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."
SKILL COUNTS?? THEN WHY ARE YOU SO RELIANT ON GUNS!
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. "
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.