Gillian wakes up to news about goings-on in the larger world. Now, I completely forgot there WERE things going on in the larger world, since we’re never given a sense of perspective. That would require a demonstration of exactly how dangerous Dracula is, other than the characters’ insistence and the one vampire who attacked Gillian in the car. I mean, I have to admit I was guilty of that in the first draft of my current novel, but it was, you know, a first draft.
Anyway, there are reports of another “therapist/operative“–the narrative helpfully provides the acronym “TO“– who was found dead. “Part of him in Texas and part in New Mexico. The forwarded report was graphic. Torn apart were the words used to describe the body.” That’s graphic? Maybe I have a different definition. Tell me how his ligaments were hanging off his severed shoulder and they looked like soggy pieces of masking tape. That’s something I came up with off the top of my head. I don’t count a vague description of the state of the body as graphic.
Finally, finally, in Chapter 14, we’re finally told the breadth of the threat posed by Dracula. People dead and missing, blah blah. Gillian helpfully tells us how bad it is by saying “Shit, shit, and double shit. This was very, very bad.”
We’re given an infodump about the IPPA and “paramortal legalization” being around for years, which doesn’t make any sense in context. I can only assume she meant legislation. She also hears from the owner of the castle where Dante the ghost is holed up, and they want her to come back because Dante is all upset that she left. She leaves for the castle…
…without telling the vampires what’s going on. She claims she “intended to deliver it in person” because it’s srs bad news, so…she’s going to run off by herself and wait till later.
Dante is all panicked that she left, and she discovers, suddenly, that he has “fear and anxiety coupled with centuries-old trauma.” She says this is PTSD.
Fear and anxiety is a natural reaction to a traumatic event, especially a death, but experiencing trauma does not equal PTSD. From what we’ve seen of Dante, there’s very little reason to believe he’s actually experiencing that disorder. I don’t think this is me being nitpicky. If, as an author, you’re going to take on a subject like mental illness, you damn well better get it right. Throwing around mental illness terminology without being informed about what you want to write about is harmful and disrespectful. It annoys the shit out of me when authors don’t bother to do their damn research. Anachronistic Italian in Romania, completely stupid and unrealistic use of a gun, whatever, you can call me uptight. But when representing a real thing, that affects real people, at least do a fucking Google search. It took me all of 0.21 seconds, according to Google, to find the article I linked. Christ.
Gillian apologizes for being gone and tells him that there’s a conflict between vampires by way of an excuse for why she hasn’t been around. He grabs her and his hands are warm. “Ghosts just weren’t supposed to do what he was doing.” YES YES WE KNOW. I got the hint there was something hinky with Dante the first time he touched her. The fact that she hasn’t bothered to figure it out–by, I don’t know, asking her bosses or the vampires or something–is telling. I’m sure we’re meant to think she’s been busy, but all I’ve seen her do is wait around, go to meetings, go running around in Egyptian tombs doing stupid shit just so the author could write about offensively stupid mummies.
Gillian tries to reassure him, and he does the thing every other goddamned man in this book does, which is aggressively insist that she BE CAREFUL OMG. This conversation basically exists for Gillian to insist, once again, that she can take care of herself and she doesn’t obey anyone and “My loyalty is given freely or not at all.” This is the first time the idea of loyalty has come up in this book. I actually snorted out loud. What the actual fuck has anyone done to inspire Gillian’s loyalty? Am I really supposed to buy that being manipulated, coerced, forced, and dragged around for almost half a book by the Rachlavs means they’re so excellent she should be loyal to them?
After chasing her around and making her uncomfortable for a few pages, they get started with the therapy session. Let me pause here and point out another bullshit thing in the execution of this book’s conceit. Dante is obviously in upset, and maybe violently so. He can physically touch her. He’s following her around and invading her space. Why the fuck doesn’t she end the session? I don’t care if she’s a military-trained badass. Letting your client get handsy and all up in your space sends the wrong message about who is in control of the session and basically encourages escalation. In my therapist’s office, threatening moves like that would get me kicked out instantly. Gillian constantly acts like such an ill-trained rookie, and it annoys the fuck out of me. Gaslighting Gremlin keeps popping up to insist that no, Gillian is an excellent therapist! She totally knows what she’s doing! …even though she does completely moronic things like disregarding personal safety.
My disgust for this woman is endless.
Dante is furious–“I am furious, he thought. She needed a reminder of who should be foremost in her thoughts. Secretly glad of her help, he still had ulterior motives behind his continued association with the little blonde minx.“
Good Guy Dante, taking up the sexism slack when the Rachlavs aren’t around. Would my day be complete without gagging on some misogyny? His mood changes and it’s “dark and deep and as cold as the grave.” SEE WHAT SHE DID THAR HURR HURR HURR GRAVES GHOSTS SUCH CLEVER SO DEAD WOW
They talk more, blah blah, Dante figures out that she has a lover and she gets embarrassed. He makes sweeping statements about how men are and Gillian agrees. Dante observes that Gillian “was a student of Paramortal behavior, of direct observation and interpretation of mental disorders, but woefully lacking in the nuances of men and women.” lololololol. I love when side characters point out what an idiot the main character is.
The conversation they have is of virtually no import except to show Dante being more creepy and Gillian wondering about him, but apparently she doesn’t intend to do anything about his suspicious behavior. Dante promises to find out what he can about the vampire conflict–how is a ghost supposed to do that?–and Gillian leaves. She “[feels] petulant that the observation tables [have] been turned on her,” even though she didn’t actually have to tell Dante a damn thing about said vampire conflict. Then there’s this gem:
The bad thing about dealing with beings that were centuries older was that they did have more life experience than Humans. It didn’t make her ineffectual, just transparent.
The fact that Dante has figured out that she has a lover somewhere, based on his questions and her reactions, is not an ability one can only acquire after centuries. Stop blaming Gillian’s massive shortcomings by blaming it on the fact that she hangs around paramortals. It’s fine to have your protagonist be out of her depth and unsure–in fact, that’s actually a very effective, nigh necessary, narrative structure. But Gillian isn’t just out of her depth because she’s a human in a crowd full of paramortals. She’s just an idiot.
Gillian goes back to the castle and before she gets to the door, she’s surrounded by “wolves the size of ponies.” What the fuck? How did obviously abnormal wolves end up inside Aleksei’s castle grounds? Are the guards that inept?
Predictably, the wolves pause long enough for her to ruminate about what she needs to do. “Being a rather bright woman,” she claims, “[…] she had maybe three or four seconds left to live.”
Yet another talky scene where nothing happens and nothing appears to matter. I’m supposed to be suspicious about Dante even though Gillian is not; the dramatic irony is PAINFULLY obvious here. So obvious, in fact, that I’m annoyed as fuck that it never occurs to Gillian to give him a second thought. He really only crosses her mind when she’s about to see him or when she’s leaving the castle, which means that I keep forgetting he’s there until she goes to see him again, so I keep forgetting he has some mysterious bearing on the plot. Such that it is.
Let’s not forget that Dante, like…pretty much everyone else, has no other purpose or personality than to be a stiff-dicked misogynist who wants Gillian. He’s really not even worth being interested in. I’m searching, desperately, for a reason to give a shit about any of these characters or any of this plot, but there’s NOTHING under than my incredulous loathing of everything and everyone and my sheer stubbornness to finish the goddamn thing. I don’t even give a shit about whether she gets eaten by werewolves. I know she won’t because we have a full half of the book left. I find that mildly disappointing.