Vlad and Leila’s lives are still overshadowed by the ongoing threat from Vlad’s most ancient and powerful enemy. That enemy has focused on Leila as a weak link in Vlad’s life – and he is determined to keep her safe by whatever means necessary, even if he has to put her in a gilded cage; whether Leila likes it or not
But that crushing hold is not just destroying their marriage – but it is ultimately fruitless against an enemy that knows him so well
It would be nice to have one book go by without Leila being kidnapped. Especially since this book contained a lot of graphic torture and sexual assault that verged on the torture porn at times; the only thing that really stopped it was the surprising casualness that Leila often referred to it. Like she was skinned, absolutely skinned alive which happened in the down time (which I appreciate because we do not need a graphic description of that) but the way she refers to it feels roughly on par with mentioning someone cutting your hair. I had very little sense of trauma from her after what she went through which made the whole thing feel kind of off to me.
There’s also a completely gratuitous sexual assault scene. It’s an odd scene in that both parties are doing the very best to avoid a rape and everything that happens is to stop a rape – but because it’s used to stop a rape both parties seem to miss that it’s still sexual assault and still not a happy, fun situation. Leila’s muted reaction turns a lot more focus on Vlad’s reaction – in fact the whole focus of Leila’s abuse is Vlad, Vlad’s anger, Vlad’s pain, Vlad’s past love who died for him, Vlad debating whether he should be with Leila and put her at risk, Leila worried about Vlad blaming her – Vlad Vlad Vlad Vlad.
The whole thing feels unnecessary as well – like Vlad couldn’t have been super enraged and outraged by Leila’s kidnapping, there was no need to throw in rape as well.
There are some decent elements to the whole scene though; there is an express rejection of her sense of blame. And she may have been kidnapped but she’s also heavily involved in her own rescue which is certainly a good way of working through the whole kidnapping trope.
I also like that there’s a lot of rejection of the idea that Vlad needs to keep her safe. Not, necessarily, by saying she can look after herself (ableit she can to some degree) but by showing the extremes he has to go to to keep her safe and how even those aren’t guaranteed – but by taking those steps he damages their relationship and drives her away. Ultimately he’s destroying their marriage in a futile attempt to keep her safe by endlessly smothering her and overruling her agency. And it’s not just her words that counter this, the plot of the book expressly shows how ridiculous Vlad’s plan is; not just for Leila but how he himself nearly fails without her.
I’ve started out discussing this because this really is the primary focus of the book. Leila is kidnapped pretty early in the book and remains captured and abused for a substantial chunk of it, after which they then try to find their big bad enemy. It’s not a bad plot and we have several cameo appearances from different characters from the wider world but the few twists don’t change the ongoing path of the story. Ultimately, Vlad and his allies are just too powerful to fight and while there were some interesting deviations along the way and it wasn’t a bad plot line, it lacked anything deeper. It was still a good and fun story though; once the imprisonment was over it moved at a good pace with a few useful elements to draw it out.
This does mean that the ending becomes more intriguing because we finally have an enemy that can’t just be nuked by the overwhelming power of Vlad and Mencheres and Bones and Cat and is going to require a more intelligent battle.
Cat and Marie make an appearance bringing a whole lot of power with them and, along with Gretchen, Leila’s sister (who is great fun) makes a good step towards adding a larger female presence to this series. The focus is still on Vlad and Leila but women are now heavily represented in the more minor roles. Leila also challenges the sexism of most vampires only ever recruiting men to be vampires (and skewering any claims that they need to be soldiers because there’s no reason female vampires can’t fight). She demolishes his excuses, I just wish he’d listened more
Marie is a Black woman, Marie Laveau and is not only a great power but her race and racism has affected her story and her character – it’s not just a brief descriptor for her, it informs her experience and opinions. We also have Mencheres who is Egyptian and a somewhat distant, godlike figure of useful abilities. Both of them are called on for resources, though, more than being involved characters in their own right (again, Leila, Vlad and probably Maximus are the only major characters but there’s a difference between being a minor character and a resource still). There’s some other minor POC roles as well – new recruits and Samir, one of Vlad’s lieutenants is Turkish.
There are no LGBT people in this book.
Leila’s relationship with her father is fraught and complex and I am interested in how it progresses while irritated by how much Vlad inserts himself into it – it’s annoyingly paternalistic.
This book and series continues to be one I enjoy, but don’t love. It has elements I like, but enough problems to make me sigh. It has a plot that is fun enough to be engaging and keep me reading, without being complex enough or deep enough or involved enough to really hook me in. But I’m not sure if any of that is needed. It’s a fun book and it is, inherently, a companion series to the much more involved and layered story in the Night Huntress Series. Next to that, does it need to be more complex or wider ranging? Does it need to be less personal or closely focused – and does it need to have protagonists facing an overwhelming threat rather than being the overwhelming menace themselves? Is there a reason why we can’t have a fun book involving a mighty powerful vampire and his lesser foe? Sure it’s less epic and, in many ways, less dramatic – but it doesn’t mean it’s not fun.