Well, friends, another day, another book. I’m actually a little morbidly excited about this one, because from what I’ve read, it’s bad (like, especially bad). Shall we take bets now on how the title of the book is not going to factor in the plot at all?
Before we get started, I just want to point out that the book’s Amazon page has no information about the book. And it was published in 2008. I can only assume this is the publisher’s way of trying to hide the fact that Gryphon is shoe-horning the fucking Phantom of the Opera into this book.
Yep. This ought to be good.
Rachlav Central has apparently become a hotspot for paranormal folks. There’s a passing mention of Dracula, just to remind us that he’s out there before he’s never mentioned again probably, and humans are apparently aware of this vampire turf war. I don’t recall this ever being mentioned before. We’re given an update about where everyone is and what Gillian has been doing, which is seeing clients and having meetings and “hunting for Dracula’s associates.” She sounds pretty busy. I have no idea how much time has passed; it could be two hours, it could be another two years given how space-time seems to work in these books.
Gillian and Aleksei have been fighting a lot because Aleksei wants to protect Gillian and Gillian has the gall to have her own life and her own shit to do out from under his thumb. I’m totally in Gillian’s corner here, which is where I find myself more often than not these days. Weird feeling.
Helmut calls Gillian with a request to meet with a client. Apparently she’s a licensed sex therapist, which…in this world means she’s authorized to have sex with clients.
Okay. Okay, FINE. Sexual surrogates are a thing. I’ll stretch my imagination and my patience, even though I can only think this is going to turn into a fucking disaster sooner than later. Of course, these books don’t need sex therapy to do that.
Gillian is hesitant because Aleksei is “old fashioned” about relationships (which we know is code for abusive and manipulative), but all Helmut has to say is, “Gillian, you are a trained professional. If you don’t want to take the case, that’s one thing. But you cannot refuse a client merely because your boyfriend might get jealous.” On the one hand, Helmut kind of has a point. If this were a different, non-sexual situation, I might agree with him. Her personal problems are her personal problems and ought not bleed into her professional life. On the other hand, Gillian is drawing professional and personal boundaries FOR ONCE, and she immediately gets slapped down by a male character.
She has the right to refuse a client she doesn’t feel like she can or wants to handle. From what I’ve read, as long as she hasn’t started seeing the client and simply decides not to help him anymore, she has every right not to take the case. At least one sex surrogate I’ve read about won’t actually have sex with someone in a committed relationship. Some therapists won’t work with people with personality disorders. Boundaries. What I don’t like about the situation is her reason why she refuses, namely that Aleksei has her so afraid of his reactions that she hesitates to do her job. It’s less about her and more about the fact that he is a giant twatwaffle.
In the midst of this, there’s a weird sentence: “That was an admonishment. She could recognize them with astonishing regularity anymore.” The word “anymore” confuses me. I kind of get what she means, but it seems to imply the negative when phrased that way, that she doesn’t recognize them. That said, she sure does get admonished a lot, especially when she tries to advocate for herself.
tl;dr Helmut is bringing sex client and a different client from their “Russian expedition” to her. …what do you want to bet that’s Bullwinkle? Goddammit, I thought I’d escaped that embarrassingly stupid character.
Gillian goes to talk to Aleksei, who has a new nickname for her, angela. Why not just combine them all and call her piccola guerilla bellissima angelina carissimma? PGBAC for short.
PGBAC breaks the news that she’s taking on a sex client, which goes significantly more reasonably than you’d expect. (Of course, you know that’s not going to last long.) He asks her not to take on this client or any client that needs her to sleep with them. PGBAC acknowledges that he’s being honest with “no power struggle,” which I have a hard time believing. Again, I’m conflicted, because while your partner has the right to ask you not to sleep with someone else, even for professional reasons, he’s such a douchebag on a normal day that I trust his motives.
Gillian, being the reactionary contrarian she is, suddenly decides that because he asked her not to do this, she’s totally going to do this.
“I know you did not just tell me not to do my job. I know you did not just say something to indicate you are jealous because you don’t trust me to know what I am doing or that you don’t approve of my professional abilities.”
He…actually did not say anything to indicate he didn’t trust her to know what she’s doing, for once. Literally all he said was that he doesn’t want her to take sexual clients.
Now she’s just being a shithead. She protested to Helmut for exactly this reason, to preserve her relationship, and now she’s like, “Fuck it, I’ma do it because Aleksei doesn’t want me to.” Now that’s a healthy relationship dynamic, isn’t it? They need some fucking couples therapy.
Up until now, Aleksei has been astonishingly reasonable, but now he’s pissed. I think I would be, too. I’m polyamorous, so I have a fundamental disconnect here, but if I were monogamous, I might have a problem with it. It’s not just therapy, it’s sex, which is its own special circumstance, IMHO. That aside, her reaction is really what’s more pissifying. The conversation is basically going like this:
Aleksei: “Please don’t do this.”
Gillian: “HOW DARE YOU QUESTION MY PROFESSIONAL ABILITY I DO WHAT I WANT”
Her sudden fury, which is completely at odds with what she told Helmut, really says as much about her insecurities as it does about Aleksei’s. She tells him that her professional relationship with the client has nothing to do with their personal relationship, which is true, but he won’t budge.
Like…they both have valid points, and now they’re both being shitty about them. The tipping point is Aleksei’s extra layer of shittiness. He says she doesn’t need the job because he’s rich, so she shouldn’t take this client because it’s tantamount to being “a paid courtesan [as opposed to one who works for free?] for some stranger with sexual problems.” She blows her top at being called a prostitute and punches him in the face.
I’m not so much pissed that she belts him as I’m pissed that the author is treating this as the insult that finally gets her to snap at him. Not the physical abuse, not the emotional manipulation, not the not-so-subtle threats and intimidation. Being called a prostitute. This idea is so deeply embedded in the sexist bullshit that is rife in these books, and in the world in general. A woman exchanging money for sex–which is not actually what she’s doing but I’ll get to that in a minute–is literally worse than a woman staying in an abusive relationship, because women having sexual agency outside of a relationship is unacceptable, and treating sex as labor is also unacceptable.
So even as she’s trying to assert her sexual agency outside of her relationship, and even as she’s trying to assert her agency regarding her labor, the narrative is doing its good goddamndest to undermine exactly that. What perfect, ugly irony. This moment is a microcosm for everything that’s wrong with these books. Every time there’s a modicum of progressive insight, it’s cut off at the knees instantaneously. Gryphon is that karaoke singer who knows all the words of the song but gets every single note wrong. I can’t even tell if she’s trying to sing it and just failing miserably, or if she’s just up there because her friend begged her to sing and she’s drunk enough to agree.
Let’s not forget that she’s not actually selling sexual services anyway. She’s selling therapeutic services, which may involve sex. It might seem like a fine line, but it’s not. It’s an entirely different kind of labor. That’s not to say that selling sexual services is any less legitimate, but it’s annoying as fuck that the comparison is being made. It’s okay for Gillian to provide therapeutic services until it involves sex, meaning that sex is apparently the line in the sand as far as acceptable labor goes.
Gillian runs out to her car and Jenna, Pavel, Tanis, and Trocar follow her. Tanis has a new nickname for her: piccola sorella, which means “little sister.” I haven’t complained about the Italian endearments lately but JESUS CHRIST THEY ANNOY ME. Tanis just laughs when she tells them what happened and says,
“You seem to be accruing similar experiences with both of the Rachlav brothers. To date, we’ve both insulted you enough to cause you to lose your temper…and you have, as you put it, ‘decked’ both of us…All that is left is a spanking from Aleksei and everything will be even. I’m still one up on him in that area.”
ISN’T THAT FUNNY THAT THEY’RE BOTH ABUSIVE DICKBAGS YOU GUYS LOL
Gillian actually giggles about this, and all Trocar has to say is, “You are braver than I thought, my friend.”
We’re off to a rollicking start! Situations that could be nuanced but are instead made ridiculous by stupid characters and awful sexual politics, a promise of more stupid pop culture characters, and an early appearance by Gaslighting Gremlin. I can already tell this book is going to be bad for my blood pressure but great for my rage boner.
As a side note, if the title of the book is an indication that it’s supposed to redeem the series, I’m afraid it’s about as successful as Napoleon in Russia.