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