Content Warnings: racism (specifically antiblack historical revisionism and mentions of slavery that are poorly done), transmisogyny, poor representation of intersex people
When we last cracked open Rafael, the titular character and Anita had just realized that Hector was the animal to call and/or sweetheart of a master vampire that wasn’t America’s Next Vampire King Jean-Claude.
Chapter ten picks up with Anita in Jean-Claude’s bedroom, pacing around the bed because he has beautiful, bitchy, blond Asher with him and as Anita puts it “he still wasn’t on my cuddling list”. Mind you, she went to Jean-Claude for comfort but because she can’t communicate worth a damn and say “hey Asher, can you keep to one side of the orgy bed please? I’m still mad at you for not communicating to my specifications”, no cuddles for her.
Since Jean-Claude could feel most of my emotions unless we both shielded harder than we were currently shielding, he knew I wanted a hug, but he didn’t come to me or tell Asher to move, which pissed me off. I was already scared; anger wasn’t a good addition.
Then she gets in a mood because of it.
She won’t communicate with Jean-Claude and she expects him to literally read her mind (and emotions) and to shove Asher out of bed and come coddle her. It’s a bit much. She could literally scoot on up into the bed and stay well out of reach of Asher and get her cuddles. But instead, because Anita hates open communication, she’s pacing and pouting.
She’s also mad that Jean-Claude isn’t as mad as she is.
“We have an emergency here, Jean-Claude, or didn’t you sense the vampire master that’s got its hooks in Hector?”
“You know I did.”
“Then why aren’t you more upset?”
“I have sent word for everyone to gather here, so we can plan our strategy for tonight, ma petite. Rafael is off telling his people in person, and then he will join us here. Until everyone arrives there is nothing more we can do, so why do you not join us on the bed for the cuddling and comfort?”
I stared at him, openmouthed, not sure what to say. I wasn’t sure if I was more upset that he didn’t seem to be taking the threat seriously, or that he was trying to encourage me to cuddle with him and Asher, when he knew I hadn’t forgiven the other man for his years of terrible behavior.
I take psychic damage every time I read a new chapter in this book. Did you know that? Because I do.
The fact is that no one in this universe needs to be in a relationship right now. Not because they don’t “deserve” it but because they actively refuse to do anything to heal fractures in their relationship beyond strangely surface level gestures. Asher has to go to therapy. Jean-Claude has to open his relationship up to other people. Richard has to take dudes to bed – or let them get frisky alongside him. Anita has… not actually made any real sacrifices within her relationships for her relationships.
Anyway, Asher’s terrible behavior is that he is selfish. He wants to be the center of the polycule and he especially wants to have all of Jean-Claude, Anita, and Nathaniel’s attention. He’s not like… that bad (compared to many of the other characters Anita rolls with) and yet he’s shunned and forced into therapy when few other characters are.
Mind you, Jean-Claude is in the wrong for trying to get Anita to cuddle with Asher before she’s forgiven him for his nonsense, but it’s also not as serious as you’d think.
There’s at least a thousand words of mushy-gushy character descriptions about how pretty Jean-Claude and Asher are in this chapter and it’s fine. I love a pretty vampire as much as the next person, but let’s be clear here: this is happening on the heels of Anita frothy mad with rage that Asher is in the bed with Jean-Claude and that there’s no direct action happening with Hector.
(Oh, side note: I’m absolutely imagining this Hector as looking similar to the character in Castlevania. For no reason whatsoever except the name twin-ness of it all.)
What else is in this chapter? Generally horrifying content about hyena shifter Narcissus – who, like I’m sure I’ve said before – is being set up to be a villain that gets killed off and replaced by Anita as the female hyena leader. Narcissus is intersex. It’s the fact that shows up often in relation to him. And the way the trio in this chapter talk about him is dehumanizing and dismissive.
“You see what Narcissus wills you to see—the fop, the cross-dresser that can outqueen the most flamboyant gay queen, he makes a joke of himself partly to stop others from doing it for him. He is extremely sensitive about being born intersex.”
“I’ve seen him nude and honestly it didn’t look that much different to me.” “But it is not us that looks in the mirror every day.”
Hyena shifters trip a lot of writers up because generally they go for straight up transmisogyny, stereotypes, and slurs (a la Shelly Laurenston’s hyena shifters). Hamilton is not doing much better. She decides that Narcissus, despite not being a woman (he is a crossdresser but he is largely dude aligned), is going to take the role of bitch queen to the hyenas… even as Anita sinks it in that he’s not a woman and has no right to run the pack.
Also then there’s this super fucked up racist shit (that’s also retconning a bunch of stuff and is setting the stage so Anita will get hyena queen magic in the future):
“Female hyenas do magic; literally, they can do spells like out of fairy tales and legends.”
“I’ve never heard this before.”
“That’s because they don’t tell outsiders. I didn’t realize how unusually the St. Louis hyenas were run until I was sent away to Dulcia’s territory. She runs her hyenas in the traditional manner.The fact that their leaders can work magic is what has given the hyenas in this country an edge over other animal groups.”
“Wait, hyena shapeshifters are rare in this country. The magic, or whatever, hasn’t helped them gain the upper hand in most of the cities I visit,” I said.
Asher sat up in the bed, letting the robe spill forward and show the edge of the hard scars on his chest. It wasn’t comfort with me that had made him forget, but how strongly he felt about what he was telling me. That made me listen, because he hated showing his scars most of the time. “Most of the original werehyenas were slaves. Their own tribes sometimes turned against them, bound them with magic and sold them into slavery, because they feared to kill them since they believed their spirit would just take over another hyena or even another person. They gave the spells to control them to the new masters. The spells were forgotten or lost and after a few very bloody rebellions being put down, the werehyenas went underground. They hid what and who they were from everyone. It is why it is so rare for a group of hyenas to be prominent in an area. They do not want to call that much attention to themselves if they are run in a traditional manner.”
“Most of the original werehyenas were slaves.”
Asher is talking about the transatlantic slave trade. Asher is also then saying that werehyenas – who, in this series even now, are still almost entirely all white when they’re on screen – originated from enslaved Black people who were sold into slavery by their own people because they were scary magical.
So, we’re back to me actually hating Hamilton. Good to know.
This isn’t just offensive to me – not because there weren’t instances of Africans selling enemies into slavery across history, but because of how a lot of white racists dismiss the severe violence of the triangle trade because “well your people sold each other first” – it’s also just bad worldbuilding. This is True Blood level bad worldbuilding. You mean to tell me, twenty-eight books in, that only now are we finding out that cis female hyena shifters are actually and secretly the most powerful shifters out there. And because Narcissus is intersex – which keeps being described as half-woman, half-man – he’s apparently got a ton of power but also… intense anxiety over his “right” to be the ruler of his pack?
But wait, it gets worse:
“I’ll bet, but wait a minute, werehyenas are contagious just like all the shapeshifters, so how did they pass on the magic, or is it more like a natural psychic gift?”
“It’s natural and comes with the change once the person can control the violent part of the beast. If they wanted to train the woman, they trained her; if they didn’t think she could be trusted with their secrets, they executed her before she could come into her full power. For a long time, they killed any white women who survived an attack, and all clans were led by women of color. The oldest and most successful clans still are run that way. They thought of Narcissus as a man until he changed for the first time, and he’s trained in their mystical arts. No one has challenged him and survived.”
Anyway, I’m screaming. I’m actually screaming.
Oh and they’re all having this conversation because they are trying to figure out if Narcissus will start shit with Rafael and the rat shifters and what the over/under is on him winning. This is killing me.
Anyway there’s some more emotional shit like Asher realizing he will probably have to kill Narcissus, his animal to call, and that he might be permanently damaged because of it. But the tears work and they finally get up on the bed to cuddle and that is how chapter eleven starts.
Okay, to be fair, the chapter actually starts with Narcissus’ incredibly-uninterested-in-women ass demanding that Anita try to feed to ardeur/her incubus powers on him later.
Yes. He really did that.
We dried our tears and made our battle plan, but Narcissus surprised us by agreeing that the mystery vampire was a danger to us all. “I will step aside and let you make Rafael your rat to call, if I have your word that you will feed the ardeur on me later.”
“We’ve been through this before, Narcissus; you’re a gay man and I’m a woman—sex isn’t going to work for us.”
“If Jean-Claude is with us to distract me, I’ll do my best to close my eyes and think of England.”
The comment made me laugh. “Think of England, you mean close your eyes and it will be all over soon?”
“Yes,” he said, and he wasn’t laughing.
“I know you have both parts, but it’s the guy part we’ll need for me; won’t not liking lady parts mess with your concentration?”
“To bring more power to my hyenas and to me, I’m willing to try.”
I’ve written intersex characters before – and while I wouldn’t call them representation as it’s in the context of Omegaverse – I certainly do handle them with more care than Hamilton does here with Narcissus. It’s so… gross. It’s also the way that Narcissus offers himself up like “yeah I’m gay but if Jean-Claude goes for the squishy parts, the other parts should work” like sexuality is fluid for some but for Narcissus it is not at all. This was established almost twenty years ago.
Chapter eleven was just… a page long and I didn’t expect that, but god am I grateful. I’m going to go nurse my psychic wounds until next month. See y’all then!