Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Reluctant Vampire (Argeneau #15) by Lynsay Sands

Now that so many immortals have been paired with their lifemates, they need time off from their roles as enforcers to take their honeymoons.  That means that the enforcers will be down a few hunters.  Cue Aunt Marguerite, who never seems to miss an opportunity to set immortals up with their  lifemates.  Marguerite decides to arrange to send Drina Argenis (from the Spanish side of the Argeneau family) to help guard the young edentate Stephanie.  Drina is eager to meet Harper but nervous because he is in still deep mourning after losing his last lifemate less than two years ago.  Somehow, Drina has to convince Harper that they are meant to be together while protecting Stephanie from the evil no fanger Leonius.

If I had to use only one word to describe The Reluctant Vampire it would be forced.  The whole thing just felt crammed together and at times awkward and uncomfortable.  Stephanie and Drina decide to trick Harper into a little shopping trip to Walmart.  There they set about tempting Harper by showing him the bra and panties Drina is buying and naturally picturing his lifemate in these things causes him to have to take deep breathes and gulp.  Then there's his whole astonishment regarding FM shoes. Really?  No, really?  It all just felt forced. Considering how young Stephanie is, I can understand that this is her version of helping the two lovers get it on, but it does not make sense that Trina played along.  

Trina has had a long interesting history which completely captivated me.  She is quite different than the modern working women who have been featured as lifemates for the Argeneau men.  Trina has been a gladiator, a pirate, a madam and even controlled a small country by controlling its leader for a time.  Trina has spent all of her life pushing back against the limitations women have faced throughout history, determined to live her life freely.  The problem however ensues when she meets Harper.  I learned about what kind of woman Trina is from her backstory but somehow it all got lost in her relationship with Harper.  Instead, Trina is decidedly motherly towards Stephanie with no hint of the hardness it must have taken to dress as a man and become a pirate.  

In terms of Harper, I found him to be extremely unlikeable.  Too much of his thought pattern seemed to be about avoiding being emasculated which for him meant being thought of as one of the girls.

"I’m sorry,” Drina said suddenly, and patted his shoulder as if he might need soothing.
 “I guess we need to try to remember that this is all alien to you. I’m afraid we just keep forgetting you’re a guy and have been thinking of you as one of the girls.”

“One of the girls,” Harper muttered, as she moved off to join Stephanie again. The thought was rather dismaying. It wasn’t that he was interested in Drina and wanted her to think of him in that way, but—

“Christ.” He breathed with disgust. Being considered one of the girls was damned lowering.   (pg37)

This is time number one where Harper reveals that being though of as a girl is "lowering."

Tiny nodded again, and then explained, “My best friend most of my adult life has been a female . . . and, come to think of it, she’s probably treated me more like a girlfriend than a guy friend,” he admitted with an unconcerned chuckle.

“Hmm.” Harper shook his head. “Well, I’ve never been treated like a girlfriend in all my life. It was a bit lowering.”

“Nah.” Tiny shook his head. “It’s a compliment. It means they don’t see you as sexually threatening. You’re a friend rather than a man friend.”

“And that’s a compliment?” Harper asked doubtfully.

“It is if you’re only interested in being a friend,” he reasoned, and then shrugged, and added, “But I suppose if your interests lie in a more sexual relationship, then it’s probably less flattering. Fortunately, I never had that kind of interest in my friend, Jackie. She’s more like a combination buddy and sister type for me.”  

“Jackie? Vincent’s wife? The one who is flying in at the end of the week to help oversee your turn?” Harper asked. The big man had called Jackie last night to tell her he would be turning soon . (pg 79)
Yes, that's time number two of Harper declaring that being thought of as one of the girls as "lowering."  Someone only thinks that way if that which is feminine is thought of as a negative or somehow less than someone is masculine.   Then there was the comment about Trina making good breeding stock.  Yep, this love interest is a winner all right.

In every book, Sands tries to include some kind of mystery so that the protagonists have something to do other than screw.  In this case, Stephanie the young edentate's life is in danger.  The hunters are certain that Leonius wants Stephanie and then there's the issue that Stephanie is developing powers she shouldn't have.  Stephanie, it seems, can read the thoughts of the oldest of immortals and developed the ability to control humans ahead of schedule and quite easily.  There's some worry that she will turn into a no fanger and end up quite violently mentally ill.  I really hope that Sands follows up on Stephanie at this point because the young endentate adds something new to a plot line which has become quite boring and repetitive.  

Anders, the only reoccurring character of colour in this series thus far and he makes an appearance in this book. As usual, Anders is sullen and spends his time grunting or communicating in Russian.  Anders's character really doesn't make any sense to me.  Yes, there are Black people in Russia but to call them a minority is an understatement.  I don't understand why Anders was not either a Canadian/ American/ African or of Caribbean descent.  This is largely what the black population is made up of in North America.  It reads as Sands being too lazy to write with an authentic and regional Black voice. Anders seems to be Russian because it's easy and possibly familiar to the author.  

In The Reluctant Vampire, Sands decided to include racism for the first time.
“Were there any other cars here when Anders was getting gas?” she asked suddenly.

“Anders,” Jason said blankly, and then his expression cleared, and he said, “Oh, you mean the cool black dude who lost the girl?”

Drina nodded.

“Well, yeah, some old dude was in here paying for his gas and getting junk food. A real asswipe,” he added with a sneer. “He saw your Anders guy get out and start pumping, and says to me, “You better lock up the till and door, boy. That nigger’s probably here to rob you.” Jason snorted. “Racist old prick. I checked the security tape after he’d left and, sure enough, he was the thief. Pocketed at least three chocolate bars when I turned my back to get the lottery tickets he wanted.”  (pg 190)
I do like that Sands bothered to have the old man's comments called racist without equivocation; however, it's absolutely a problem that Anders blackness is only reified by the introduction of a slur. He's been enough books already that we should know something about him beyond his taciturn nature and a love of dogs.   It irks me that Sands can find the time to include a slur but cannot find the time to flesh out his character and give him good racial markers beyond occasionally swearing in Russian.  She needs to explain how Anders came to be a Black Russian.  Somehow, I don't think that Sands is going to be capable of giving Anders the book story and characterisations that he deserves.

The one shining light in The Reluctant Vampire involves an incident with a skunk.  It had me laughing out loud and in fact, I read that passage to my family.  For a brief moment, I was reminded what attracted me to the Argeneau series in the first place - humor.  When Sands is at her best she hilariously funny.  I wish more of her unique sense of humor had been included in the book. Alessandro's response to the "smelly cat" and his suggestion that they were sent to by the English to torment the Americans is hilarious.

I'm not really sold on the romance between Harper and Trini; however, The Reluctant Vampire made me nostalgic for the first books in this series with its humor.   I hope that it means that Sands is going back to that because without it, the Argeneau series reads incredibly formulaic.  I read these books to kill time and possibly have a few laughs, not to fall into an unimaginative repetitive loop.  Here's hoping that good things are to come.