Well, after a few days away from the last terrible chapter, I’m a little less like this:
And more like this:
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.
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.
“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:
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.“
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.
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.
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?
Gillian 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.”
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.
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.
- Sexual politics. This is my very articulate impression of the development of sexual politics in this book:
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.