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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.

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