactionary and unreasonable woman. I’m sure this isn’t intentional, which might make it even worse. I’ve seen this way too many times, female protagonists flipping out and turning violent as a method of trying to display strength and competence rather than demonstrating that she actually knows what she’s doing. Granted, the latter method is much less flashy, which is why I’m sure the former method is employed so often, but all this would be so much more effective if both Gillian and the narrative showed some restraint.

Chapter 1 here. Chapter 3 here.