In other words, boys and girls, it's not the content that's the issue; it's the perspective.
The last three chapters could easily have come out of the lifestory of an escaped cult victim whose first attempts at running failed, and the realization is being treated as selfish stupidity on Anita's part. Anita has to constantly prove her value as a human by being better at things than someone else, rather than simply being alive and competent. And of course, let's not forget that Anita's been raped at least once a book since Narcissus, and it's praised as a loving act. Anita rapes other people, and it's a fault on their part that they no longer want to have a relationship with her.
But you see that next book and pick it up out of morbid interest and read the promise of something that is exactly what you want right now...that won't actually happen in the book. The last book promised us a zombie plague, zombies, mayhem, vampires, shapeshifters, more zombies, relationship politics, sex, and another good helping of zombies. What we got instead was a left-field villain, the same shitty gender politics in place of actual relationships, and Nathanial running around active crime scenes in his bondage collar, all wrapped up by the standard LKH handwave in the last few paragraphs of the book. And what you get instead of enjoyment is this kind of paralizing awe, like, HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THIS. And of course, trainwreck syndrome: You want to know if it can get worse.
It gets worse.
Chapter 32 starts with Anita and Requiem having mind-alteringly boring sex, all the usual trademarks in place; a penis alternatiely "His nakedness" or just "himself" because everybody is defined by their genitals. And then...look, everything about this chapter is set up so that Anita will fuck someone she doesn't want to fuck. LKH deliberately established that Anita doesn't want Requiem, and then systematically manipulated her into a position where if Anita doesn't fuck Req, Damian and Nathanial die. So we're already way, way, WAY into psychological fuckery. When I read shit like this, I'm thinking that all LKH had to do was make Anita want to screw Requiem. We wouldn't need to have lives at risk, we wouldn't need to have this endless dick-measuring chess game. It'd be two people fucking because they want to fuck
So in the middle off all this, with Damian and Nathanial's lives on the line, Requiem decides to stop right before Anita hits orgasm, because Anita hasn't proven that she's in love with him.
“Finish it,” he said, voice showing the strain of his control.
“Your words betray you, Anita. You use me only because you must, not because you want me.” Anger flared through me.
“My body wants you, Requiem.”
“But your heart does not.”z
So first Req and Jean Claude manipulate Anita into sex she doesn't want, and then decide to shut the sex down with Anita believing not fucking Req will kill two people she does love, because Requiem wants his ego boosted. Meaning that Anita will believe she killed Damian and Nathanial through her inability to give a man an emotional handjob.
So, to her credit, Anita says "Fuck this shit" and tries to find somebody else.
And this is the point where we took yet another rail cart downhill. I mean, we did full on cult-induction manipulation two chapters ago. HOW CAN THIS GET WORSE?
The text implies that Anita's ardeur searches the entire circus for an able penis. There are lots of penises in the place. Asher, Jean Claude, Richard, Haven, most of the were-rats. There are plenty of people she could latch on to. There is only one person, however, that she promised to keep her hands off of because he'd been abused by Belle Morte and he'd had enough of that shit, thank you. So yeah, she decides that London is the dude she needs to fuck.
And she doesn't ask him. Nope. She throws all her power into him and sends him climbing over every other warm and not warm body in the room to get to her.
His face lowered toward me, his breath escaping in a sound like a sob, before he pressed his mouth against mine. That sound made me remember that there was something important about London and the ardeur. Something I needed to remember, but he kissed me, and I stopped thinking about anything but the feel of his mouth on mine.I can't decide if this is the second, third, or twenty-somethingth rape in this book. And not only is it rape, but it's the magical equivilant to force-feeding an alcoholic a bottle of tequila. Which is also some of the imagery LKH uses during the sex scene. Because we can't be allowed to forget that London is an ardeur addict. That might spoil this scene's very special something. Meanwhile London's responses are described as being "frantic" and "panicked" and we are frequently given little reminders that London is the last person on earth Anita should be fucking right now. There's one little bit where he's described as being flat-out terrified beneath the ardeur's mind-altering effects, and Anita remembers that whoops, he's addicted to this and he made her promise on multiple occasions TODAY that she would never ever ever ever touch him with the ardeur, and she even apologizes, because mentally raping an addict with their addiction of choice is totally like bumping into someone with a cup of hot coffee. And then they go right back to fucking.
And again: All LKH had to do was have Anita and Requiem have voluntary, consensual sex and we would not be reading about this.
The chapter ends with them both orgasming, and then Anita holding London while he sobs and she wonders just how much it cost him to do that with her. Because the image of a rapist comforting their victim and thanking them for their generosity is totally the way to end a chapter.
LKH has created a character with the power to literally rape millions of people at once. And then continually sets up scenarios for forced, damaging, non-consensual sex that make NO SENSE AT ALL once you factor in that all we needed to do to avoid that was have the author script both characters to want to fuck.
Chapter 33 opens with Remus, the were-hyena leader, finally doing something sane. He asks Jean Claude for permission to get his people the fuck out of the circus.
See, this little display, and the two chapters before it, have illustrated an awful lot about the priorities for these people. Nobody gives a fuck about your mental well being, as demonstrated by the cult-vention around Anita in chapter 30, keeping Anita hooked into the Richard/JC/Anita tri-whatever has made her incredibly fucking dangerous, she's got the self control of a two-year-old on pixie-sticks, and promises don't count for shit. EVERYONE is now staring at Anita like 'WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST DO" because she just did something terrible. And for those of you keeping pace with the abuse manipulation chart, getting out of her relationship with Jean Claude now means admitting to herself that she just raped an addict who had come to her for help and who trusted her to protect him and keep her word. Which will be very hard to accept, especially if London has just joined the harem, because every time she fucks him she'll be revictimizing him.
Jean Claude responds to Remus's concerns for his people with, basically "Dude, she's offering free sex!"
I think several of them would have been more than happy to help protect ma petite, in these circumstances.”
Remus is insistant, and the were-rats agree. They're scared to death and they don't want to be involved in this anymore. Jean Claude lets them leave.
Anita spends a minute struggling with the impulse to guilt and shame, and then decides that Remus pulling his people out is a sexist criticism of her as a person, and not a move made to protect vulnerable people.
But in reality, as Remus had said, most of them were ex-military or ex-cops. Which meant a woman was always working uphill with them anyway. They’d seen me have sex with one man, and once the story got around it would be more. The really weird thing about the rumors would be that some of the men who had actually witnessed everything would be convinced that I’d had sex with more men. I’d be lucky if some of them didn’t claim they themselves had had sex with me.
It's not the sex, Anita. It's the circumstances. By your own admission, every man in that room was explored by the ardeur, which means every man in that room is aware they could have been pulled into sex with you. But it's the fact that you raped someone who came to you for help that's the big kicker. You do not give a flying fuck about their lives.
There are a few guys, however, who basically eye-fuck Anita. She tries to glare them down and defuse the tension by being a bigger bad-ass than they are, but naturally she fails because she's not comfortable being "more naked than the rest of the room". Who rescues her from the objectifying gaze of shitty human beings?
Nathanial. He marks her as "his woman" and that makes everything better.
That look that a man gets when another man encroaches on his “woman.” Nathaniel, who shared better than any man in my life, was marking his territory. That dark, possessive look never wavered from the parade of men. He rested the side of his chin against the mound of my breast, making it clear that he had a right to be there, like that, with me, and they did not. I didn’t think Nathaniel would grasp the problem, but he had.
Which means that the stupidity up there was the "right" move to make. I'm dumbfounded. I have no words. I can't even. There is no even for me to work with here. HOW CAN THIS SHIT STILL GET WORSE.
Richard drags in a limp Damian, because of course Anita raping an addict isn't enough to fix the problem, and he dumps Damian on the bed. Jean Claude decides that it's because Damian is awake too early. Damian and Anita share some sappy romantic dialogue and then oh good fucking Christ
He managed a weak smile. “It would be nice,” he took a labored breath, “if you’d stop almost killing me because you don’t want to screw other people.”There it is, black and white, straight from the text. LOOK AT IT.
Then Nathanial touches both Anita and Damian and I guess it's their turn to level up. Hey, we endured rape, psychological manipulation and near death experiances. We should at least get a full level Raichu out of the deal.
And then Remus comes in and says, in summery because the dialogue is AWFUL, "I thought you were a slut before but it really is life and death for you, so you need to get Narcissus to give you guards who are comfortable with the idea of surprise non-con sex."
Note that qualifier: It's life and death for her. SHE'S not a slut. (FYI that's the word the book's using) Nope. Other women who have highly active sex lives are, but SHE'S not because if she doesn't fuck someone frequently all her boyfriends will die.
I'd say "Fuck me" but I think that'd actually happen at this point.
Richard and Asher then decide to have a dick-measuring contest over how Richard didn't want to watch Anita fuck Requiem. Who is now completely gone, I have no idea where he went, and I really don't care. The conversation accomplishes nothing. Neither does the one between Asher and Anita, where Anita tries to avoid informing Richard--you know, the first guy she ever raped--that she just did it again, to another person who, like Richard, had asked her specifically not to do that to him ever.
Anita says "You're just doing this because you're angry and you don't want to tell us why."
And the reason for this? Asher is pissed that Anita keeps picking straight men, which means he won't ever get to join in. He states that he doesn't go outside of Anita's relationships because he's worried that'd give Jean Claude an excuse to cut him off completely, which is probably exactly what would happen, given that JC is a manipulative asshole.
Micah steps in and says 'Let's get everything settled and we'll talk about your issues later." Asher says that won't ever happen, and he's probably right too, but he drops it because, again, everybody in this room is a manipulative abusive asshole and tonight they're all working in high gear.
London comes back into the room. Anita, naturally, is classy as ever:
He’d never really been on my guy radar, and now he was food.
Note the dehumanizing word choice, my lovelies. He's not a lover. He's not a boyfriend. He's not a guy. He's food.
He almost makes it out of the room, and then has a full on emotional meltdown because he just lost his sobriety and it wasn't even his choice. And just like every other fucked up thing in the book, London getting readdicted to the ardeur is treated as a good thing. He says he feels better than he has in centuries.
Yeah. Way to invalidate every addiction recovery process EVER, Laurell. It takes a lot of skill to shit on that many people in the space of one fucking chapter.
The chapter ends with Anita pouting about how complicated her sex life is. Yep. A steady diet of rape does tend to fuck everything up. I got no sympathy.