Content warnings: a reference to animal cruelty at the start and a brief mention of sexual violence as a in general at the start and as a plot point near the end.
When we last left our intrepid witch in mink form, Rachel was about to get thrown to the rats.
Chapter twenty ended with Trent and Jonathan keke-ing over how Rachel is caught in their trap and stuck as a mink. Chapter twenty-one begins with Jonathan pretty much torturing Rachel since she’s trapped in her cage – and I vaguely know what they look like so this has been a whole thing where I… pretend I know what a mink is when visualizing this part of the book.
I think that one sign that’s really easy to reach for when writing villains is that you have the villain in question be cruel to an animal. There are some easy signifiers of evil that writers reach for. Mark Millar reaches for sexual violence (endless sexual violence). Laurell K Hamilton uses racism and/or speciesism.
The floor of my cage was littered with pencils—all chewed in half. Jonathan had been tormenting me on and off all morning.
In this moment, animal cruelty is what’s signaling that Jonathan’s evil. He spends hours jabbing Rachel with pencils, smacking her, and making it impossible for her to eat or rest. It’s an almost cartoonish sign looming overhead with blinking LED lights going “Look at me! I’m a villain” as he menaces Rachel.
And then, he drugs her…
By drugging the lunch of Trent’s newest assistant Sara Jane – I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but he absolutely killed the last one – he manages to drug Rachel so that he can get her into the carrier that they’re going to transport her in.
Y’all, that’s so frustrating. She’s a mink. I don’t actually know how big minks are, but I feel like it’d be easy to tilt one end of the cage up and just… drop her into the carrier? Like drugging her – and an uninvolved third party – is so unnecessary.
However, as I’m not a villain in an urban fantasy series and I do have common sense, no one listens to me. (But when we had hamsters a lifetime ago and we needed to move them but didn’t want to touch them, or couldn’t, we just gently tipped the section they were in into a carrier.)
Anyway, uh… the Imminent Threat To Animals continues in the next chapter because there’s really a secret underground rat fighting ring where rich people bet on animals fighting each other. And the audience is absolutely bloodthirsty considering the one dude running the show tells Trent upon seeing mink Rachel that, “We thrive on individuality, and everyone loves it when an entrant is eaten.”
I also definitely think that rich people, even in fiction, have way too much time on their hands. Instead of networking like normal people and plotting evil over cocktails, these wealthy chucklefucks are sitting around watching animals fight each other to the death. Which doesn’t even seem efficient like, how can y’all organize a reasonable meeting of the minds when you’re basically at the rodent equivalent of a cage fight to the death? If I ever become rich and evil, I promise to only have tasteful meetings where we’re not surrounded by folks who are really invested in animal cruelty.
(I’m kidding here, I don’t plan to be rich.)
But yeah, Trent and Jonathan are straight up pieces of shit and I think it’s going to be very hard to care about either of them once this book (or series?) gets going and tries to redeem Trent. Like please look at this scene right before he sets Rachel up to have her match against a rat.
Trent pulled the grate close to his face. “I’ve changed my mind, Morgan,” he murmured. “I don’t want you as a runner. You’re more valuable to me killing rats than you could ever be killing my competition. The contacts I can make here are astounding.”
“Go Turn yourself,” I snarled.
At my harsh squeak, he unlatched the grate and dumped me out.
I could actually fight Trent.
Just letting y’all know.
But him dumping Rachel into the pit (it’s a kiddy pool but like… still) means we move on to the next moment of action because the rat in question, the Bloody Baron, is actually… someone stuck in rodent form like she is.
So that’s interesting.
I won’t describe the fight because that’s kind of stressful and none of us need that, but it’s definitely a well written rodent rage-fest if you’re into that. But the coolest thing about this is that Rachel works with Baron to fake their mutual destruction and put an escape plan into play.
If not for the sudden and supremely well timed reappearance of Jenks – who’d apparently been following them from the time Trent’s car pulled out from his estate – this would’ve gone poorly. But thankfully, Jenks leads the two rodent-humans to freedom in the kitchen and so things are back to normal in a minute once they’re outside and Ivy picks them back up.
Including Rachel being mildly and inappropriately thirsty – this time for Baron-in-human form.
Ivy and I agreed that if he had survived the rat fights for who knew how long, he had to be a hunk. God knew he was brave, chivalrous, and not fazed by vampires—the last one being the most intriguing, seeing as Jenks had said he was human.
All she knows about Baron is that he was a rat for a while and he was brave and her brain goes with “he must be a hottie”.
The start of chapter twenty-three is very obviously an attempt to break the tension of the previous drama with a focus on Rachel stuffing her face (since she hasn’t eaten real food in several days), having a faintly friendly moment with Ivy and a honey-drunk Jenks that involves some teasing and… the Baron reveal.
Calling him a geek wasn’t fair, but compared to what Ivy was used to dating, he might be.
Baron was as tall as Ivy, but his build was so sparse he seemed taller. The pale arms showing past Ivy’s black robe had the occasional faint scar, presumably from prior rat fights. His cheeks were clean-shaven—I’d have to get a new razor; the one I’d borrowed from Ivy was probably ruined. The rims of his ears were notched. Two puncture marks on either side of his neck stood out red and sore looking. They matched mine, and I felt a flush of embarrassment.
Despite, or maybe because of, his narrow frame he looked nice, kind of bookish. His dark hair was long, and the way he kept brushing it from his eyes led me to think he usually kept it shorter. The robe made him look soft and comfortable, but the way the black silk stretched across his lean muscles kept my eyes roving. Ivy was being overly critical. He had too many muscles to be a geek.
So they went from “oh he’s probably hot” to “oh he’s definitely a geek and that’s hilarious because… there’s really nothing about the above description that reads as geek to me even before the ending “He had too many muscles to be a geek”.
Anyway, Baron’s real name is Nick and while he’s not a geek… he’s absolutely a thief. He got turned into a little rat because he stole something from a vampire’s private book collection. Which, personally, I feel bodes poorly (yes, my favorite word) for him being trustworthy in the future. Like this dude seems questionable already.
What’s cool about the chapter that I wasn’t expecting is a whole thing where Jenks goes back and forth with Nick and comparing scars. It solidifies him as a person with a history and connects Nick to the trio by sharing pain. It’s a faintly disturbing scene because they’ve been through hell and Harrison doesn’t shy away from the details, but it works to flesh Jenks out further and show how Nick is shaped and scarred by his experiences.
The thing though, is that this sharing session also works to get Rachel to let her guard down and spill her secrets – about being on IS’ blacklist and having assassins out to get her – even though she doesn’t know him from Adam. And despite Ivy pointing out repeatedly how bad an idea this all is, Rachel just straight up tells him everything and loops him in on a plan to snag Trent and clear her name.
Clearly, it’s not a good idea.
But it’s not the worst idea because the next thing that happens after all of this is that Rachel decides that she’s going use darker magic than usual in order to be able to fight back against enemies they come up against.
And thankfully, even though all of the black spell books were burnt, Nick knows just where to go get them.
Rachel has no common sense.
It must have been the week or so she spent as a mink, right? Because this is ridiculous. I mean, this is so ill-advised that I’ve been making angry teapot noises while writing this. Rachel doesn’t do dark magic. Not only that, but she’s willing to rush into it with a dude she’s known for like an hour and who she knows nothing about?
That’s certainly a shit tier idea.
So when the demon dog shows up, I was not surprised.
“Do you have anything in your purse for this?” Nick whispered, stiffening as the dog’s ears pricked.
“Anything to stop a yellow dog from hell?” I asked. “No.”
“If we show no fear, maybe it won’t attack.”
The dog opened its jaws and said, “Which one of you is Rachel Mariana Morgan?”
Here’s the thing, the demon dog might be a character that becomes a constant across the series, but I still don’t like it. And here’s why: remember how I said that writers have things to signify ultimate evil in their work? Animal cruelty was one way but also… sexual assault.
In chapter twenty-five, one of the ways that the demon trying to take Rachel out tries to inspire fear in her because it tells her it was hired to “make sure you died afraid, sweet”… is by threatening to assault her. Reading a sexual assault in progress in first person is not fun.
Just letting y’all know.
It’s why the way it’s used in urban fantasy – which tends to be first person narratives much of the time – leaves me feeling gross. And this description is… bad. It’s definitely something I don’t feel was necessary because at the end of it, the demon is like “oh, you’re not afraid of this, what are you afraid of”…
And turns into Ivy.
Who proceeds to assault her.
Twenty-five chapters in and this is what Rachel is afraid of? Her friend and roommate who is legitimately trying to be a good person and push back on her instincts.
Not the guy who tortured her as a rat.
Not being a mink again.
Not being assassinated.
Not being hurt.
Not being assaulted by a random dude…
Y’all, this is exhausting.
Thankfully, Nick winds up being useful and binds the demon in a circle made out of his own blood. But, because this was a bad idea from the jump, Rachel is already bleeding out and so the unnamed demon has to save the day and transport them back to the church where Rachel lives.
This is some Buffy-ass writing. I am annoyed.
That’s really all I’ve got to say.
(And it’s still not as terrible as the Anita Blake series. How messed up is that?)