Sorry for the delay. Let’s get back at it!
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.
(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?
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.”
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.“
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Tanis is often right, but he’s an unmitigated douchecanoe, which gives Gillian an excuse to be like,
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.
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.