We’re back at Rafael, beloveds, and I just… please tell me you see what I’m seeing when Rafael and his bodyguard are first introduced on the page after Anita escapes the bitch-off with Kane:
I was more bothered by Kane than I’d thought, since I didn’t sense Rafael’s energy with his main bodyguard, Benito, right beside him. Even without the otherworldly energy they were both tall: dark, muscled, and handsome for Rafael, more sinister for Benito. They both had short black hair and brown eyes, but Benito had deep facial scarring from something that looked like more than acne, but it wasn’t just the scars. I had other people in my life who had facial scars, and none of them seemed like a villainous henchman in a superhero movie, but Benito did. Maybe it was the fact that he worked so hard being scary as Rafael’s main bodyguard.
Y’all see this too right?
Like the sheer racist cringe on display here? It’s not as bad as the first time that we see Rafael introduced by how gosh darned Mexican he is, but it’s not actually that far off if you’re a recurring reader of the Anitaverse and can clock that this is basically just that? The bonus of Benito being described as menacing because of disfiguremesia – a brilliant term coined by my dear friend Mikaela a few years back – and because he’s Mexican… It just makes me itch.
Right after she runs into Rafael’s body-ody-ody-ody, Anita pulls away from him because she seems to think it’s what she “should” do before realizing that she deserves a hug. Like she’s just so threatened by Kane going full rage-y muscle babe in the next room that she needs a quick cuddle. And while I think everyone deserves hugs when they need them, you just know that LKH and Anita are gonna make it weird.
And they do:
But there was another reason not to take a hug from Rafael; he wasn’t one of the loves of my life. He was supposed to be powerful food for the ardeur and that was it, but because I didn’t know how to be regularly intimate with someone and not date them, the lines were getting blurry between us and I didn’t know how to handle it. If he was just my friend and sexual snack, was it fair to turn to him for emotional comfort? Where is the line between friend with benefits and boyfriend?
Because I didn’t have an answer, I let myself relax against Rafael’s body, let the strength of his arms wrap around me.
Rafael is food and you can’t hug your food.
That’s the initial logic we’re slapped with and I’m all for cannibalism in fiction, but there is something definitely dehumanizing as a long-time reader of the series to realize that people of color keep being food for Anita.
But more than that, the distancing on display here: Anita initially doesn’t want to get too close to Rafael because he’s food and you’re not supposed to want to cuddle your food (but again, she is fucking people to feed the ardeur so??)
I’d never been this physically comfortable with anyone that I wasn’t in love with before. It felt weird, because some part of me had still believed that this level of physical comfort was supposed to come only after the in-love part; that it could come just through being together often enough sort of bothered me.
One thing about hopping, skipping, and howling my way across the past 3 Anita Blake series releases is that it is weird for me to be dropped into a relationship like this?
Last I read, Anita and Rafael weren’t a thing even when it comes to regular feedings. It’s what I get for skipping through this series, but also, I don’t even think Hamilton remembers where she is or what her relationships in this series are. Or what they’re supposed to be like.
Rafael in this book – a dude hugging Anita and kissing the top of her head and being sweet – is not the dude I knew from even 5-7 books ago. And of course, characters grow and change across most series that are this long, but stagnation is the name of the game in the Anitaverse and people kind of only grow towards Anita in this series. It’s not actually good for their characterization.
Anyway, in this chapter you learn that Anita and Rafael’s bodyguard Benito don’t believe in antidepressants or other pills to help stabilize moods/deal with mental health issues (and Benito doesn’t believe in therapy at all!).
Also here’s a reminder that blaming Asher’s historical awfulness on mental health – but not even PTSD, the thing he definitely has from watching the love of his life be executed hundreds of years ago as he was tortured, BPD or something – is super freaking ableist.
Benito said, “I do not approve of therapy or medication, but the change in Asher since he went on the meds is impressive.”
“I’m not a big believer in finding a happy pill either,” I said, “but seeing the difference in Asher, I might have to rethink that for certain things.” “
My understanding was that it is a biochemical imbalance,” Rafael said.
“Yeah, which means that Asher really couldn’t help some of what he was doing.”
Also: if vampires are dead, how on earth are mood stabilizers working on this one?
Riddle me that!
Now if you remember back when Serpentine came out, I wrote that whole long post about how Laurell K Hamilton is a racist who writes racist books, yes?
Well she hasn’t stopped. In this chapter, we’re blessed with an observation aimed at Rafael from Anita about racism and passing that pretty much shows you that she’s learned nothing about how to write characters in the past few years.
Let’s dig into it:
Rafael put his finger under my chin and gently raised my face so he could see my own brown eyes. His brown eyes and black hair were from his Mexican heritage just like mine. I had my German father’s pale skin, but the rest of me was my mother’s, so I was told, and so pictures showed me. She’d died when I was eight, so I didn’t remember that much of her, and what I did remember was filtered through the child I had been when she died, which meant I could never see that I looked like her without the pictures.
Black hair/dark eyes as the sole signifiers of Anita’s Mexicanidad (is that the right word? WHO KNOWS). Check.
Childhood trauma brought up of nowhere? Check.
A reminder of how pale and perfect Anita is? Check.
It’s tiring. I’m tired.
Also, it’s very clear that Hamilton still does not understand that Mexican people can be white but also that they can be Indigenous or Black as well. (Or both. Or Asian.) Because it’s like “here’s what makes me visibly Mexican” and it’s… just the hair/eyes combo and then Rafael’s skin.
Rafael was like my parents—first generation born in this country. I was second generation. We both thought of ourselves as American, and most people didn’t even realize I had Hispanic heritage. I could pass, as they say, though I’d never been pale enough for my blond stepmother, but that was a sad racist story for another time.
That “sad racist story”?
Has actually evolved over the years. Initially, Judith never clicked with Anita and Anita was never seen as her daughter, but they weren’t antagonistic towards each other and there was certainly no racism on the stepmother’s part.
The only racist mom in this had been the mom of Anita’s ex-fiancé, a WASP who got her son to break the engagement back when Anita was in college.
This is a actually a blatant attempt to try and combat criticisms of Anita as a character of color written as a “brown paper doll” and to essentially cash in on conversations we have on racism.
Anita is so pale that people call her “China doll” across several books. Sure, she’s not as pale as Hamilton’s Merry Gentry, or real life pasty babes like BTS’ SUGA, but Anita is not dark. Her paleness is commented on repeatedly by the characters around her. If anything is there that Judith has an issue with… it’s Anita’s dark hair and eyes since they don’t match hers.
But again, this is all contrived and a way to rewrite the narrative of Anita’s lived fictional experiences to make her more relatable representation to the audience.
I looked up into Rafael’s face, dark brown skin to match the hair and eyes. He couldn’t hide what he was, and I didn’t try to hide, I just didn’t think about it until something made me think about it.
What thee fuck?
What does Anita have to try to hide? Oh my God. I’m going to reread Nella Larsen’s Passing again and just sit with a passing/privilege narrative done by someone that’s not a whole tool about race. I deserve that.
Planning the wedding with Jean-Claude had made me have to think more about my family; so far my father wasn’t going to walk me down the aisle, because I was marrying a vampire, which meant I was damning myself for all eternity in the eyes of the Catholic Church. My family were devout Catholics.
With all due respect… what on earth does this last bit have to do with passing privilege and the race/racism bit she started this chunk with?
But beyond that, Hamilton lives to tell, not show.
So we get this dissolution of Anita’s relationship with her paternal family over the years that we never see. She went from having a cool but loving relationship with her dad – who was not the religious person in her family initially, mind you – to “he won’t walk me down the aisle because we’re CATHOLICS” and there’s nothing to show for it. I don’t know if she’s had more than a handful of conversations with her dad on-screen in my years of reading this series and yet the relationship keeps spiraling.
I would’ve honestly preferred to see some of this play out than Anita just… informing us that she’s just basically an orphan aside from her found family.
Anyway, the other notable thing about this chapter is how they bring up that weird “Jean Claude is supernatural king of the US and everyone is afraid of him taking over”. So Rafael has been getting challenges for his crown as king of the wererats because, as Benito puts it:
“[…] that they are afraid that once you make Rafael your rat to call, all the wererats in the United States will be slaves to the vampires through Jean-Claude’s ties to you as his human servant.”
Then we find out that Rafael is somehow
a) King of the Wererats in the US
b) Losing in an online vote
Like this is hilarious:
I frowned at him. “How are all the wererats voting in time for the fight tonight?”
“Online, we created a poll online,” he said.
“How’s the voting going?”
“I am losing.”
Kings don’t have people vote for them, so that’s a failure right there. But then he’s not losing because of anything he did, he’s losing because of Anita’s reputation as this total badass who’s murdered folks as a “legal executioner” and the zombie army she summoned a few weeks ago. Rather than take that seriously or even roast Rafael for the absurdity of this, Anita goes for… whatever the hell this is:
“If I say the bad necromancer raised his army of the undead first and I had to stop him, does that make it any better?” I smiled, hopefully playing to the fact that I was small and if I was willing to stoop to it, I could be adorable. I’d hated it for years, but some of the women in my life had taught me that feminine wiles weren’t just about sex, cuteness was its own superpower. If only I’d known about it years ago, or been willing to stoop to use it.
Anita doing aegyo is not something I ever expected and yet… here we are.
One of the other things that has changed across the series is that we no longer can use certain kinds of language. Anita has finally stopped calling every shapeshifter under the sun a lycanthrope, but gosh she doesn’t like it!
“It’s the only form of Therianthropy that I volunteered to take on, all the others were accidents or attacks.”
“I hate the new politically correct vocabulary,” Rafael said.
“The idea was that lycanthropy meant just werewolves, but Therianthropy means all forms,” I said.
“I know what the words mean, but we all understood that lycanthrope had become the generic for all of us.”
“Therianthropy is pretty straightforward, too,” I said.
“Yes, but they didn’t stop there, the social justice warriors, they had to create new names for all of us. Arouraiothropy is impossible to spell, and most of us can’t even agree on a pronunciation.”
“I agree that the new vocabulary is ridiculous, but as a marshal I have to use it, or I get written up.”
“Did you get written up already?” Claudia asked.
“By whom? Because it wasn’t one of us that complained,” Rafael said.
“Another marshal,” I said.
Imagine not having real problems.
Imagine being able to derail a conversation about how there are angry wererats around the country who are trying to unseat you to complain about pesky SJWs and their insistence on using accurate language to describe other people.
This by the way, is how you can tell that Hamilton isn’t as liberal as she likes to cosplay.
Remember, Anita is her self insert (something that makes the increasing POC-ness concerning) and she utilizes Anita to deliver her mouthy messages to her reader base.
On the surface it’s just this silly tidbit of worldbuilding. But looking underneath the underneath you’re hit with the realization that she’s complaining about accuracy of language. Something she thinks is political correctness – and therefore a negative.
Using the right word – and not even an old one, the critical haters at LKH Lashouts have used theriantrope to describe the shifters in Hamilton’s work for years – is literally called “ridiculous”.
There’s some more in this chapter that like the rumor ALL the wererats are sharing about how Micah and Jean Claude are fucking and that Rafael is their shared lover and I mean… genuinely Hamilton needs to pull back and realize that these conversations do not happen between normal people. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m not sitting here wondering about who’s fucking the people in power because what’s more important is how they’re fucking us over.
Oh and it ends with Rafael and Anita going off to shower together before their hookup and that’s not a thing I’m looking forward to reading but it does provide a moment that shows that Hamilton’s characters all blur together into the same overly formal weirdspeak:
“Let me go into battle with the feel of your body like a shield. Let my challenger smell you on my skin. Let him be as intoxicated by the mere breath of you on my lips.”
This is Rafael… but it sounds like Jean Claude or Asher. This is not how a Mexican American man in his 30s (at least) who’s known for his roughness and gruff approach to life would talk. This isn’t even modern-feeling English. What the shit?
Anyway, next time around… maybe they’ll have sex in the shower? Or perhaps they’ll just talk about it for a whole chapter. Who knows!