So finally the group, minus Richard and J.C. all of a sudden, goes upstairs, presumably to FINALLY RESCUE THE LEOPARDS. Remember them? Yeah, I hardly do either.
"The upper hallway stretched white and empty. There was a silver wallpaper border high up on the wall; more silver ran in thin lines down the walls, an opulent yet tasteful display. It looked like the hallway of some upscale hotel. I didn't know if it was camouflage or if Narcissus just liked it that way."
And what would it be camouflage for, exactly? You have to go through the club proper to get up here, don't you? So by the time you're here you already know it's a bondage club and one understated hallway isn't going to erase your memory.
Anita describes the club as "techno-punk" despite all the details being neither techno nor punk.
Jamil is a black guy in black leather, guys, and therefore he is "a contrast in darkness" and "like a shadow." He has ridiculous waist length cornrows. Does anyone in this book have short hair? Faust--what is it with the vamp names in this series?--, one of the random bodyguard dudes from earlier, has hair that is "...obviously tinted burgundy, like a shade of red gone wrong..."
This is one of those times where I feel nitpicky, but burgundy is a perfectly legitimate color and there's nothing "gone wrong" about it. I also don't get why Anita thinks burgundy is such a wacky hair color. So far in this book she's seen a guy that turns in to a hyena, a master vampire, a bondage show, and a werewolf dressed in nothing but a silver ball-hugger, but she makes note of burgundy hair as being out there?
Anita thinks about Asher.
"I still didn't know if Asher was pimping himself out for us or whether he truly wanted to be with Narcissus. I was more comfortable with the idea of self-sacrifice."
SHE WOULD BE HAPPIER IF ASHER WERE DOING IT OUT OF A SENSE OF OBLIGATION BECAUSE GOD FORBID ANYONE CONSENT TO ANYTHING IN THIS GOD FORSAKEN UNIVERSE.
Not only is Anita a complete weirdo about her own sexuality, she has to continually put it on to everyone around her. Not only is she not allowed to enjoy herself or want sex, no one else is allowed to want it either.
Sylvie and Meng Die are here too, in their best fetish wear. Anita feels the need to comment on their bodies, taking care to describe TINY EXOTIC Meng Die as "...smaller than me, more delicate of bone, smaller of breast, more slender waist, like a dainty bird." Also the AB Wiki tells me this: "Meng Die is short, delicate vampire described by Anita as resembling a "China doll"."
Of course, Meng Die doesn't like Anita, so LKH can justify the inevitable Meng Die hate party. No one in this universe, especially no woman, is allowed to dislike Anita and still be portrayed as a worthy person.
Anita explains she can't go in with Richard and J.C. because bringing other dominants will make her appear weak to Marco and Co. All this sense after the last couple chapters, wherein Anita and Richard were shown to be two of the worst shifter leaders of all time?
Here we go again. "If people began thinking I was weak, the leopards would be marked as anyone's meat."
This is a goddamn leopard:
Does that look like an animal that is going to quietly submit to any swinging dick that comes around? Why is it the shifter groups are so disinterested in helping each other, but they are interested in forcing each other to submit? Yes, there are politics and power games, but that's not the same as just swooping in and claiming an entire shifter group as your slaves.
"I had to save the leopards, not Richard, not Jean-Claude, me. But I had to stay alive to do that, so I did take backup. I'm stubborn, not stupid."
"Though I know a few people who might argue that."
Yes, and I am definitely one of them.
"So many of the "gifts" from the vampire marks tended to be double-edged swords, at best."
YOU PUT ME THROUGH LIKE FOUR CHAPTERS WORTH of "what will this do?" "I don't know!" BUT NOW YOU KNOW THAT MANY OF THE ABILITIES GRANTED BY THESE MARKS ARE DOUBLE EDGED SWORDS?
They're walking down this hallway for basically ever. We learn that Jamil and Sylvie are getting the friend treatment from Anita because 1) Jamil took bullets for her at some point in the past and 2) Sylvie "owes" her one. You know, because helping your friend get revenge on rapists is a situation in which she should owe you something.
If you want to survive in this world, do something for Anita the Great and Terrible or suffer the consequences.
Natter natter natter. Anita wishes there were more werewolves with her and less vampires. Once again this is a short walk, the matter of a couple of rooms, and yet this is easily ten minutes of thinking.
So, when this chapter opened Anita described the hallway but somehow now is the appropriate time to tell the reader about how the building used to be a warehouse, and how they just divided it up in to big private rooms, and omg this could not be more boring.
Anita seriously has to explain to Faust that he ought not to stand in front of the door to the Bad Guy room. This is so freaking obvious. I can only conclude that we're meant to think every person in this universe has the brain power of a concussed goldfish save for mystical and mighty Anita, who has to remind these people to put one foot in front of the other on a regular basis. They actually have to argue about this, probably just so Anita can go on about "cop-killer" bullets. Everything in these books is a contrivance designed to prop up Anita. I hate it.
"Get out of the fucking doorway," Meng Die said.
Anita "really, really" wants her gun back. What a surprise, even though having a gun would in no way make this situation better. It doesn't even occur to her that going in to a delicate hostage negotiation brandishing a firearm is a great way to get everyone killed.
Jamil knocks and this happens:
Anita" "I'm Nimir-Ra for the wereleopards. I think you've been waiting for me."
Guy: "About fucking time."
By contrast this room is all white, and it has blades all over the walls.
"The bodyguard by the door said, "welcome to the room of swords."
People in this universe are so creative.
Marco has weird ill-defined animal features and isn't fully shifted, so we don't know exactly what he is yet. He is covered in a fine coat of golden fur, though, and Anita guesses he's a lion. Everyone else in his group is dark skinned and they all look related. I can't tell if they're actually supposed to be related or if Anita is just racist and thinks all dark people are interchangeable.
She can't quite see any of her leopards yet past this big group of bad guys, but there's blood on the floor. The bad guys have also nabbed three women Anita doesn't recognize.
Marco wants to be greeted formally as a leader. Anita tells him to bugger off as he's not an alpha shifter. This is approaching appropriate on her part. If she gives the formal greeting to a lesser, she's greatly compromised her position. She tells him if Marco wants to send his alpha out, she'll greet him. Said alpha appears, and the other dudes move so she can see Gregory.
"He was turned towards the wall, nude except for his pants that had been peeled down to his lower thighs, his boots still on. Chains held his wrists above his head, his legs were far apart...There was no mark on his body that I could see, but blood had spattered on the floor in front of him, below him, pooling, dark, drying."
My god, that list of descriptors.
So a little bit of an aside. The whole euphemism is a more powerful literary tool than being explicit bit is close to becoming one of the hoary old chestnuts of writing advice. Write what you know! Write every day! Etc etc. I disagree. Sometimes euphemism is the proper tool, and sometimes being explicit is more effective. So, describing the torture per se isn't a bad thing, but even while she's looking Gregory over after he's been horrifically mutilated, she comments, "...his body was slender but muscled, butt tight. You have to take care of your body if you're going to strip professionally."
That is just unsavory. Not even my most fucked up protagonist would think this way, and he's in to sadism that would make Anita faint dead away. How in the goddamn world she can comment on his sex appeal when he's been mutilated--because, mind you, SHE DRAGGED HER HEELS--it's just beyond me.
So alpha guy is actually a weresnake and not a werelion. His name is Coronus. This is another Greek name. Okay. Maybe she's thinking of the snake from the Apollo myth? I don't know. I'm probably thinking about this too hard.
Oh right, all the little clans have dumb names like "Blooddrinkers" which is the name of Anita's pard.
"What I wanted to do was start screaming, but there are rules. I couldn't be furry, or scaly, but I could follow the rules."
But Anita, you don't know the rules. Obviously.
Coronus is --sigh--a sexual creep to one of the captured women. He explains that he meant to abduct the swanmanes (female wereswans) and their swanking, but got the girls and Gregory instead. Anita randomly notices that one of the snake people has breasts.
She wants to see Nathaniel. Oh yeah, him. The guy who has no boundaries, who can't protect himself. The guy you sent off with a minder you knew was defiant and would disobey you. The guy who is now presumably being hideously tortured because you are a terrible leader and a waste of skin and paper.
Coronus wants her to see Gregory up close and personal first.
Basically they've shredded Gregory's dick and balls. He's a shifter so it's not permanent, but that in no way absolves Anita. She takes the gag out of his mouth and the first thing Gregory says is: "Anita, I thought you weren't coming."
I am so angry I want to burst in to flames. Me:
They get Gregory down, undoing all the chains. Gregory collapses on her. As soon as Anita is pinned under his body, the bad guys attack her. Oh wait, is this the book where she gets the leopard infection? God help us.
I don't know how Anita can move faster than a striking snake shifter, but she's Anita so she manages it. There's a fairly cool shifter fight as everyone goes furry and scaly and digs in. Anita tells us for the second time that powerful shapeshifters can partially shift. What a great time to hammer home this detail.
Coronus comes up behind Anita as she's grabbing a sword and cuts her. I'm guessing it's with something other than his claws, since it's never mentioned that Anita has added snake to her inner zoo. She turns the blade around and stabs him. That's a move that only works in the movies and LKH hasn't built up enough author good will that I'm willing to forgive it.
Coronus calls for an end to the fight as Anita is about to take his head off. Oh fuck him, kill him. He has such a small group of shapeshifters it will barely cause comment to murder every last one of them, and after what they did to their captives they deserve it. But for some reason, Jamil stops Anita from doing one of the only semi-decent things she's tried to do so far.
Apparently Anita has been bitten by the snake people? Why doesn't she get snake powers then?
She sees Nathaniel. He's chained to the wall and pinned there with a bunch of swords driven through his body. Here's the 'best' bit: "I cleared the blood enough to see, enough to feel that his skin had closed around the blades. In the two hours it had taken me to get to this room, his body had reknit itself with the blades inside of him."
YOU COULD HAVE BEEN THERE IN TWENTY MINUTES. This basically exists for two reasons. 1) More cheap torture porn/body horror and 2) LKH is trying really hard to convince me that Anita cares about this. She drops to her knees, she wants to cry, blah blah. She still doesn't hesitate to pull the first blade out, though.
"The flesh hugged the blade as if it had grown around it."
You LITERALLY SAID THAT TWO SECONDS AGO. First draft. It has to be. I think we can see from how she's handled Shiver of Light that she turns in her first drafts, and it shows.
There's some bullshit posturing with the snakes and the hyenas. Somehow Anita can tell they're afraid of her, isn't that delicious. Anita lets us know that Gregory's "genitalia hung large and healed between his legs." It's large, you guys.
This is honestly making me sick. Not because they're pulling blades out of Nathaniel, but because Anita is sexually objectifying these torture victims even in the process of causing them yet more pain. That is...I don't know what that is. The kind of nonconsensual sexual sadism that turns you in to BTK or Ted Bundy, that's what that is. I legit feel dirty and upset.
Sylvie's dress is torn too, by the way, "bearing her breasts to the world." God, this is so gross. It would be a LOT easier to understand and stomach if LKH was upfront with me about the fact that Anita is not inherently a good person. Anita can strive to be good, but she is not inherently good. And yet, LKH clearly wants me to believe that Anita is inherently not just good, but moral.
Oh by the way, Anita only pulls out one sword and lets Jamil do the rest. HANDLE YOUR FUCKING SHIT. YOU MADE THIS BED, YOU DESERVE TO PULL OUT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE BLADES. HOW DARE YOU PUT THAT RESPONSIBILITY ON TO ONE OF YOUR SUBORDINATES?
Nathaniel begs her to rescue the three swanmanes. (what is with that word, by the way? Is there some justification for it or does it just sound cool?) Coronus is all lol they're swans what do you care, leopard queen?
"Their [the swanmanes] fear slid down my throat as if it were wine and I could drink it down, deep and cool. Fear, like wine, goes good with food. And I knew just by looking at them that they were food. They were swans, not predators."
First, my goodness if you're going to use a drink metaphor, try harder. This is so blandly cliche. Also, this is so inconsistent. She spent the first seven and a half chapters repeating over and over again that even the leopards, when left leaderless, are "anyone's meat." Also, swans will fuck your shit up.
This guy died because he pissed off a swan. From that same article:
"The birds are also highly aggressive and “attack by smashing at their victims with bony spurs in the wings, accompanied by biting with their large bill,” the suit says."
Soooo....the swans and especially the icky girl cootie covered swanmanes are food though.
Anita apparently cares sooo much about these women. Knowing what I do about the Harlequin this is the worst kind of hypocrisy, but I won't spoil that awful pile of indefensible nonsense. God knows we'll get there in time.
OKAY GUYS HERE IT IS. Coronus asks why she cares about the swanmanes. If you were the MC of this book, what would your answer be?
A: I don't want helpless victims to get raped and killed
B: It's wrong of you to kidnap people and ransom them, and since I am the protagonist I am going to act honorably and stop you
OR C: "Why? Partly because I just don't like you. Partly because I want you dead and I can't do that tonight according to lycanthrope law. So I'll cheat you of your prize. That will have to suffice. But don't ever, ever get in my way again, because I will kill you, Coronus. I will kill you. In fact, I'd enjoy killing you."
There it is everyone, plain as day. The snakes messed with Anita's possessions. She only cares about these helpless victims because she wants to stick it to Coronus. She is officially the worst protagonist I have ever had the misfortune to read about. There is not a single thing about her that is consistent, admirable, or even interesting. She is a joyless container filled with whatever offensive piece of tripe LKH feels like from one moment to the next. I hate her. I hate this book. I hate the way it makes me feel.
It's heavily implied that Coronus has a boss who isn't very nice, and he's reluctant to give up the swans because he's going to get it taken out of his hide if he does. It's also implied that the lesser shifters in a given group have their wills subsumed by the will of their alpha. Do. Not. Like.
"When I had first met him, Nathaniel had had the most hopeless eyes I'd ever seen. But he knew I'd come. He'd known with an absolute certainty that I would not leave him here like this. ...Nathaniel trusted me in a way that had everything to do with logic, and everything to do with truth."
Anita tells Coronus to walk away. He says he can't. They go back and forth like this for awhile. Eventually, Coronus and the weresnakes still standing attack Anita. Gregory attacks in return, "in a butter colored streak" which is certainly one of the least badass things I've ever heard.
The snakes hurt Anita, and they and Gregory wrestle around on top of her for a bit. "We were pressed as close as lovers" because Anita while being the most sex negative person I've ever had the misfortune to read about, is also terrifyingly prone to sexualizing the most extremely unsexy things.
The fight ends and Anita passes out. Gregory stuck her with his claws during the fight, so obviously the plot is going to revolve around whether Anita is going to turn in to a wereleopard. But why not a weresnake? They've bitten and clawed her several times. Are snakes not sexy enough?
I'm going to try and keep a count of how often she passes out, because we're already at two.