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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

No Deadly Thing Giveaway!

Hey guys, while you're here please take a moment and check out my Goodreads giveaway.

While I've got your attention, allow me to direct you to my giveaway . I have five copies of No Deadly Thing left after doing conventions this past year, and I'm fixing to send them on to you. If you'd like to know more about the novel and about the Twisted Tree universe, please see this link Thanks for looking!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

       No Deadly Thing by Tiger Gray
No Deadly Thing
     by Tiger Gray
    Giveaway ends May 23, 2014.
    See the giveaway details
     at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Narcissus in Chains Chapter Five

Read Dottie's break down here

These are going to be long from here on out. The chapters are surprisingly substantial for an AB book.

Anita wants to say no to all this mark marrying business but can't because Richard is so hawt and manly. He kisses her. Or rather, "he crawled inside." Gross. "There was nothing feminine about Richard. He was the ultimate male in so many ways." Surprisingly I don't totally hate this. She trying to say that he conforms to traditional standards of masculinity, which is totally fine. But frankly every gendered line from Anita makes me tense up, since I know that the gender and sex politics in these books become ultra repellent quite quickly.

Even Anita thinks it's odd how much black vinyl is being employed here. Both Richard and J.C. are dressed in it. It's not uncommon fetish wear, granted, but it's not as easy to put on as it might appear. It also breathes terribly, though I guess that's only a problem for Richard, what with all of his virile masculine heat.

Now again, I haven't read most of the AB books that came before, but isn't Richard pretty straight laced? I thought he wasn't in to BDSM, and isn't she always going on about him like he's dominant? I mean, he is the fucking Ulfric after all. Yet here, he's wearing a collar. I do not understand this in the slightest. Yes, some people wear collars as fashion statements but in my experience within the general kink subculture, a person only wears a collar if they belong to someone else, as a slave or submissive. It's a little like a wedding ring. People have collaring ceremonies, for crying out loud. So again why the fuck is Richard wearing one? He's certainly not anyone's slave or submissive, sexually or otherwise.

Some boring natter about how J.C. should have admitted to calling Richard. It comes out that Richard wanted his presence to be a surprise because "if I'd played fair I still wouldn't have gotten a kiss. I couldn't stand the thought of seeing you tonight and not touching you."

Honey, are you serious? So basically, Richard forced a kiss on her before she could muster up a no. EVERYONE IN THIS BOOK IS TERRIBLE.

All of this bullshit has to be more than fifteen minutes long, the time limit Narcissus gave them to get their shit handled.

"I suddenly wanted the privacy that Jean-Claude had offered earlier. But staring from Jean-Claude to Richard, I realized I didn't trust myself alone with them. If we had a room to ourselves I couldn't guarantee that the sex would be merely metaphysical." 

First of all, they live in a supernatural world. I would think metaphysical sex would be considered as real and as serious as physical sex. So why is Anita making this distinction? And what's wrong with having physical sex with them, anyway? You're about to be deeply bonded to both of them. Why can't you allow yourself to enjoy sex, Anita? Are you afraid of them? Do you feel abused by them and therefore you don't want to engage in sex? You know what that is, if true? A sign of an abusive relationship. Or in this case, two abusive relationships. Why are you all together anyway? None of you have acted lovingly since this book opened. She seems to confirm this by saying, "It was still better than in private. Here I knew I'd say stop, anywhere else I just wasn't sure." So basically, J.C. and Richard use their powers to overcome Anita's ability to consent. Charming.

"I wasn't thinking about the wereleopards. I was thinking about how large and bare my skin felt." No shit you aren't thinking about the wereleopards, you irredeemable asshole. While we're discussing this, how...large? What does that mean? Oh shit, I have Anita disease. "What does that even mean? Explain it to me. I don't understand." Grr.

Anita doesn't trust them or herself. Sounds like a great time to make a decision as serious and permanent as metaphysical bonding.

Kissing happens. J.C.'s hair is "surprisingly long." I don't think that word means what Anita thinks it means.

J.C. and Anita's auras meld or something."Think of it as if you were making love and suddenly your skin slid away, spilling you against your partner, into your partner, giving you an intimacy that was never imagined, never planned, never wanted." 

Nuff said. Anita is also the most sex negative person I've ever read about. Everything in her narration suggests that she doesn't want any of this, but is too overwhelmed by magic to extricate herself from the situation. It's not compelling to me to read about a heroine who is afraid of her own sexuality to the degree that she can't accept two people she claims to love. Now of course if this were an intentional part of her character, I would feel differently. I think you can write about almost anything and do a reasonable job, if you realize what chainsaws you happen to be juggling at any given time. But it doesn't feel intentional. It feels like LKH is caught between wanting Anita to retain some kind of virtue, and wanting to write erotica. I find the Madonna/Whore stuff in this book sad and upsetting.

Everyone ends up on the floor. J.C. dry humps Anita for awhile, and Anita says the most sexually honest thing she's ever said: "I wanted him inside me, wanted him to ride me while the power rode us." 

You in no way have to want sex to be normal. Asexual people exist and their orientation is valid. But Anita has never given me the impression that she's actually asexual. In light of that I have no idea what her in-story justification for her attitude is. It doesn't seem to spring naturally from anything Anita has experienced or witnessed. That's bad. 

Again she thinks, "no, don't" but can't say it. Here's the thing. If you don't say something, well. People can't read your mind. This isn't to say that freezing up during sexual assault doesn't happen. I have that exact same problem, being unable to speak up even when the situation is consensual bit not going the way I'd prefer. But if you know that's an issue, and you're going to be engaging in something high intensity like BDSM or metaphysical sex, you have to figure out a way to protect yourself from just this scenario. If you can't do that, then abstain from BDSM until you can, for your safety and the safety of people playing with you. 

Anita also seems terribly unsure about her feelings for these two men, and bonding herself to them is not a decision she should be making right now. She's consented to this as far as Richard and J.C. know, even though they're both questionable creeps and need to be taken to task for their manipulative ways. J.C. explained to her that there were risks. That's in keeping with Risk Aware Kink and informed consent. So this is now a huge clusterfuck (pun intended) of dubious consent and mistaken assumptions and total lack of personal responsibility that they're all complicit in. Everyone in this book is a bad person. 

If you're poly and in to BDSM, you have a big responsibility on your shoulders. A huge part of that responsibility is honesty. You can't engage in mutually beneficial poly or BDSM without honesty. Not to mention Anita herself says that the submissive has a responsibility to say no, or use their safeword when things become too much for them to handle. Yet, Anita herself does not live up to that same responsibility when she's the one in the hot seat.

Okay. So Richard is kissing down to her "heart chakra." "He buried his mouth inside my halter top and touched over my heart, and my mouth found his heart at the same moment." Someone help me out here, because I am pretty sure this is physically impossible. 

An explosion of magic happens as they bond. Keep in mind this is a constant in LKH's 'sex' scenes. Very rarely do people actually have physical sex of some kind. It's as if she walks them up to the door of the porn shop, but no one ever steps inside. 

Here's the thing--and I try to apply this to my writing--if you're going to ring the bell, ring the bell. Don't give me half measures. In Mercedes Lackey's Brightly Burning, the main character is essentially spiritually mated to his magical sentient horse. It's to the point where another character explains that Lavan will never have "another woman" in his life. Yet the whole issue of physical relations and romance is completely glossed over, even though the reader is primed to wonder about those very things. DON'T LIFEBOND A GUY TO HIS FUCKING HORSE IF YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE SUBJECT MATTER. If you want to write a dirty, amoral threesome, then fucking WRITE IT. Everything in these books is so coy and puerile. 

LKH's porn is like the second half of this:

Anyway. The bonding ends and Anita, ever romantic, snaps at J.C. to get off of her. I read on my kindle and right now we are at 8%. THE LEOPARDS HAVE BEEN IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY FOR THAT LONG. Gross. The room erupts in applause because watching three people impotently dry hump each other in a dimly lit corner is apparently better than the professional BDSM acts on stage. But of course Anita is involved, so it's automatically the best and most powerful thing anyone has ever seen or experienced.

Asher comes over and we are assured that his laugh is "very masculine." I honestly have no idea what a masculine laugh is supposed to be like. 

Oh my god, here comes Jamil. He's one of the only black people in LKH's universe, so of course his name is Jamil and his hair is in cornrows. We get Shang Da too, who is named after a subway station for some reason. This is how he is described: "the six-foot-plus Chinese..." Urgh. He is THE CHINESE. Normally he's very smartly dressed, which I feel is a fairly stereotypical way to portray an East Asian person. Good at math, formal, buttoned up blah blah barf. Sylvie also shows up, the only lesbian in the entire story. Don't worry. She'll be punished for it later. (or maybe she already has endured the terrible rape scene, I can't remember which book that occurs in)  

Apparently Sylvie is an insurance salesman as her day job, but she has to dye her hair because "insurance salespeople didn't have hair the color of a good red wine." I personally don't find that to be a particularly unnatural hair color. Once again, this is a supernatural world. Surely people are used to hair and eye colors that aren't the standard human shades. 

"Sylvie would never complain that I was too violent. Maybe she could be my new best friend." 

"...I'd seen the wolves fight, and muscles aren't everything. Skill counts, and a certain level of ruthlessness." 


Oh, here comes an "Asian" woman. Not that I expect Anita to be able to tell people of color apart, since so far she's demonstrated nothing but big fluffy heaps of cultural insensitivity. Let's see how she is described. "...shining black hair that fell barely to her shoulders. The hair was nearly the same color and brilliance as the vinyl cat suit that clung to nearly every inch of her body. The suit made sure you were aware of her high, tight breasts, her tiny waist, the swell of her shapely hips. "

These people are all bodyguards because Anita, J.C., and Richard can't get up yet as they are too spent.

I hate Jason. He is a fucking creep. He makes shitty intrusive comments and that's the whole of his personality. "He could never leave well enough alone, our Jason. He always had to get the last joke, the last comment, that one bit too many." This has got to be in my top five hated personality traits.

Natter natter the aftermath is both like a flu and yet pleasurable, which wow I have a hard time picturing that. The last time I had the flu it involved having the shits and puking at the same time. Sexy, that is not.

Anita lies to us again. "All these months of trying to forge the wereleopards into a cohesive, friendly unit, and it was me that had learned to be cohesive and friendly. Me that had learned that not every helping hand is a threat to my independence. Me that had learned that not every offer of physical closeness is a trap or a lie."

First of all, that whole quoted passage is ridiculous. Not once in this book has Anita done anything friendly or diplomatic. Not once has she evidenced true empathy or concern. I think this is one of the weaknesses of LKH's writing. Saying something does not make it so. You have to show me the evidence. That, and Anita continues to act like a person coping with complex trauma, despite having had a very charmed life. Once again her motivations and feelings are completely murky to me.

Like this: "This was the moment that I usually pulled away. We'd have some fantastic sex, metaphysical or otherwise, and that was my cue to close down, hide." Where the fuck is this coming from? All I can think is that she doesn't feel safe with these men, and that she is in fact trapped in abusive relationships with them. Of course I don't give LKH that much credit. We're supposed to take this at face value, which makes it completely baffling.

"Some say that that moment during sex when you both have an orgasm your auras drop, you blend your energies, yourselves together. You share so much more than just your body during sex, it's one of the reasons you should be careful who you do it with." If this is a rule of the setting, okay. But instead I just read it as slut shaming and purity lecturing. Don't just give it away to anyone, ladies. I hate that because it implies that women must always lose something during sex, that they're taken, or they have their virginity taken. It just plays in to that abstinence crap about how women can't possibly enjoy or gain anything from sex, so if you're a nice person you would never degrade her by asking for sex.

So they're bonded now. Excellent. Can we get to the FUCKING RESCUE?

Narcissus shows up and cancels the rest of the bondage shows because they can't possibly compete with what Anita, Richard, and J.C. just did. Sigh.

"His [Narcissus'] eyes were pale and oddly colored, and it took me a second to realize that Narcissus's eyes had bled to his beast. Hyena eyes, I guess, though truthfully, I didn't know what hyena eyes looked like. I just knew they weren't human eyes." 

Let me help you out.

Hyena eyes are brown to black, so Narcissus might want to get that whole eye thing checked out. Narcissus comes over and smoothes his dress, which is just  so weird you guys because haha he's a man in a dress. Honestly I'm uncomfortable with her calling him a man. Just because he uses male pronouns does not mean he identifies as a binary male. He may feel more connection to the male and/or androgynous parts of his identity but may still consider himself non-binary. Though I don't know what I expect from Anita at this point. Surely not gender sensitivity.

Oh for fuck's sake. Now Narcissus wants to talk in private, and fuck the leopards because Narcissus has guards waiting with them to prevent more torture. But they've already been tortured, and they're being held by enemies that could well get impatient and put silver bullets in their heads. Hostages are not in a good position. Being murdered is a not uncommon fate.

"No," I said, "the leopards are mine." 

Now Narcissus is being a creep and subtly coming on to Anita. Why does everyone want her? I get that MCs get this treatment a lot and that's allright, but jesus at least give me an in universe reason. Then Narcissus kisses J.C. J.C. isn't in to it. Why is this happening? They all agree to talk in private. This is fucking interminable.

I have to admit, I love soul bounds and sex magic. These things will come up in the Twisted Tree universe (fair warning). But my god they can't take away from the plot like this. No one wants to read all of this nattering when there's a high tension situation in the works (the leopards). People want these characters to deal with immediate concerns, not go off in to a private room somewhere and sexually posture at each other.

More shit about how she, J.C., and Richard are all so close now, and empathizing so well. This makes me wonder if the bonds are a cop out so LKH doesn't have to write emotional evolution, which I am pretty sure she can't do. I try not to speculate on her personal life or her problems, but let's say I find her inability to portray deep emotions worrisome.

We should talk in private. Shall we talk in private? Let's talk in private.

"Even before the marks had merged I'd had moments like this. Moments when their thoughts invaded mine, overrode mine." THIS IS NOT SEXY OR GOOD. Essentially Anita's personality is being slowly eroded by outside forces. Lately I've been noticing a trend towards finding stalking and nonconsensual extreme possession sexy, and I'm rather dismayed over it all. Especially since LKH isn't honest about it. Their relationship does not have to be healthy. But at least admit it and have it be a part of the narrative.

"I wasn't as worried about the leopards as I should have been, and that did bother me." No it doesn't, you heartless waste of space. God I hate you.

More bullshit about how Anita is afraid of intimacy. Does this all go back to the guy in college who rejected her for being Mexican? Because that is the biggest pile of bullshit. Anita passes for white effortlessly. Now if she had any connection to Mexican culture that would create its own set of problems, like erasure and unwanted, painful privilege when code switching/passing. But she doesn't. She doesn't have a single connection to Mexican culture. If I recall the guy had to see pictures of her mom to even realize she had Mexican ethnicity. And yes, that guy is an absolute shit head for leaving her over that. But really? That's still causing Anita, a woman in her thirties, such fear of intimacy that she can't help but withhold from the two men she's supposed to love most? This just makes her seem petty and childish instead of tortured.

Anita is gagging for some dick and J.C. tries to tell her it's down to the marks, probably, and he doesn't want to be accused of trickery later. This sounds sort of asshole-y but I actually agree with him. Anita never takes responsibility for her own sexual actions. She can't just want to have sex. She has to blame it on magic, or her lovers, or the phase of the fucking moon. I'd be afraid of that accusation too, if I were dumb enough to engage in a relationship with Anita. She even describes the effects of the magic with a comparison to being intoxicated, which means she can't consent depending on how drunk this is making her feel. Though I don't know, apparently Richard and J.C. are closely bonded to her that they should be able to assess her ability to act responsibly. Unfortunately neither of them have the kind of integrity that would make them leave off if she was too impaired.

"Let's get this over with and go get the leopards." Behold, something Anita should have said in chapter one.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Narcissus in Chains Chapter Four

"The club was over the river on the Illinois side, along with most of the other questionable clubs."

So a little known fact about me is that I am absolute shit with geography, and I am certainly not in the know about St. Louis in general. However, I have learned that it is the ninth most segregated city in the U.S. So I have a sneaking suspicion that LKH is talking about the scaaaaary black neighborhood here. If anyone can confirm this, please let me know.

There are some resonances regarding minority discrimination as well; Anita tells us that if the people in power don't want a vampire or shifter club in their area, they will manipulate the law in order to force these businesses out over archaic zoning guidelines. This could be very interesting in the hands of someone else. Since it is LKH, to say I am worried about where this is going is an understatement.

Some irritating stuff about finding parking, and how a normal woman would be oh so scared to walk in this area alone at night but Anita isn't because as usual she's packing a ridiculous arsenal. I am not sure why Anita needs to be in opposition to the 'average' woman in order to be an effective character, but I am willing to overlook a certain amount of this if only because again, I feel the main character of an urban fantasy almost needs to experience Othering to be effective.

However, I question why this Othering has to come at the expense of typical feminine expectations and gender performance. Being feminine is not a bad thing. Enjoying makeup and skirts and socializing in clubs and whatever else are perfectly acceptable things to enjoy. I think I would find this more effective if it were shown that Anita is different from the mainstream human, as opposed to being different (and somehow better) than the average cis woman.

Speaking of Anita's arsenal: "A gun doesn't cure all ills, but it's a start. I also had a knife sheath around each calf, very high up, so that the hilts came up on the sides of my knees." How in the hell she is going to draw those when she has a skirt on, I don't know. Also I'd think every time you took a step, the handles would push forward and distort the line of her clothing. Not very subtle. 

Okay so apparently Anita does know some hand to hand, including Judo and Kenpo. So again I question this almost pathological reliance on guns and knives.

Oh my god, fuck you Anita. Why? Check out this gem: "Of course, I don't usually walk around looking like bait." WALKING AROUND IN A SHORT SKIRT IS ASKING FOR IT, YOU GUYS. 

Now, I should say that I don't think main characters need to be or even should be perfect. Oftentimes they're carrying around the same baggage we are in terms of sexism, racism etc. Hell, one of my MCs thinks appearance/behavior on the part of the victim and sexual assault are linked, because that's what his own ongoing sexual assault has taught him. Once you've had someone you should be able to trust tell you repeatedly that you were asking for it, well, you're going to start to believe it. But why does Anita buy in to this? Do they not have sensitivity training at her job? They sure as hell should since they're often dealing with those who are grieving and fragile. As far as I know she hasn't undergone any personal experiences that would instill this notion in her, aside from being raised in a society with a thriving rape culture. It bothers me that someone still holding on to this attitude is in charge of people like Nate, who need to internalize the notion that they weren't asking for it, that no matter what they were wearing, or doing, they didn't deserve their assault(s). 

She goes on about her clothes too much. She gets in to explaining how magical shielding works in her world, which is perfectly fine. But then she says, "Talking about shielding always made me feel like I was having a psychotic break and sharing my delusions." I can relate. This is how I feel whenever I talk about polytheism and that, yes, I do believe in the gods as real beings and not just thought forms. But I don't understand why Anita has this hang up in a world where magic has always been present. Shouldn't it be as unremarkable as any discipline? Math, science, magic? More inconsistencies in world building. Either magic and supernatural beings have always been present, or they haven't. 

"It had only been in the last two weeks that Marianne had discovered that I hadn't really understood shielding at all. I'd just thought it was a matter of how powerful your aura was and how you could reinforce it. She said the only reason I'd been able to get by with that for as long as I had was that I was simply that powerful." 

Again I am being told that Anita is massively powerful, but I have yet to see anything that justifies such an assertion. 

The walk to the club is two blocks but this is at least six blocks worth of thinking. 

Jason turns up in a ridiculous club outfit. This is one of the things that I think could be really awesome. Go for a dark, twisted world, one that's overtly sexual and almost cartoonish. You could even justify the crazy penis sizes that way. Distort the surroundings, the people. But instead this book hovers between wanting to take itself seriously and wanting to go overboard, and we're left with something fairly bland and silly as a result.

Anyway, Jason is one of Jean-Claude's werewolf servants, otherwise known as an animal to call. This by the way is one of my favorite ideas in the AB world. Of course it's underutilized and often the abuses done to these wereanimals is hand waved and ignored. Wait till I get to Harlequin. I am going to have some shit to say then. 

We go through Jason's outfit for a couple of pages. The text reminds me that at this point Anita is supposed to be lupa, werewolf queen, and that buggering off left the entire werewolf population of St. Louis at loose ends. Oh Anita, you're such a wonderful, powerful, dominant leader. Not. 

Jason exists to get Anita in to the club so she doesn't have to wait in line. Not a good way to stay inconspicuous considering Jason is dressed in an outfit about as subtle as a disco ball. That, and she's going to irritate everyone in line by cutting ahead, ensuring that some people are now going to remember the thoughtless bitch who got a personal escort inside. 

Anita tells us over and over that Jason is wearing a tiny little thong and she can see the outline of his balls and ass. Woop de doo. It's a fetish club. People are showing off. This is not news. 

"The music hit me at the door like a giant's slap." We've already had a variation on this theme what with J.C.'s voice being a "velvet slap." Vary your analogies, lady! 

"I hadn't expected Narcissus in Chains to be a dance club." Why not? My local bondage club has several dance nights. ..."it looked like a lot of other clubs." Well yes. What were you expecting? 

LKH wants the club to be like this:

But really it's like this:

Blah blah Jason takes Anita to J.C., who is standing off to the side watching people dance. J.C. is wearing another one of those "poured on" outfits. I don't know why Anita and LKH both seem so obsessed with androgyny, only to assure me in the same paragraph of J.C.'s masculinity. Is this like nineteenth century novels where the heroine could only have grand adventurers if she married someone at the end? DON'T WORRY GUYS, WE ALMOST HAD A NON-BINARY STANDARD OF BEAUTY BUT REALLY IT'S CIS MASCULINE. GLAD WE CLEARED THAT UP. 

"The first time I saw the blue-green roil of the Caribbean, I cried, because it was so beautiful. Jean-Claude made me feel like that, like I should weep at his beauty." I actually like this, though I question the word roil here. I thought that meant whipping the water up so that all the grit and mud darkened it, and I've always imagined the Caribbean as quite clear. 

I like this too: "It was like being offered an original da Vinci, not just to hang on your wall and admire, but to roll around on top of." I think that does a good job of conveying how decadent Jean-Claude is, how being around him feels somehow outside the bounds of what's normal, but in a pleasurable, forbidden way. 

I don't want to be too nitpicky but I can't figure out how JC's eyelashes are supposed to be like lace. Lace has patterns in it. 

Narcissus makes an appearance as Anita and J.C. stand around staring at each other. Narcissus self-describes as a hermaphrodite and is physically intersex. He uses male pronouns. Yay! Except, he's dressed in a way that makes me oddly uneasy. He's wearing a dress and a ton of makeup, spike heels and lace stockings. It's not that I protest his gender presentation--that would be pretty damn weird coming from me--it's just that I question LKH's need to feminize him. Since LKH seems to have a very serious vendetta against traditional femininity I can't help but think that dressing him up like this is part of that agenda. 

Anita is desperately confused by Narcissus' gender presentation and consequently doesn't know how to treat him. This does happen in real life so I'm not going to jump all over her for it. There are some good things about Narcissus. He's an alpha, and secure in himself and in his gender performance. I think it's kind of funny that Narcissus has a bunch of hunky male hyenas around that flex for him on command. You do you, honey. Who wouldn't. 

One thing I do NOT get about werehyenas is that they've modeled themselves on Greek myth. Because of the hermaphrodite story? That seems like an odd thing to base your society on. It's quite possible that Narcissus has just decided to order his hyenas in such a way, which if that's the case tells me he lives up to his name. 

Anita says, "Greek myths, nice naming convention." Apparently this is supposed to be funny somehow. The attempts at humor in these books never really seem to grow legs. It's usually Anita saying some random nonsense and then being confused about why people don't laugh. 

Anita is wearing Oscar de la Renta perfume, which Narcissus can smell quite clearly. He also smells Anita's gun. I find it very weird that Anita is wearing that type of perfume given her general contempt for anything even the slightest bit womanly, but I don't know, maybe J.C. gave it to her or something. Narcissus tells her she can't have her gun in a neutral space (which is what the club is) and surprisingly she hands the gun over.

BUT we need to have more ridiculous Anita is a sociopath stuff when Narcissus tells her whether or not she's happy about surrendering her weapon is not his problem: "I met his eyes and felt my face slip into that look that could make a good cop flinch--my monster peeking out." Good lord this is insufferable. Being the equivalent to a dangerous criminal or a dirty cop is a bad thing. I can't believe I have to keep saying this. Dirty cops are disgusting. They are perverting the role of a service professional, and there are few things I find less defensible than that. If you're going in to a field that is supposed to help people and you abuse your power within that field, you have zero integrity and your worth as a person is in serious jeopardy. Taking advantage of people in a power differential situation where they are in a position of relative powerlessness to you is sick. Anita, you are sick, and again it's pathetic and gross instead of making you cool. I hate this so much.

"I nodded, but I said, if my people get hurt because I don't have my gun, I can make it your problem." It's hard for me to come up with another main character as completely unpleasant as Anita is. I was once assaulted by a woman who had a very similar attitude. She was hands down the most aggressive person I have ever met, and nasty to boot. That is what Anita reminds me of. I can completely see Anita being willing to spit on me while throwing punches. She doesn't like or enjoy anything. She's overly reliant on violence to solve all of her problems. She views diplomacy as a weakness instead of a skill. Of course main characters can be difficult to like and still be effective, but there's nothing about Anita that a reader can feel sympathetic towards. Even anti-heroes usually have something that humanizes them. 

Also once again I have to harp on the fact that guns do not solve problems. Oftentimes, they create problems. Anita also has magic, knives, and martial arts training to rely on. Why antagonize Narcissus about this? She knew going in that his club was a neutral space, and that she wasn't going to get special treatment. Sigh. She follows up this initial insult by saying, "Personally I think neutral is just another way of saving your own ass at the expense of someone else's." What? The hyenas aren't saving their own asses per se by setting up a neutral night club. Certainly it might mean they have to fight less and have fewer enemies, but mostly they saw a niche and filled it. A society like this needs neutral ground to function. I am a firm believer that sometimes people do need to take sides, but it's not weird for a place as conflict heavy as supernatural St. Louis to need a gathering place where they won't have to get in to a dominance battle or fend off being turned by vampires. 

Narcissus is a creep and there's a lot of shifter-y magic going on between him and Anita. At this point I think Anita has a couple of beasts inside her--that's what she said--but she isn't a shifter. I also really like this concept. Unfortunately I feel like it never goes anywhere because Anita never shifts and very little comes of this metaphysical zoo beyond giving her a grab bag of convenient power. 

Narcissus wins most reasonable character award with this: "If you cannot protect your people without guns, then you should step down as their Nimir-Ra and let someone else do the job." 

Now I see why people love these reaction gifs.

Again, I think NiC might be the best Anita Blake book, not the worst. The flashes of insight are shocking, considering how utterly awful she is by the time Harlequin rolls around. She admits she doesn't have the power to be Nimir-Ra (presumably partly because she can't shift). Of course I've read this book before and I know this is here just to set up Micah being introduced, so my excitement is dulled slightly. 

Anita and Narcissus have a snippy little argument about how shifters are so species conscious they won't help each other, which again I don't get. A lot of these animals would never interact in the wild and have no reason to be biased against each other. They're also partly human, with a human's ability to reason and make long term plans. Why wouldn't they ally themselves with other groups if it would do them good to do so? One thing I don't like about this series is how everyone acts the same. If you're a shifter, no matter what type, you conform to a certain set of beliefs and expectations. So a werehyena and a wereswan have very similar ways of organizing themselves, despite having literally nothing else in common. It gives the text a very D&D feel, which in my mind is not a good thing.

"I couldn't arm wrestle them, and I would lose a fair fight. The gun was my equalizer." Another really great reason to learn shifter politics and diplomacy. Also a fight between a human and a shifter is inherently an unfair fight, and I don't see how a gun is going to truly help against a creature that can react in mere seconds. They have instincts Anita doesn't, gun or no gun. 

She goes on about how Nathaniel has no boundaries and won't protect himself even in the face of death. Elizabeth (another wereleopard, as yet sight unseen) is terrible! evil! bad! because she abandoned Nathaniel in this highly charged sexual environment. Which is true. BUT why did Anita pick Elizabeth to do this incredibly important job when Elizabeth has a history of defying her? That forces me to put another checkmark in the Anita is too stupid to live column. Elizabeth is an asshole, but Anita is a shit leader. She's responsible in some part for what Elizabeth does. 

Blah blah blah Anita hates being Nimir-Ra and hates having to go out of her way for anyone else. Is this world so cynical and is she so jaded that she can legit think about her dependents being horribly tortured and not do much more than shrug? "I hated the fact that I didn't care whether I killed [Elizabeth] her." Ugh. Look, Anita. You work in a dangerous field and you're a human among shapeshifters. Sometimes, you're going to have to kill people. That doesn't require you to give up your humanity to this extreme. 

Narcissus has to comment on how little Anita is wearing, and how it must be hard to carry a gun under that. WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ANITA'S ITTY BITTY SHIRT? Narcissus says "now enter and enjoy the delights, and the terrors, of my world." Anita refers to this as cryptic. How is that cryptic? He runs a fucking BDSM club. His entire business revolves around delights and terrors. 

Anita mentions giving up her gun, them taking her gun, them them walking off with the gun like a million times. It's like the gun is a baby blanket or a stuffed animal. Ick. I'm also not sure why you can have knives but not guns. 

J.C. suggests that he and Anita close the mark before Anita goes to rescue "her cats." I get that she's their leader but this sounds horribly objectifying to me. In true personality disorder fashion, Anita views the leopards as objects to possess, trade, or destroy as she sees fit. She asks why they ought to do that and again I am confused because I thought they already covered this on the phone. He takes her to a table and I boggle because well, if you were being tortured would you want it to go on for one more minute than strictly necessary? I am guessing no, yet Anita insists on dragging this rescue out for PAGES and PAGES.

Anita finds bondage disturbing, tee hee.

J.C. explains that once the "marks are married" Anita will acquire yet more powers, like being able to sense all the vampires under J.C.'s control. What is the deal with giving Anita all of these powers if she never uses them effectively? More nattering about shielding. OMG RESCUE YOUR FUCKING LEOPARDS, YOU HEARTLESS SOCIOPATH.

J.C. acts like a reasonable person and informs Anita that the deal with the marks will probably turn sexual. Good job, J.C. Trying to treat her in keeping with informed consent is surprisingly evolved of you. Anita finally realizes maybe she should be thinking about her leopards and tells him she doesn't have time to bump uglies. "If you want to do this afterwards, that's fine with me, but the leopards are the priority." You goddamn liar. Its been hours since you got the first phone call and you're still trotting around in your oh so short skirt and tittering about how you fit guns under your shirt and blah blah J.C. This forces me to conclude that Anita doesn't want to have sex and is using the leopards as a convenient way to get out of it, rather than behaving like an adult and just saying that she doesn't want to.

This book is actively killing my brain cells. J.C. explains to her for what? the third time? The fourth time? That it's important to marry the marks and strengthen her aura before she goes to confront a largely unknown enemy. Then she says, "Will this marriage of the marks give me more...abilities?" YES. WE HAVE ALREADY COVERED THIS. She should really see a doctor, because I suspect this short term memory loss is related to all those blows to the head. This just tells me that LKH turns in her first drafts.

"You are like no power to come before you." This is more or less a requirement for protagonists in supernatural worlds, but why? Why Anita? Why is she so special? What makes her different and how? I don't think this has ever been even remotely answered. There's some nattering about how old school necromancers sometimes had extraordinary powers but that's it.

Anita wants to go somewhere more romantic than the dance floor. J.C. tells her she picked the setting, so deal with it. Except she didn't. She just came to where her leopards were being held.

Oh hey, here's Asher randomly. He's J.C.'s former lover and later there will be some truly offensive bullshit about how J.C. and Asher aren't allowed to fuck without Anita there. They used to be part of a triad with a woman named Julianna, who was burned as a witch. This makes me wonder if the movie Underworld was already out at this point. Her awful double standard 'polyamory' will rear its ugly head later. Suffice to say, I hate it.


J.C. might be a creep but he's more reasonable than Anita. He and Narcissus did some planning so that the marks thing wouldn't intrude on the planned bondage shows for the night. This indeed would be a huge faux pas in the BDSM world; BDSM is in essence about power exchange, and having one power exchange take away from another could easily be perceived as quite rude. Yet Anita treats J.C. as if he's being unreasonable and manipulative. Well, he is manipulative, but the guy is the Master of St. Louis. Being manipulative is part of the job, unless J.C. feels like getting staked immediately.

"I don't mean to rush you," Asher said, "but you will use up your time in talking if you are not quick about it."

Clearly this is a point in the series where earth logic is still creeping in despite Anita's every attempt to ignore it.

J.C. asks Anita to drop her shields. Anita doesn't want to. What the hell did Anita think marrying the marks would require? Obviously if you have holes in your aura that need to be, ahem, plugged, you have to open up. In order to um, introduce the plug. To your hole.


J.C. keeps having to explain things to Anita like she's six years old. Now, I am not sure how Anita acquired these marks in the first place so I can't really comment on the consent or lack thereof in this scene. I think she has a right to be frightened, and she doesn't have to want this, but she can't go back. She can't unmake her decisions thus far. Sometimes we have choices, but none of them are good. That's how life works, fair or not.


So big question. If she doesn't want to be with J.C. and doesn't want the marks, why doesn't she kill him? She's already established she can kill him despite her feelings. Dare I say, why doesn't she execute him? Or is she the Have a Pleasant Cup of Tea-er instead?

She tries to get away from J.C. She obviously does not want him touch her. Asher holds her in place. ALL OF THESE PEOPLE ARE TERRIBLE. Now, Anita has consented to this as much as she's able and sometimes fear is not a deal breaker, especially in BDSM. That said, I don't think her and J.C. have a safeword which would be really fucking useful right about now.

"I knew with a sudden clarity that it wasn't his power or lust that had called his eyes, it was mine. He could feel how my body tightened, moistened, as he moved towards me. It wasn't him I didn't trust. It was me." 

This reads as though Anita inherently mistrusts her sexuality. Why would this be so? As far as I know, she's never been assaulted, she's never had to come out in an LGBT-phobic society, she's never been singled out and punished for her gender or femininity beyond what the average woman endures, plus she's surrounded by sycophants at all times who constantly tell her how beautiful and hot she is. Where is this attitude coming from? I think this must play in to LKH's notion that Anita can't be good if she wants sex. It also puts the blame on Anita, as if J.C. isn't capable of hurting her and she's just being unreasonable. It reminds me of Twilight in the sense that Bella is also a hideous woman-child who can't be trusted with her own desires, such that Edward needs to withhold sex in order to keep her pure.

Anita falls down in her efforts to get away from J.C., only to have Randomly Arriving Richard pick her up off of her feet.

WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED. You know, I had this idea that I would do a Harmful Idea count for each chapter, but I don't think I can even count them all.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Narcissus in Chains Chapter 3

Read Dottie's breakdown here

Anita is romantically tied to one of the most powerful vampires in the city, yet she's his "sweetie." I can't quite put my finger on why this seems odd, but it is.

So, Jean-Claude isn't available when she calls. "I'd worried that after so long Richard might finally tell me to go to hell, that he'd had enough of my indecision. It had never occurred to me that Jean-Claude might not wait." Really? She's just taking advantage of him at that point. Not that J.C. is a good person himself, but it doesn't mean she needs to be an asshole too.

I feel bad for laughing at this: "My aura had two holes in it, one for each of the men." Yeah, your aura. That's what we're calling it these days. "I'd blocked up my holes." "The holes were there, and the only way to fill them was with Jean-Claude and Richard." THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID.


Pray tell, what is a "velvet slap" ? Whatever it is, J.C.'s voice is one. He picks up when she calls his third club.

"I just couldn't lift as much weight, and there was weight to wading through Jean-Claude's power." Holy confused metaphor, Batman.

"I...tried to sound like an intelligent human being, not always one of my best things."  Color me surprised.

Our heroine: "I'm always angriest when I think I am in the wrong." This is a childish defense mechanism at best that adults are sure to find grating, yet Anita has all these men hanging off of her.

So J.C. is passive aggressive at her about not contacting him for six months. Anita mistakes being sarcastic for having a personality. I have encountered this in the real world before. If you suspect you don't have a great personality, please don't graft sarcasm on to it in an effort to evolve. It will work against you.

J.C. is a doormat. He warns Anita that Narcissus in Chains is a bondage club that will surely offend her delicate sensibilities. Hasn't she been hanging around Guilty Pleasures and Danse Macabre for a few books now? How shocking can it be? J.C. says he doesn't know Marco (makes sense, Marco is a newcomer to town) but finds it odd that Anita thought he'd know about Narcissus in Chains. Another thing I don't understand. Marco is a person, a wild card, capable of coming and going. Narcissus in Chains is a place. It is fixed, and within J.C.'s city, Why is it so weird that he doesn't know Marco, but does know the club?

I feel dumber for having typed that out.

J.C. semi scolds her for not trusting him fully. Gee, you're only a manipulative master vampire whose been around for several of Anita's lifetimes, who never fully reveals his plans. Why wouldn't she trust you fully? Silly Anita.

Oh god, here it is. "It made things low in my body clench." It made your pussy wet, Anita. It made your cunt spasm, your quim quiver. Whatever. It made you imagine J.C.'s dick and how awesome it feels when he's balls deep in your ass. This book is about an adult woman, by an adult woman. What is with this coy puerile bullshit? This gets in to my assertion that AB is actually one of the most prudish series out there, but I'm sure I'll have ample opportunities to talk about that going forward.

Info dump about how Narcissus in Chains is a no man's land, which makes it sound lawless but apparently actually means that it's a neutral zone for supernaturals.

J.C. is generally dickish, promising to call Narcissus (as in the owner of the club) and keep the leopards from getting too terribly hurt but only if Anita will have a heart to heart with him about their relationship. I expect this kind of dickery from J.C. and don't find it jarring; the guy is a vampire and is pretty much required to be a dick. Still, another sign that relationship material he is not.

"I hated talking about my personal life, especially to those people most intimately involved in it." Well, that makes you a bad person. Withholding information from your lovers and friends due to your own hangups is not a cool trait. It makes you manipulative and withholding of your affections.

So far this ENTIRE THING is about Anita making phone calls. She should get off her goddamn ass and go save her fucking leopards, especially since she's apparently so tuff and has an arsenal at her disposal. J.C. calls back and expects to talk about their relationship right now. The leopards are being horribly tortured with every minute that passes, but Anita is treating them like a distant inconvenience. I take this as more evidence of her inability to empathize, and once again I don't find that cool in the slightest.

More about filling Anita's holes while I giggle like a school child.

God, J.C. calls her ma petite a lot. They go over how Anita's absence has been undermining J.C. and Richard's power, and she says "Richard must be desperate--he doesn't kill like we do." WHY IS IT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS THAT RICHARD DOESN'T MURDER EVERYONE THAT GETS IN HIS WAY? My goodness, I'd hope a protagonist wouldn't just indiscriminately murder everyone who gives her the damn side eye. Even antiheroes don't mow down everyone that challenges them.

"His bluff" Another weird thing to say. The bluff isn't a body part, or an item he owns. It's an action, bluffing.

Another surprising insight from Anita: "I still remembered the cold horror I'd felt when I realized how much I'd endangered all of us." When does this happen? Can someone who has read OB confirm or deny? She sure doesn't seem too concerned in this book, and even less concerned about her leopards WHO ARE BEING TORTURED RIGHT NOW. It bothers me how she isn't getting in gear. Torture. People who depend on you. GET YOUR ASS MOVING. This dilly dallying just makes it seem like she doesn't care. Please see my previous rant about psychopathy.

Holy shit, Anita apologized. This might be the best Anita book, instead of the worst. Don't get used to this, folks, because contrite Anita is rarer than a unicorn.

She finally mentions the leopards. Oh yeah, them. Whatever.

Basically, she needs to close the marks so she can go in and save the leopards without having, ahem, her "holes" exploited by the enemy. Fine, great. This doesn't require a dull as a spoon phone conversation. Talk to J.C. and Richard long enough to arrange the meeting, then get to the damn action.

Wait, hang on. She wants to close the marks, yet she doesn't want to invite Richard? I guess one closed hole is better than none, but why the hell are we going round in circles about this if they're not even going to invite their third? Leopards. Being tortured. Right now.

J.C. tells Anita she ought to dress a certain way to avoid being mistaken for a policeman. There's a bunch of aggrandizing bullshit about how Anita has "the eyes of a policeman." Again this is LKH trying to convince me ever so hard about Anita's badassery, yet so far Anita has done nothing beyond make phone calls and show that she is hilariously incompetent at investigation. Not to mention, isn't Anita kind of famous at this point? Does J.C. really think she can waltz in to a fetish club, frequented by vampires and werecreatures, and go unnoticed? This book is alarmingly inconsistent, which is one of the things that keeps it from being a good story.

More crap about Narcissus making sure "no great harm" comes to the cats. Well excuse me, but I don't find that very comforting. For a werecreature there's a lot of territory between healthy and death. Anita shouldn't be letting them languish in the hands of torturers, no matter how much Narcissus is willing to intervene. Not to mention she doesn't know Narcissus from Adam and frankly, I wouldn't be willing to trust a stranger in this situation.

Anita, why do you think torture is okay? Obviously it's not a big priority to her because she has time to engage in stultifying romance 'dialogue' with J.C. Meanwhile the leopards are acquiring PTSD left and right, a condition that could very well impact them for the rest of their lives, but oh it's no nevermind because Anita has to natter on about her holes.

We finally learn that Narcissus is a werehyena. Neat. I like hyenas.

Anita says that if any of her cats have been killed, she will murder those responsible in kind. I find that pretty reasonable, actually. It's normal to be enraged. However, she keeps referring to the leopards as if they're objects, another sign that something is deeply wrong with her personality.

Claiming that she will seek eye for an eye makes J.C. tell her she has "no mercy in [her] you." Why? It's not a nice thought per se, but it makes perfect sense that she might be angry enough to call for the torturer's deaths. The constant barrage of Anita is so cold and badass and awesome is very tiresome. Not to mention this is book ten. You'd think she would have accepted that sometimes, she has to kill people. She's the fucking Executioner. She's not the Have Vampires Around for Cakes-er. She's been killing people and raising the dead for ten books! How is this still causing her such moral issues?

So the next bit involves Anita saying she's trying to act like she isn't a sociopath. J.C. says "Do you really think you can change the nature of what you are merely by wishing it?" SOCIOPATHY/PSYCHOPATHY IS NOT COOL. Also bugger off Anita, if you were really a sociopath you wouldn't feel the need to constantly assert that and you certainly wouldn't spend so much time in self reflection. You'd assume your actions were right and correct. Also, you don't BECOME a sociopath. You can acquire all manner of mood disorders, organic brain issues, and so on, but you can't one day transform in to a sociopath. That's not how it works, so all this bullshit from Anita about trying to turn away from the brink of sociopathy is awkward.

"I fear that I'm already a sociopath and there is no going back." Yes, Anita, you would be right about that at least.

The chapter ends with "once upon a time." Ergh, what a clunker.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Narcissus in Chains Chapter Two

Dottie's run down of chapter two is here

Title drop as it is revealed that the club where they are hiding the leopards is called Narcissus in Chains.

Anita realizes Ronnie is there listening to her half of the phone call with Gregory. She says Ronnie "didn't belong in this part of my life." Well, why not? Ronnie is a private investigator. Why wouldn't she be able to help Anita? I suppose that would ruin the lone wolf thing LKH is trying to jam down my throat. Ronnie amazingly calls her on this, and Anita folds enough to tell Ronnie what is going on. I'm shocked by the flashes of insight Anita seems to have in this book. It's one of those things that tells me there's a good book in here somewhere. It's just a pity that LKH hasn't allowed anyone to help her find it.

Ronnie makes the very cogent suggestion that Anita use *69 on her phone to determine who called. *69 calls the number that called you last. Anita, this hot shit zombie raiser who works with the cops all the time says, "What good will that do?" The mind boggles. What do people see in this woman, that she's asked to participate at crime scenes? This isn't even a question of police work or criminology, that is basic fucking knowledge. I suspect she says this so the reader can learn about what *69 does. The inability to weave info like this in to the narrative in a more seamless fashion shows some of LKH's limitations as a writer. Ronnie says she's a "trained detective" and that's why she knows about "these things." I fear a world where someone has to be a trained detective to realize *69 might be a helpful tool in this situation. Man, I am sure glad I don't live in AB verse St. Louis.

Anita avails herself of *69 and when someone answers she asks to talk to Gregory. That is also really stupid. Why she would think a random bouncer would know where her leopards are being held I can't fathom, plus she doesn't know who she can trust yet she's blabbing Gregory's name to a stranger. This makes me wonder if LKH has even watched a true crime show, let alone read a book about investigation. That's not good for a book about a woman who works closely with the police. I realize I have a giant throbbing hard on for research and not everyone needs to take it to the level I enjoy, but something would be a good idea if the protagonist holds a job the author knows little about.

Neither Ronnie or Anita know where the club is. I find this hard to believe considering Anita's relationship with J.C. and the fact that he runs a huge nightclub. Even though she protests that the seedy night life is not "her scene" it most assuredly is thanks to her connections to him. Also, she's an executioner and an investigator of sorts, yet she doesn't know much about the club scene where she lives and works? That's doing really poorly at your job. Anita should have a working knowledge of every major club in her area. Who runs them, what kind of supernatural they are, the ebb and flow of vampire and shifter politics. Even though ultimately her end goal is to kill vampires, it requires more skills than pure combat to get to targets. Diplomacy, interrogation, the ability to blend in. But silly me, those things aren't badass enough.

She does think to call J.C. and ask him about this club, which okay fine, that's good, but I am still a little gobsmacked that she doesn't know this crap already. Especially since vampires are likely to screw you over with information, so it would be a doubly good idea to have a fair store of said same yourself.

Anita also keeps emphasizing what selfish bastards the shifter groups are, how they won't help each other and so on. She never does explain why this is. They have animal urges, certainly, but I don't see why their human sides can't figure out how to work together. I also find it a bit unbelievable that St. Louis supports so many apex predators. I include vampires in that list. I have to figure that vampires, like big cats, would each require hundreds of miles of territory in which to hunt. Except every club in this damn town is fit to bursting with supernaturals. Where are all the humans? How do all of these vampires and predators and shit eat?

Anita tries to be paternalistic and offensive to Ronnie about whether Ronnie is allowed to accompany her to the club. Apparently because Ronnie doesn't like to shoot people at the slightest provocation, she is a liability to Anita. Nevermind the fact that Ronnie is a trained investigator and surely knows how to handle a gun. Or that Ronnie is an adult woman (Gasp! thirty!) who wants to help her best friend.

I understand that Anita doesn't want Ronnie to get hurt, but sometimes you have to let people expose themselves to danger in order to preserve their autonomy. Ronnie is not stupid, she is not naive, she is trained. She knows what she's getting in to and there's no reason for Anita to lecture her about how shifter politics are just oh so dangerous. It also tells me that Anita does not see any other options when it comes to problems except for ones that involve guns, violence, and death. This is not badass. It's sad, even a little pathetic. Does Anita have any other skills beyond aiming and firing? I don't mind if a main character is efficient with weapons. I just want them to evince a fair array of skills beyond that.

"Flavor" is a weird descriptor for type, isn't it?

Ronnie again comes through with the common sense when she says "Are you sure he [Jean Claude] didn't plan this to get you back in to his life, excuse me, death?" If he really were as well connected and cunning as LKH wants me to believe, he'd be doing exactly this. But he's not, because LKH cannot allow anything to truly blindisde or even inconvenience Anita.

My god, I love Ronnie. Which means, I'm sure, that she'll soon be shuttled off to the side where she can no longer interfere with Anita's campaign to be the Most Special. We're still at a point in this series where occasionally Anita has a flash of real insight, but rest assured that will not last.

"It's hard for brown eyes to be cold..." It is? So Anita goes all badass! hard! cold! when Ronnie asks if she could truly shoot and kill J.C. despite loving him. This seems like a weird thing for Ronnie to say considering she spent the first chapter trying to convince Anita he needed killing. Now suddenly she's horrified that Anita could do it despite having feelings for him. "Something very like fear slide behind her eyes. I don't know if she was afraid for me, or of me. I preferred the first to the last." What? Why? Why do you want your best friend to be afraid of you? Often times, kids with developing sociopathy confuse fear with love and admiration, to the point where they will claim that the other children in their class think highly of them, when really those children are afraid. This is how I am reading what's going on here. Anita has mistaken fear from Ronnie for respect. That is not healthy.


SOCIOPATHY/PSYCHOPATHY IS NOT COOL. Lately there's been a slew of truly offensive articles and books about how our society needs a certain amount of sociopaths and narcissists to survive. This is unadulterated bullshit, and if true should do nothing more than motivate us to dismantle any such society and start over from scratch. Psychopathy is what made Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgeway, John Wayne Gacy and a score of other horrific murderers possible. It means you are fundamentally broken, and you cannot be fixed. You lack empathy, which to humans is of the utmost importance if we are to collaborate and thrive.

Often, a person with these problems will abuse others even if they never get violent. They are emotional vampires who drain the love and light out of everything they touch. All of this waffle about Anita being a sociopath is meant to make her seem super badass and cool, doubly so with the Edward character. No. It is a sign that there is something vital missing, something that can never be installed at a later date. It is a tragedy, not something to be valued.

As much as I love Silence of the Lambs and Dexter (well the first two seasons, anyway) they glamorize conditions that in real life lead to untold abuse. Ted Bundy has this mythology about being oh so smart and handsome, that he was on the road to being a political star and a lawyer. The reality is he could never make good on either of those things because he was so consumed with murder all the time. Beneath the surface, he was an empty shell. He lied constantly, often just for the sake of it. He used the charisma he did have to abduct, torture, murder and rape scores of young women. I was raised by a narcissist. It was not cool, glamorous, or necessary.

Anita tries to save the situation by saying that she'll murder J.C. if J.C. is the one torturing Gregory. Okay, cool. Makes sense. Who wouldn't in her position, really. And then Ronnie says "I don't understand that, Anita. I don't understand that at all." I am so confused and no one has consistent characterization. I'm only on chapter two! Note, I was in a bookstore awhile back and opened a copy of Affliction, the 22 Anita book. It was four pages of people saying "I don't understand" and "what does that even mean?" I'm already getting that feeling in NiC.

Then Anita thinks "You're my friend, my best friend, I thought. But I don't understand you anymore." What's not to understand? She thinks you're playing a dangerous game and sooner or later you're going to get burned, which you are. What's hard to understand about that? Especially since you never seem to treat her like an adult and won't fully explain your reasoning.

Weird ass sentence alert: "They fear my threat." 

Some subtle misogyny rears its ugly head: "She tucked her knees up, wrapping her arms around those long legs. She'd managed to get a tiny prick in one of the hose; the hole was shiny with clear nail polish. She'd carried the polish in her purse for just such emergencies. I'd carried a gun and hadn't even taken a purse." 

In the hands of a different writer I wouldn't mind this. It's just meant to emphasize that Anita is forgetting the normal things people tend to do. But in LKH's hands, I know this is an echo of the sexism to come. Anita is different and indeed better because she doesn't trouble herself with feminine things like purses and runs in her nylons.

They sure say each other's names a lot.

How come Ronnie thinks a werewolf is a better romantic choice than a vampire, by the way? LKH even has her shifters drink blood (?).

Anita refuses to cry in front of Ronnie which strikes me as weird, since they're arguing over how supposedly cold Anita is. This is her best friend, who desperately wants to see some normal emotion from Anita. So...Anita withholds that emotion. That's terrible.

Harmful idea count: 1

Friday, April 18, 2014

Narcissus in Chains Chapter One Part B

We have the expected description of Anita's outfit, which is fine if a bit long. What I definitely don't understand, though, is Anita's obsession with guns. The description of the clothing is basically there to show the reader how many firearms Anita can strap on under her barely there dress. It's implied that Ronnie talked her in to this outfit precisely so Anita could not carry a gun. Anita's best friend is so worried about her reliance on firearms that she's trying to trick Anita in to leaving the weapons at home.

I don't get it. This woman has magical powers. I realize she isn't as high powered at this point as she is in later books, but really how many magical problems can you conceivably solve with a gun? It's not a good weapon of choice for urban warfare in this context, since there are plenty of civilians around just minding their own business and a single stray bullet could easily kill a bystander. What about hand to hand fighting, if for some reason magic didn't work? What about learning a little diplomacy so you can try freaking talking before busting out the arsenal? It just makes her seem pathetic and ill prepared to do her job properly, rather than making me think of her as a stone cold badass as obviously LKH wants me to do.

More wankery about how turning thirty is just so horrible, and Ronnie is desperate and weird, and Anita angsts about probably not making thirty herself, blah blah blah. A lot of these things would seem more innocuous from a different author, but with LKH's abysmal track record re: writing women, I find it grating that apparently these two professional, supposedly competent females are just in a tizzy over aging. Thirty is hardly a huge milestone anymore for most people in first world countries, considering our healthcare (yes, even with its horrid limitations), social programs, food choice etc. This is not to say that impoverished areas and food deserts don't exist--I actually live in a food desert--but the fact remains that the average American is going to live well beyond thirty, less any other circumstances that expose one to a high level of poverty, violence, untreated mental illness etc. Granted, Anita works in a violent field but she's also in wonderful health and has more magical powers than god, so I think she's doing pretty well for herself considering.

Still, at this point Anita is fairly relateable. She realizes she doesn't need any more complications in her life. She owns up to the fact that maybe she's an eensy bit paranoid. Though I don't understand why both Richard and J.C. seem deeply affected by Anita's every whim. Would you wait for someone for six months? I think at the end of OB it was supposedly even longer than that, but psh timeline, what's that? It was also implied that she hadn't even been in contact with J.C. and Richard that whole time. And they're still hoping she'll come round and decide which one of them to bang?

And, we're deep in to the first chapter and there's still no inkling of plot. I like slice of life scenes. People getting coffee together, going to dinner, hanging out doing something unrelated to monster hunting. But at the very beginning of a book? You'd better be a damn good author to pull that off, and unfortunately LKH is not that author.

Then there's this gem: "I'm not mad, Ronnie, just tired, Tired of you, my family, Dolph, Zebrowski, everyone being so damned judgmental." And this is where the implied comparison to minority relationships fall apart. The whole scene thus far has been modeled after say, someone experiencing discrimination for an interracial relationship. The problem is, the fear of interracial love and breeding is completely unfounded, with no justification for the stance beyond bigotry. On the other hand a goddamn vampire can tear your throat out, mindrape you, turn you in to one of them, and a host of other terrible things. A black person can't transform in to a giant wolf monster that has claws the size of a garden rake. In short, people have every reason to judge Anita's choices. It's like having a lion for a pet, or dating a mafia don. The danger is real and obvious, plus Anita's ethics are all kinds of fucked considering she's supposed to oppose vampires behaving badly, even killing them when required. Talk about a conflict of interests! No wonder her coworkers are pissed at her.

Just a minor nitpick again, but Ronnie is wearing four inch heels. Damn, girl.

FINALLY THE PLOT MAKES AN APPEARANCE. Gregory, one of the wereleopards, calls to tell Anita that Nathaniel is in trouble. Why the book couldn't have opened with that, I don't know. A few sentences about Anita and Ronnie getting back from dinner, getting the message, Ronnie arguing with her a bit to try and keep Anita from getting involved, Anita goes anyway. Bam, done. A hundred times better.

"Wereanimals without a dominant to protect them were anyone's meat, and if someone moved in and slaughtered them, it would sort of be my fault." This I will never understand. I could see with certain prey animals, even though prey animals are more likely to fuck you up than a predator animal thanks to survival instincts and moving in groups. But yes, these groups do sometimes have dominance hierarchies. But these guys are leopards! Why are they all so slavish? Why can't they defend themselves? This just smacks of D&D campaign; the guy with the prestige path lords it over everyone else. I am forced to conclude that the leopards are helpless simply so Anita can come in and rescue and protect them, in an effort to once again highlight how freaking badass she's supposed ot be. Again. Even though all she's done so far is carry leftovers and ramble about guns.

Hamrful idea #2: I like Nathaniel as a concept. I have a weak spot for that character archetype. But Anita can seriously fuck off and die with this shit: "He was one of the few true submissives I have ever met." This probably seems like a silly thing to harp on, but this concept is actually quite dangerous. The BDSM world is a convenient place for the disturbed to hide, and this is one of the ways they protect their amoral behavior. They find a submissive, often one who is new to the scene, and browbeat them every time they balk with shit like, if you were a true submissive you would never protest my abusive treatment. There is no such thing as a true submissive. There are certainly people who desire to be 24/7 slaves and people who want to engage in consensual non-consent, but they are no more or less valid than people who purely see BDSM as a play concept, not to be engaged in outside of that context.

Harmful idea #3: I think Anita's instincts are right regarding sending Nate out with handlers, though, since he isn't capable of setting his own boundaries. That's not uncommon with survivors of abuse trying to live a BDSM lifestyle. In fact, I have this exact same problem, so I'm going to give Anita a couple of brownie points for this one. BUT and this is a very big but, here we go: "But Nathaniel was one of those rare subs who are almost incapable of saying no, and there had been hints made that his idea of pain and sex could be very extreme." Being a sub does NOT in ANY WAY, preclude you from saying no. Instead of Nate's lack of boundaries being attributed to his complex trauma, they're attributed to his submission. This is wrong. Flat out wrong. LKH is messing up BDSM in such an awful way. Sometimes these books are so bad they're fun, but this is just grimly offensive. On the next page she does say that part of it is that Nate isn't healthy, but the wording is suspect. Still, some brownie points here too for following up these statements with some reasonable stuff about how dominance and submission work, in that the submissive also has a responsibility to the dominant, a responsibility that includes knowing one's limits and when to use one's safeword.

I think my problem with this is that again I feel LKH has put the ideas in the wrong place. Leave out the true submissive bull and start with the little description of what healthy BDSM is like, and you'd have a much less problematic couple of paragraphs. She also does a good job of showing how the BDSM community policies itself, usually fairly well. I smiled in recognition at the whole, women in sex clubs must all be available submissives thing because that's a very common chestnut. At this point I'm still engaged in the narrative, so that counts for something.

My beef though is that I don't see Anita as being all that dominant, yet everyone around her acts like she's the archetypal dominant every submissive prays for at night. "The other wereleopards said I gave off so much dominant vibe that no dominant would ever approach Nathaniel while I was with him." Nothing in all the sporkings I've read has lead me to believe that Anita is particularly dominant or even capable. Also no other dominant approaching is bullshit, unless Nathaniel is her collared slave. Dominants do trade submissives around sometimes, it's not that crazy to think other dominants might approach them in the hopes of arranging something.

Wait, dominants will approach Anita and Nate, but the next page assures me "Though we'd had offers for menage a trois of every description." So which is it? People won't approach, yet they get offers for group sex on the regular?

Anita is pissed off and says "Well, that just fries my bacon." Of course Gregory has to ask what that means so Anita can explain that she's angry. I don't think we need to have this spelled out. Most regions in the U.S. have a saying like this. "That just chaps my ass" comes immediately to mind. One thing I don't like about LKH's writing is that she seems to assume her readers are stupid and require Anita to explain and re-explain every little thing that happens. It's condescending and rude.

People say hackneyed things like "We couldn't have anticipated this" and then the bad guy takes the phone from Gregory and makes some empty cliched threats. Anita asks whether Gregory is alive and Marco, said bad guy says "What sort of people are you used to dealing with, that you would ask if we've killed him first thing?" This is ONCE AGAIN meant to show how tough Anita is and how her life is so hard, and how she's always putting her ass on the line, but to me it's a bog standard conclusion to reach. Someone came on the phone unexpectedly to threaten her, and they won't let her speak to Gregory. Ergo, one could reasonably assume he's been badly hurt or even killed.

Gregory screaming in to the phone is a nice touch, really. I liked that bit. However this is an incredibly awkward sentence: "...and the sound raised the hairs on my neck and danced down my arms in goodebumps." Danced? In? Huh?

Marco's threats are so cliche and silly that I can't take the danger seriously. It would be "a shame to spoil all that [Nathaniel's] beauty" plus he implies sexual assault by asking if Gregory and Nathaniel really are strippers. Gag.

That's chapter one done. The biggest issue I have as far as the writing is that everything feels like it's in the wrong place. It gives the whole thing a weird choppy feeling instead of the story flowing smoothly. It's also only chapter one and we've already encountered two or three really icky concepts.

Narcissus in Chains, Chapter One Part A

LKH's chapters are notoriously short, but unless Dottie decides to combine chapters I won't either. Fair warning, I am a lot wordier than Dottie so if you don't want to read my ramblings that's understandable. Still, dissimilar styles are probably good when the source material is the same. Plus this is one of the longest chapters I've ever seen in an Anita book, so I'm breaking it in to two parts. Read Dottie's breakdown of chapter one here. Onward!

So, Narcissus in Chains. This is the book, the one where fans of the series jumped ship en masse. Often I've heard them lament about how Obsidian Butterfly was the last good Anita tale. The problem with that is, as Dottie's breakdown shows, OB was a terrible book also. I think nostalgia figures heavily in to the opinions of former fans.

In fact, I picked up and read Guilty Pleasures not long after it came out. I thought it was serviceable. One of the reasons I didn't continue with the series was its attitude towards religion. A member of the bad guy squad had a gris gris and this was meant to imply that he was relying on a primitive or even evil belief system, whereas Anita with her glowing cross was portrayed as righteous.

I'm a polytheist and so of course I find the notion that an indigenous or traditional religion is lesser than Christianity startlingly offensive, but I'd like to think I'd feel offended even if I didn't have a horse in that particular race. LKH does not have a good track record with portraying vodou, either, continuously confusing vodou with some sort of ill-defined Devil worship. So I put the book down, never to return.

However, considering I enjoy writing about bondage, polyamory and the like, and because the anti-fans are so vocal, I picked up Narcissus in Chains. Surprisingly, I didn't hate it. But it definitely did not realize it's potential. Without further ado, let's delve in to why I feel it failed to do so.

Chapter one features our heroine having just returned from a fancy dinner out for her friend Ronnie's thirtieth birthday. This chapter is perfectly serviceable, though LKH has a bad habit whereby Anita tends to think the same thing over and over again with only slight variations on the theme. So the opener is:

"June had come in like it's hot, sweaty self, but a freak cold front had moved in during the night and the car radio had been full of the record low temperatures." That's already an odd sentence, considering it makes it sound as though the radio--as in the actual device--is somehow trapping cold within itself in a literal sense as opposed to a broadcaster updating Anita and Ronnie on the weather. Next we have this: "My best friend, Ronnie Sims (I'd like to know who thinks of their best friend as Firstname Lastname, but we'll give that one a pass, even though I should hope long term readers remember who Anita's best friend is) and I were sitting in my Jeep with the windows down, letting the unseasonably cool air drift in on us." This may be quite nitpicky of me, but we already know the weather is unseasonable. She's told us once before. And then again: "...maybe it was the sweet smell of springlike air coming through the windows..." 

Just in case anyone is still confused, the weather is unseasonable, you guys.

Now, I'm being a little snarky because that's the underpinnings of the exercise, but I do sympathize a bit. The manuscript I am currently working on (funnily enough loosely inspired by this book) is the only tale I've ever attempted in a first person perspective. It's very tempting to repeat yourself and work through your ideas on the page, resulting in this kind of repetition. However, I think an author with a team of professional editors at her disposal should probably take advantage of them and cut the fat.

On that note, her love of "like some" conceit. This is another temping hole to fall in to. " the caress of some half-remembered lover" followed by "like some modern painting." She also refers to Ronnie's hair as "yellow" which makes me wonder if she's actually died it an unnatural shade, because otherwise why wouldn't you say blond?

Anyway, she and Ronnie are primarily arguing over whether Anita should be dating J.C. I think those of us who are paying attention are shouting NO, NO YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULDN'T. I am not sure if this character has ever done an admirable thing in his entire life.

Hamrful idea #1: Okay warning, I am about to get on a soapbox here. STALKING IS NOT, HAS NEVER BEEN, AND WILL NEVER BE ROMANTIC. We have a serious problem with this in U.S. culture and I would venture to say around the world. A person who doesn't respect boundaries is at best horribly misguided and at worst terribly dangerous. We MUST learn to take people's actions before we consider their words. If someone say, kidnaps your cat and gives it away, or tampers with your food, drink, or medications, if someone continues to leave gifts and notes even after being told no, if someone blackmails you in to anything, that is not okay, and it does not matter what words they use in an attempt to justify it. Words are cheap and free. And what did J.C. do at the jump? Blackmailed Anita in to a relationship. That is so gross to me, I just can't. To paraphrase Maria Bamford, J.C. is a factory that only produces giant red flags.

*huff huff* So, just to recap, stalking and blackmail = not sexy. That's not to say that can't be in the book. Books aren't meant to make you feel safe, or at least not every book is meant to make you feel safe. But this is clearly a topic that goes beyond LKH's ability to perceive nuance and her ability to deal in ethics.
Not once does J.C. truly get taken to task for his actions. It's explained away as love, or because he's an incubus and needs emotions/sex to feed on.

Unfortunately when it comes to stalking, these are the exact excuses used to absolve the stalker from responsibility. You see, it's Anita's fault. If she weren't so lovely, J.C. could resist her and retain control over his dangerous sexuality. And besides, he's just showing her that he can't live without her! I am amazed at how this manages to be offensive to both women AND men, claiming in one fell swoop that women should understand stalking behavior as being motivated by pure and good emotions, and that we should all realize that male sexuality is a dumb, poorly controlled beast that at any moment is sure to slip its lead. Ugh.

Then we're treated to some stuff meant to show that Anita is capable of murder, as opposed to Ronnie, who isn't. Fine, I'll buy in to this. I think a trope of the genre is the main character trying to figure where their boundaries lie. In fact I think urban fantasy and to a lesser degree paranormal romance almost requires that the main character live in a liminal space.

I actually also sympathize with both Anita and Ronnie in this scene. Ronnie realizes how fucked up it is that J.C. and Anita are together at all, and Anita feels judged for an alternative lifestyle choice. However, Ronnie is ultimately in the right because she realizes that stalking is not love, and she's doing the admirable thing by trying to protect her friend. She's also taking Anita to task for eschewing her duties as an executioner. I like Ronnie. I'm sure later she'll undergo some kind of character assassination so I'll try not to get too attached.

Part B to follow!