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
…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”:
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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:
Nice concept, could be interesting and compelling. WHIFFED IT.
I don’t even have a watchlist anymore. Everything is terrible.