Monday, June 12, 2017

Crimson Death (Anita Blake #25) by Laurell K Hamilton

Dear gods. I’m almost stunned. This is gonna be a long one.

This was, quite frankly, the worst Anita Blake book of the entire series. Yes, I’m aware of the very rocky road of this series. I have followed it from its early moments of awesome as it careened every downwards, occasionally showing sparkles of hope but ultimately plunging deeper into the abys and hitting rock bottom and then positively wallowing there

Well, this book went deeper. At rock bottom it pulled out mining equipment and made a spirited effort to reach the centre of the earth. And may have achieved it. If I was not already 25 books into this series I would have DNFed this book so hard, formatted my tablet, exorcised said tablet, burned it and then scattered the ashes over at least 3 different bodies of water. I honestly don’t even know where to begin because there’s just so. Much. Awful.

Ok, let’s start with the rapetastic, misogynist, homophobic shitstorm that is Damian, his partner Cardinale and this utter trainwreck of awful

Firstly, we have to remember that all women in this series are terrible if they are not Anita. Oh, since the very very very straight Anita who is still straight decided to start having sex with women in the straightest way possible there are some female names following Anita around pretending to be full characters while fawning and serving but not exactly existence (And, hey, I’m generous about calling Anita Blake characters, characters-I’ve even accepted Micah as a character rather than a walking penis). Fortune, Echo, Magda – they’re just names that drift around behind her without actually doing anything – which is lucky for them

Because when we actually have a woman? They become a parody of awfulness – Cardinale is presented as utterly irredeemable, unreasonable, incapable of being professional or mature or sensible. Her every attitude is treated as utterly unacceptable – the idea the she actually wants a monogamous relationship with Damian is considered not to be love but “obsessive jealousy” (this applies to anyone who wants monogamy in this series because Laurell K Hamilton has decided this is a sign of deep emotional damage and evil); she is violent, emotional, uncontrollable – and literally says she would rather Damian be dead than with anyone else. She commits the unforgiveable sin of decorating their shared room with flower prints (how dare she be so female!). She also literally loses her shit because Damian has the temerity to LOOK at other women and feed on them (he is a vampire, she is a vampire). She is incapable of doing her job properly because she can’t stop stalking Damian.

Oh and she’s thin because she’s starving – just in case you thought for a second Anita was saying something almost complementary about her. And in case we weren’t clear we have this:

Cardinale is like the ultimate drama queen, an extreme girl. Let’s not be subtle about the misogyny, let’s just lay it out there.

Of course Anita, we’re reminded repeatedly, is “one of the guys” and Damian, a man who is literally a thousand years old, says “You don’t think like any woman I’ve ever met”. She’s not like those other terribad awful women, guys! Don’t worry!

She also coins the phrase “girl trap”. This is when terrible, manipulative, awful, emotional, unstable woman asks mean unfair questions of her long suffering man who cannot possibly give a good answer so is being set up for an argument. She uses this phrase a lot.

So having established that Damian’s long term monogamous girlfriend is the absolute worst, we throw in some woo-woo reason why Damian absolutely has to have lots of sex with other people (monogamy is evil!) and we run into the next great trainwreck of this book – rape.

Damian agrees to sleep with (non sexually) Anita and Nathaniel because of their woo-woo bonds which means if he doesn’t he gets terrible nightmares (remember, this is the series where if you don’t consent to all the sexy times, the magic will force it on you and absolutely no-one is allowed to ever say no to sex). Nathaniel is bisexual (this book, it tends to alternate depending on the author’s mood) and wants to have sex with Damian – Damian is described as “very heterosexual” and “homophobic” because he doesn’t want to have sex with men (yes, as we’ve seen repeatedly before, while Laurel K Hamilton is happy to include the shit storm of homophobia we’ve seen repeatedly, and continually degrade and demean gay men and lesbians, she also thinks homophobia means “not wanting to have sex with your own gender”. Which is, y’know, what “heterosexual” actually means.) So to get past that hurdle Damian borrows Anita’s magic to mind control Damien to having sex with him.

Let’s repeat that – Nathaniel uses magic to rape Damian. Not only rape him but he uses this magic to change Damian’s sexual orientation so he’s bisexual (for Nathaniel only – of course – because these books never deal with LGBTQ orientation, only as a fetish – which I’ll come to).

Anita’s concern about all this? Is how hot she finds two men together – and concern about the lack of using condoms. They don’t have the slightest concern that Damian has just been raped and his sexual orientation magically converted (which is revolting and terrifying).

What’s almost ironic is through this Anita has finally acknowledged that the Mother of All Darkness raped her and several weretigers by mind controlling them with mystical woo-woo and into an orgy they don’t remember. Excellent that this is finally acknowledged as rape and Anita has issues form that, especially about having sex with the men who were involved – except we go from that to her cozying up with Micah who raped her on first meeting and no-one even coming close to acknowledging that Nathaniel did the same thing in this very book to Damian and Anita, including forcing Damian to completely discard his sexual orientation – and there’s not even a second of acknowledgement of this even while labelling the previous rape. How can someone not draw the comparisons?

Of course Damian isn’t mad or upset or even slightly perturbed by this because why would he be about a rape that Anita is getting off on? He even recriminates himself for daring to have issues about having sex with another man (how dare he not wanting to have sex with someone he’s not attracted to!)

We end up with Nathaniel being sad that Damien may be angry with him so Damien gives his rapist a hug – and then keeps on hugging and comforting him. He even strips off in front of Nathaniel, his rapist, to turn him on. And he says this:

“I love that you both want me”

This. Is. His. Rapist. Not one day after the rape and he’s stripping off in front of him and saying how much he loves that his rapist is turned on by his naked body.

Anita notes “I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen him so relaxed and happy before”.

Hahaha, yes isn’t it wonderful how rape and mind control totally help with centuries of abuse! Dear gods I need a drink with this… Damian has been RAPED INTO HAPPINESS aaarglebaaargleeeaaaaar

We also continue the theme of no-one having a right to say no to sex. See, Jean-Claude is concerned about sexual contact with Cynric because when he joined them he was under 17 and he’s still under 20 – Jean-Claude sees him as a child an even calls him “nephew” because that’s how he envisages that relationship (which I prefer to Anita’s “I’m having sex with this boy and also going to parent’s evenings as his guardian at school” approach. Because uckies uckies uckies). Well clearly Jean-Claude has to get over that because how dare he have sexual reservations about anyone?! Nope that is now allowed in the Anitaverse so we have an awful scene of them bringing Cynric into a foursome with Jean-Claude, Anita and Nicky – because Jean-Claude cannot have any boundaries, no-one can.

Oh and Nicky – he’s still a “bride” of Anita – which means he’s a slave who not only has to what Anita wants but literally exists to make her happy. He can feel her emotions and is driven to make her happy – which goes beyond slavery and completely removes any capacity for consent. And, yes, of course she’s having sex with him.

Let’s look at the homophobia of this book because ye gods it keeps on getting worse. Nathaniel justifies his rape of Damian in that straight men are totally fine with other guys giving them oral sex or if they’re the top in anal sex.

She’s also laid the groundwork for future straight people being forced into sex for her amusement – members of Harlquinn are losing their powers unless they have a sexual relationship with Jean-Claude and co. To keep their power, they have to have accept sexual useage AGAIN. More compromised sexual consent, more sex between people of the same gender who are most definitely straight straight straight.

This all just really sums up how Laurell K Hamilton treats sex between people of the same gender – it’s never a matter of LGBTQ identity, never a matter of attraction and rarely about relationship. Sex between 2 men or 2 women is a fetish that straight people engage in. She reduces being LGBTQ to being a kink – this is even more clear when she degrades and demeans gay men and lesbians as “conservative” or even prides (and even straight in previous books) because they won’t have sex with the opposite gender. The only remaining gay characters she has are not even really present in this book – we have Jade, a lesbian, who has been completely demeaned and sidelined because she won’t have sex with men and she’s portrayed as damaged and broken. And Kane is just an evil jealous monster standing in the way of Asher being properly redeemed and accepting how awful he is. In fact, this looks like Asher’s path to redemption back to lady-loving and Anita: kick out and turning on the gay man he loves.

Of course, bisexuals don’t escape either – they may be “better” than gay men and lesbians because they are willing to have sex with both genders – but they’re only acceptable if they lean towards the opposite gender (otherwise we see Asher-style demonization). They’re also utterly incapable of monogamy – seriously, again and again we’re told that bisexuals are just miserable unless they have lovers of both genders. And that’s aside from the erasure that comes from all of these “heteroflexible” characters. Because despite all this extremely fetishised sex between 2 men, and hastily glossed over sex between 2 women – only about 3 of these characters are ACTUALLY bisexual. We’re repeatedly told that, for example, Jean-Claude and Richard aren’t bisexual, Micah is not bisexual, Damian isn’t bisexual, Nicky isn’t bisexual – all these men shagging other men are all straight straight straight. Even Anita is only having sex with women to be “FAIR” to her harem of straight men who need more vaginas around. The rest of the time its woo-woo (and for one person only – bi-only-for-you-trope) or heteroflexibility or, more often than anything else, simply presented as a kink. Sex with the same gender is an occasional kink straight people indulge in: it’s fetishistic, reductive and horrendously homophobic.

Oh People of Colour, it’s your turn next – I see you hiding behind the sofa, you’re not safe either. Most of the time Anita ignores POC as they’re not part of her main group – they’re very very periphery to the group. The main problem we have is with description of these very very small side characters. Whether it’s Jade (because no-one will call her by her Chinese name) and her delicate Asian stereotype description or… well I’m just going to quote this description of the character Kaazim:

…smile lost in the blackness of his facial hair and dark skin. His hair was the exact same colour as his beard and moustache and his skin so dark even his eyes were a brown so dark they looked black most of the time. He was so monotone your eyes had trouble seeing detail…

There were sections of the world where he would have vanished into any crowd, the perfect spy, perfect assassin, because they wouldn’t remember him. Here in St Louis he stood out, because he was too far from the desert sands and the spired cities of his original homeland.

Dear. Gods. Someone wrote that and an editor passed it off. Are there so few Middle Eastern men in St. Louis that he stands out that much? And could you actually make a description more othering or exoticising – this is one of the most terrible desc-oh wait, this is the series that described a Black man as looking like he “hunted lions in Africa with a spear”.

Anita’s mother was Mexican. And every single time she says this she then follows up with how super pale and white and porcelain and white and pale and white and more white, white white white her skin is. Is there a racial equivalent of “no homo”?

It almost seems redundant at this point to reach the plot – but hey, let’s go there for the sale of completeness:

Like most of the more recent books, the plot is lost in a sea of relationship dramas and pointless scenes where everyone just kind of talks about nothing. We have over a page spent discussing Cynric’s name. We have a pointless fight scene with the Harlequinn guards. We talk over and over about NOTHING. Cardinale alone took so many damn pages to properly demonising. Damian and his nightmares and rape, Jean-Claude and his issues with Cynric,

We also have another pointless “someone tried to oppress Anita, you dirty sexist” scene which is almost paraody. There’s just no subtlety at all in the prejudice Anita faces. Police are openly sexist to her in front of their boss and other female officers. She has now had at least 3 instances of having to slap down her OWN BODYGUARDS for being sexist arseholes. There’s viral youtube video out there of her raising an ARMY OF ZOMBIES. The vampires not only call her the Executioner but fecking WAR because melodrama. She has killed the Mother of All Darkness. It is RIDICIULOUS that any of these werecreatures she hires as bodyguards could underestimate her now. These convoluted “you weak and feeble woman” scenes are ludicrous. Aside from anything else, these are her employees. But a good third of them are quite fine with condescending to her.

It’s just like Dancing all over again – it’s such a desperately clumsy attempt to try and depict discrimination and sits poorly alongside Cardinale the Evil Woman of Womanness.

So, anyway there’s a vampire doing bad things in Ireland – and this could be an opportunity to touch on more world building outside of the US, or looking at how the world is manging now the Harlequinn and Mother of All Darkness are not policing things any more – but we only touch on this. Nope, instead we have an extremely condescending view of how useless and helpless and inexperienced Ireland is and how they need gun toting Americans to swoop in and save them along with lots of advocating for death penalty and guns everywhere. There’s a bizarre scene where Anita and her men are criticising and sneering at the Irish for trying to save the lives of Irish vampires burning in the sunlight who even she admits may have been compelled – am I supposed to agree with her? Because here the Irish emergency services are saying things like “we need a trial” and “these people are Irish citizens, and deserve respect as such” - and I’m supposed to disagree with them?

But hey, Ireland, Anita came to save your helplessness! And beyond saying “hey fae exist” there was no real attempt to develop any part of the supernatural of Ireland.

As these books progress, there has been so much awful building up that it is almost breathtakingly terrible now. Book after book of violated consent, slavery, forced sex and demonising anyone who ever dares to say “no” to sex has led to this point: rape is handwaved, constant and upheld as the foundation for romantic relationships; consent is routinely violated and people can be mind controlled into sex or becoming sex slaves and it all be presented as romantic

LGBTQ people have been demeaned and degraded for book after book while about LGB sex lives are treated as a kinky fetish – reaching this point where we have lots of sex between men and sex between women which is all treated as a fetish or a kink but virtually no gay, bisexual or lesbian characters – and gay and lesbian characters are demeaned as “conservative” or “straight” if they don’t discard their sexual orientation: while bisexuals are just sex factories. (And we have a direct quote of calling someone vanilla EXCEPT for not being straight. See, not straight = kink in this series).

Women have been routinely demonised for so long that any woman who isn’t in Anita’s shadow (and one of her sex toys) is broken down over and over again while Anita asserts her Honorary Maleness.

POC exist only at the periphery of this book and are referred to in such othering, exotifying manners that there are Victorian writers who’d drop their monocle and cringe at the language used.

All of this is more than enough to condemn this series and this truly awful book but even the elaborate world system that once made these books worth reading and the interesting, action packed plots are just completely lost now. All of this awful is now mired in a complete mess of slogging through relationship dramas, endlessly hashing out every last scene, constant, pointless diversions as everything is expositioned over and over and a ridiculous amount of unnecessary side tracks an distractions and endless, awful long rambling conversations that go nowhere. Honestly, I’m in full trainwreck mode now – I can’t stop reading this, not because I’m enjoying it but because I’m angrily reading to see what new, terrible depths can possibly be plunged by this series. I won’t say it can’t go lower – because I have every faith it will find a way as it has done over and over again.