We skip ahead some weeks from Tanis’s disappearance because we’re rushing time along and heaven forbid the author has to go in depth about the emotional fallout of said disappearance. Hey, remember when the narrative told us Tanis wasn’t a big target? Yeah.
Gillian misses Tanis, but only as a friend, and “her commitment-phobic self was rather relieved that she had no decision to make as long as Tanis was gone.” I’m not sure what decision she’s referring to here. To bone Aleksei or not to bone? To get with Tanis on a permanent basis or not to? Dunno.
FINALLY we’re starting to get a sense of scope for Dracula’s invasion, which basically means bodies. I distinctly remember someone (Osiris?) saying that you’d never know vampires were waging a war because there’s no fighting. This isn’t exactly large-scale fighting, but it doesn’t seem to be as subtle as Osiris’s claim, either. Oh well, I guess this does show Dracula’s propensity for violence. I still don’t get why he’s attacking random humans rather than trying to come directly after Aleksei, though.
Aleksei goes to investigate the death of a human girl, and Gillian goes with him because “her expertise as a field operative and her background in criminal psychology would be useful.” Wait…who said she had a background in criminal psychology? I thought she was just a therapist. Not the same thing. You’d think, as a practicing therapist (*SHUDDER*), the author would know this. She’s apparently investigated crime scenes before. Christ, you know, just because someone is involved in some way with military or law enforcement doesn’t mean they know dick about crime scenes. Don’t shoehorn your character into a scene based on an inaccurate premise. Just give her a plausible reason to be there if it’s that important.
If you’ll allow me to take a little detour here, I just realized something. This book is full of candy bars.
Holly Lisle, who’s relatively well-known for lots of writing advice, defines “candy bar scenes” as the fun ones you’re just dying to write, the ones you really look forward to. I feel like this entire book is Talia Gryphon’s Halloween basket full of sweets occasionally laced with the razor blades of incompetence and the poison of misogyny. The only thing holding them together is the fact that they’re in the same ugly plastic bucket. She shows a lot of interest in these scenes, but there’s virtually nothing of substance. Don’t get me wrong, I can eat peanut butter cups all day errday, but occasionally I want some fucking kale to balance it out.
Anyway. the girl has a bunch of bite marks and she’s been drained of blood, etc. Apparently, based on her position (??) it’s apparent there was sex involved. Aleksei is pissed, and we’re told that “Children under eighteen years were forbidden to be considered as prey of any kind and certainly not meant as a lover for a Vampire or any Paramortal.” Now, hold up. Why eighteen? Let’s remember that the whole age of majority thing is a relatively recent and definitely Western concept. If Vampires can be hideously “old-fashioned” when it comes to sexism, why are they so upright when it comes to the age of their prey/lover? How young was this girl, anyway?
It’s also telling and gross that a sex crime, especially a sex crime against someone underage, is the first thing authors so often go to when they want to demonstrate how bad the villain is. It’s not enough that someone’s bodily autonomy is violated by being assaulted (*COUGH*), or even murdered. It has to involve sex because Dracula is A Real Bad Guy. They’re making a bigger deal about the fact that she was young and there was sex involved than the fact that she’s, y’know, dead. Unfortunately, this is so expected and so typical, and it comes right back around to gender politics.
Wait. Wait. She was seventeen. Are you fucking kidding me? One year or less before this magical boundary of adulthood? Crossing this magical boundary in this world, by the way, apparently that it’s totes acceptable for her to be prey for a vampire.
Now we’re told that Gillian “wasn’t a crime scene investigator, didn’t do lab work, wouldn’t solve the crime; but she could do a down-and-dirty investigation on site and give her immediate impressions of the scene, the victim and probable cause.” …what? You’re not a crime scene analyst, but you can…basically do it anyway?
Let’s not forget that the fact that she’s been drained of blood from vampire bite marks, and pretty much anybody with at least one moderately functioning eyeball can tell what the cause of death was just by looking at her.
But oh, apparently Gillian’s knowledge of sexual predators is “informative.” Whatever that means. This for whatever reason makes Aleksei freak out, picturing Gillian facing down a sexual predator. I just don’t even anymore.
It wasn’t clear before, but we’re told now that Gillian is essentially holding court over this dead body, telling everyone what happened. Because this human woman in her 20s is going to tell centuries-old supernatural beings about a murder done by vampires because said supernatural beings aren’t as rad as her, despite the fact that she’s seemed terminally clueless about supernaturals this whole goddamn time.
Basically, this is a treatise about how amazing Gillian is and how Aleksei’s “old fashioned” beliefs are being changed by her amazingness. But don’t worry, he’s not going to “pursue” her for another six months. Wow, has it been six months already? But I thought Tanis had only been missing for a few weeks, and before that, she’d only been fucking him a couple months apparently, and…
Aleksei and Gillian go to talk to the other vampires in the area. They’re told that
Establishing the local Vampires who answered to him as guards had been necessary for several reasons. Aleksei didn’t want any of them hunted down and killed by an overzealous populace. Along with the Lycanthropes, they were the first and best defense to guard against Dracula’s infiltration and they needed the network.
Why the fuck didn’t they do this six months ago? For that matter, what the fuck have they been doing for six months, besides practicing heavy misogyny, banging, or trying to avoid banging?
The townspeople are very generous and the mayor brings them a list of people who will let the vampires feed from them. Aww, that’s…creepy.
“A single blood-tinged tear ran from Aleksei’s eye, and he had to swallow past the lump in his throat. To say he was touched was an understatement.”
PS, did you know this guy was actually Italian? SEE THE CONNECTION GUYS? THE VAMPIRES SPEAK ITALIAN BUT THEY’RE ROMANIAN AND THIS GUY IS ITALIAN BUT HE PLAYED A NATIVE AMERICAN NOBODY CAN FUCKING GET IT RIGHT HAHAHA
Gillian says “Wow,” and he asks her what she means. This is the most inane conversation. We’re told for the bajillionth time that he’s huge and sex and she’s tiny and cute and smells good. “Fangs pressed against the tissues of his mouth, trying to descend as his groin was beginning to swell; both areas demanding him to penetrate and sample her.”
HERP DERP PENETRATE. Wow, what an awkward sentence.
He keeps calling her piccola. Like every sentence. Sometimes it’s tacked on to some other stupid diminutive like “piccola capitana.” Considering Tanis ripped off this stupid nickname from JC of Anita Blake fame, it’s mildly awkward that now Aleksei is using it. I dunno, if I’m fucking a guy and his brother starts calling me by the same unique (stupid) nickname, I might feel awkward.
This conversation is supposed to make me feel sympathetic about Aleksei because the townspeople love him despite having no reason to. Gillian is very impressed and has thoughts about him, which he reads, and that’s totally okay because reasons. He’s still the same invasive, meddling, manipulative douche he was earlier, but now she likes him and she wants to get on his dick, see, so it’s all good. All she says is,
“Shithead, stay the hell out of my mind until you’re invited.” She grinned as she took a halfhearted cuff at him, then went to find Maeti for fencing.
I suppose I have to give the author credit here for trying to do a modicum of forward momentum and world building here, except that this is Chapter 19 and it’s almost 60% of the way through the book. The narrative itself says it’s been six months since Gillian showed up. I guess things might crawl along when you have immortals involved, but Speed of Plot here still seems ridiculously slow. I mean, I get it. We’re aiming to end up with Gillian and Aleksei fucking, because it’s a romance novel and that’s how it works. Still, like every single thing else, it’s so goddamn contrived.
And let’s not forget the extremely troublesome mention of the teenager who’s dead from bites and sex. This is another stupid pseudo-feminist consent thing that’s actually anti-feminist, much like this hideous chapter. The fact that it was so horrifying that a 17-year-old had sex, but it would be fine if she was 18, and the fact that this is why Aleksei gets pissed off–not that she was murdered–is fucking gross and harmful and shaming, and eye-rollingly arbitrary besides. As a matter of fact, this is the entire chapter: