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