Thursday, June 4, 2015

Born to Bite (Argeneau #13) by Lynsay Sands

contains spoilers, you have been warned

Armand is an extremely unlucky immortal. To date, all three of the women he has married have been killed.  It's pretty difficult for an immortal to die but given a lack of suspects, Armand isn't sure if the deaths were accidents or murders. Armand's son Nicholas is under council arrest and the only way to prove Nicholas innocent of  the crime of killing a mortal woman and solve the connection to the death of Nicholas's life mate Annie, is to find out what really happened to Armand's wives.  Enter Esche - a council enforcer.  Esche is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, if she can somehow manage to stop being distracted by her desire to be alone with Armand.  Armand may potentially be a mass murderer but he is still her life mate.

Eshe is the third person of colour to appear in the Argeneau series. Armand is her second life mate having lost her first, Orion in battle.  Eshe is the mother of 8 children, of whom 6 are still living.  That's basically all we get to learn about her.  Eshe's main occupation seems to be mouthing off to Lucian.  Eshe's exchanges with Lucian are only mildly amusing and constitute the sole attempt at comedy in Born to Bite.  This story really could have done with a lot more of the trademark Sands humour.  I really feel that beyond the most basic details, we didn't really get to know Eshe.  Furthermore, given the scarcity of characters of colour in this series, it would have been nice if Eshe had been written with more cultural markers.  Eshe felt like a black girl painted white. 

The second character of colour is Anders.  Anders has dark skin, is an enforcer, is handsome, has developed a tight relationship with a dog and has yet to find a life mate.  Ander's is a little stand offish and as in other books, it's Brickers whose given some real characterisation.  So far all we know about Anders is a small connection of facts that barely make him a character.

Eshe and Armand don't declare insta-love and there isn't any real build up to their relationship since they are both immortals.  When Eshe and Nicholas learn that they cannot read each other and both experience a desire to eat food again, they hop into bed.  It all seems rather perfuntionary but given that they were destined to sleep together anyway, it makes sense. Why mess around when both Armand and Eshe are well aware the signs which indicate meeting a life mate?

Most of Born to Bite is taken up with the search for the person responsible for the deaths of Armand's wives.  Clearly, writing mystery is not one of Sands strong points.  The enforcers were not at all proficient; they forgot to ask questions during an interview with witnesses, and even take down the name of a hotel where two witnesses were staying, all for the purposes of drawing out the supposed mystery of who killed Armand's wives.  If this is an example of the immortal justice system, I am surprised they don't have more rogues running around creating mayhem.  We are told over and over again how experienced the enforcers are, yet they spend most of the book chasing their tails and talking to the same people repeatedly.  It was quickly obvious who the murderer was and why, so the whole story just felt really dragged out to me.

Sands may have finally gotten around to adding people of colour to her stories but the same cannot be said about LGBT characters.  The only reference we get to LGBT people is Mrs. Ramsey, Armand's housekeeper, crowing about the fact that her friend Doris is wrong about Armand being gay.  Armand lives twenty minutes away from London, Ontario, I fail to see why Sands couldn't have included an LGBT character.  I wonder if Sands realises that LGBT people actually live in Ontario? At this point, I've given up hope of any real inclusion beyond a straight character being mistaken for gay.

Being the love interest of this story, Eshe is the primary female character.  We did however learn about Althea, who the characters seem to love calling a whore.  Althea supposedly tricked Armand into getting her pregnant by dressing up as his dead lifemate.  Poor Armand, he just couldn't help it and had to fuck Althea and then felt compelled to marry her because he's all honourable like that. It's not like Armand actually had control of his own penis. Sheesh. If that were not enough, Althea actually slept with several married men while married to Armand.  Armand is the only one who didn't judge her for that but when the women spoke about Althea, it was all slut shaming and judgment. Althea died because she cheated on Armand, sleeping with four different men in one night and had the nerve to suggest that Agnes and John actually move out and get their own home.  Eshe unfortunately laughs when she learns the details of Althea's death and has to remind herself (spoiler) that Agnes is a murderer. That's right don't identify with the slutty murder victim that would be bad.

In terms of gender, Sands also decids to have the male characters have a tête-à-tête about how sneaky the women in their lives are.  It seems that to compensate for being physically weaker, the women in Sands world continually manipulate the men in their lives, thus winning arguments and making the men apologise.  Even the mighty Lucian is not immune it seems. Anders, Lucian, Armand and Brickers all agree that women are sneaky.  Armand however suggests it's because women have better communication kills but further posits that "men of the edge in other areas." It's typical gender essentialist clap trap that had no purpose in the story but to drag it out further.

The only good thing I can say about Born to Bite is that once the so-called mystery was wrapped up, the ending was rather touching.  In this case, the HEA isn't really about Eshe and Armand, but about Armand finally being able to see his daughter after hundreds of years and reunite with his family.  It was a nice twist on romance being the epitome of true happiness.  That being said, it really wasn't worth reading two hundred and twenty-five pages to get there.  Born to Bite could easily have been a novella by cutting out all of the nonsense.  A tighter story might have made it tolerable but as it is, it's a struggle to get through and lacked good humour to make up for the puerile plot.