When we last revisited Rafael, it was with a relatively short (and actually super racist) set of chapters that ended with Narcissus (who is explicitly not into women) basically promising to ignore his actual sexuality to plow Anita for the power boost feeding the ardeur supposedly will bring him and the hyena shifters.
We return, in chapter twelve, to yet another discussion of stuff we’ve rehashed a bunch of times before. This time it’s the bodyguard situation. Anita can’t go to the rat shifter fighting pits without bodyguards because she’s technically a “leader” of the shifters but if she goes there without a bodyguard someone will try to kill her.
So the compromise is that Anita can take in two knives, but not guns, and there’s something so supremely US-ian about Anita’s implied disappointment at that revelation.
It’s really interesting to me, as well, that Anita is basically shapeshifter royalty and yet she’s not allowed the basic things that royals in these spaces should get to have. You know… like protection? Anita isn’t the person going up to the mat to fight in this challenge and since all of these societies are super misogynistic, they’re actually unlikely to make her fight other women – because they don’t think most women can be rulers and fighters.
While Anita is overpowered as a nature of being the main Mary Sue in this series, she still is fragile enough to need fussing over. If she steps into the rat shifter center of power, some assholes will see things as open season and try to take her out because if she can’t fight through the crowd, she can’t lead them as the queen to Rafael’s king.
Again, let me remind you all that Rafael’s royalty status in 2021 hinges on an internet vote and then the fight with his competitors.
So why exactly should Anita have to beat ass to be taken seriously?
Because the only women who can get out of fighting are weak women (wives who weren’t fighters before) and old women. It’s just… really? All of these different shapeshifter cultures in the Anitaverse are so extremely misogynistic but in a way that’s not upheld by the animals they’re supposed to represent or modern feminism that purports itself as “intersectional”.
They lay out the rules for the walk through rat shifter central and it’s as grim as you’d expect:
“They can’t kill you, but you can’t kill them either, Anita. You’re small like me, but on top of it, you’re a woman and no matter how much you hate it, that does make a difference. You don’t train to wound, you only train to kill. I’m worried that your training will take over and you’ll kill someone.”
“What happens if I accidentally do?”
“Then the rules change,” Claudia replied.
“Change how?” I asked.
“If you kill one of us in the melee, then they can kill you,” Claudia answered.
“That’s why I’m worried,” Micah said.
And yet, no one like… thinks about the fact that this is all incredibly weird. There’s no reason for Anita to be subject to defending the throne she doesn’t even claim yet. There’s no reason why anyone with internet access – surely some of Anita’s kills are up on YouTube at this point or like 4chan… which makes me wonder what the state of the anti supernatural alt-right looks like – so why would anyone try to go up against her. She stabs to kill and she can suck the life out of a person without really trying. She is dangerous.
Her height and weirdly disproportionate titties doesn’t stop that from being true?
Anyway, then Anita brings up how Benito and Claudia were pushing for her to be at the event and you get this kind of ridiculous bit of dialogue:
They exchanged a look, and then Claudia made a gesture like you go first. “I honestly thought you’d be allowed guards,” Benito said.
“So why don’t I have guards?”
“We all thought you would be allowed bodyguards as of old, Anita, but the last time a queen sat with the king of the rodere was when women weren’t allowed to fight the men, so to keep the queen safe she had warriors that would fight for her. I would not have asked you to join me tonight had I realized that the old rule no longer applied,” Rafael said.
“It’s sort of my fault,” Claudia said.
“How so?” I asked.
“Look at me. I can beat the men and I’ve done it. I’m not the only one either.”
“I know you’re not the only female wererat guard we have,” I said.
“Yes, and because they’re guards, they’re expected to go into tonight with the same rules as the men.” Benito said, “But not all the wives will be forced or expected to fight tonight.”
“If Anita were my wife, then I could claim to be her protector, but she is very publicly with other people, so we can’t lie,” Rafael said.
I’m genuinely obsessed with the idea that if Anita was a character who was monogamous and submissive, she wouldn’t have this problem. Like she’s so badass that she is expected to fight or be prepared to fight and because she’s got like a dozen close partners in her polycule, no single man can claim her as his wife and so she can’t be protected that way. But then, Anita is more or less human so if she goes in there, barely armed and all… they’re going to try and kill her on principle.
It’s so weird because they have all of these rulez, but not a key one like… “don’t attack your king’s main partner”???
Oh and Rafael wants her to “dress up” for this:
“I would like you to dress as my queen tonight, Anita,” Rafael said.
“Sexy dress, heels,” he said with the vague answer that so many totally straight men give when pressed for clothes suggestions.
I shook my head. “You know I can’t dress like that and carry blades. Hell, I can’t fight in heels, or at least not as well. If you want me all dressed up, you need to give me enough bodyguards to make me feel secure.”
So he knew she couldn’t have bodyguards, would have to take weapons with her, and still was like “I hope you dress sexy for it”.
Then, Micah and Nathaniel go all alpha on Rafael because it’s really upsetting to them that he could’ve put Anita in danger without them expecting it – and you’d think they’d’ve planned out all of this like a week ago – and it’s just as embarrassing as you’d think because it’s ~benevolent~ misogyny. The alpha fight sets off the metaphysical beasts that live inside Anita and we’re subject to… this.
“What he said,” Nathaniel added, and his energy trailed hot to meet with Rafael’s so that suddenly I could see black fur in the darkness inside me where the beasts waited. The leopard flashed yellow eyes upward, but the rat’s black eyes were like a glint of darkness within a moonless night.
The rat started to ease into the light, and the leopard followed it as if it were hunting. One great black shape hunting the smaller and then the next moment the rat was huge, as big as the leopard.
I blinked and tore my attention away from inside me to the room and found that Rafael had moved beside me. It was like being plugged into a wall socket—a jolt of energy that shot through me to the rat inside. So much power it almost hurt, and just like that the rat jumped the leopard hard enough that it staggered me. Rafael grabbed my arm to help steady me, but the rat got bigger and the beasts were tearing me up.
Literally – what?
I have never understood the way Hamilton describes the beast spirits inside of Anita. In part because that’s not how animals work. Them fighting? Their sizes? Them hunting each other inside of her?
Chapter twelve ends with Nathaniel, Micah, and Anita looking at each other ”with leopard eyes” and me looking at my laptop like “why did I choose to make this chunk three chapters long”.
Chapter twelve is… boring? I mean it’s them trying to explain this really weird metaphysical development where Anita supposedly almost shifted – which should’ve happened back in Narcissus in Chains when she was first scratched by one of the wereleopards. So it’s a fix-it for the issues in the previous chapter like the bodyguard issue (Pierette can fake being both Anita and Rafael’s girlfriend so she can go in with them as a mistress) and the risk-of-shapeshifting thing (Pierette is a leopard and she can calm down Anita’s inner beasts if necessary so she doesn’t turn into a rat).
The funniest thing about this chapter though is how they explain away the missing core characters:
I turned and looked at him. “I have too many of your memories now. I’ve seen a thousand women and a few men undermine you or someone else with a pissy attitude on the eve before the big duel or battle. Hell, Richard used to do it to me all the time. I won’t do that to somebody else.”
“Where is the Ulfric? Shouldn’t he have been here during some of this?” Claudia asked.
“He’s out of state on a big extended family vacation,” I said. “And the dominants of the werelions are all off on a leadership-building camping trip.”
“I asked them to check out the new company that’s specializing in supernatural executive retreats,” Micah said.
“Nicky and Mephistopheles are going to go apeshit when they find out all this happened and they missed it,” Nathaniel said.
“Magda won’t be too happy either,” I added.
They’re all conveniently AWAY.
It’s the reverse of this tweet about how BTS fans stick every single member in a fic, even when they don’t need to be in it.
Like Hamilton is just like “well actually uh… Richard? And the lions? They’re away… conveniently” and I just… I can’t stop laughing. There’s some more worldbuilding after this to explain why all of the powerful folks outside of the rat shifters are busy, but it doesn’t matter because nothing will ever matter more than Richard being out of state on a family vacation for no reason whatsoever…
If you missed the blocks of text that Hamilton uses to drop the deets on her characters’ visuals… well does chapter fourteen provide what you want:
THE THREE OF us were dressed almost identically and it wasn’t on purpose, as if we’d looked in the same closet except for size and placement of weapons. I was in black tactical pants, black T-shirt, with black cross-trainers; Claudia in black tactical pants, white T-shirt, and black cross-trainers; and Pierette in black pants, white T-shirt, and white cross-trainers. My custom wrist sheaths with their high silver content were easy. They could go where they’d gone for years. It got trickier after that. I’d been practicing with the swords, but I’d never tried to carry them. I was learning kali, which is a Filipino martial art, stick and blade. I had a bag to carry the blades and sticks in, but no sheaths. I had a waist-sheath Spyderco knife that I’d bought for class. Most people wore a waist knife with the hilt up along the ribs, but I was too short-waisted to wear it that way and had to wear it horizontally, hilt forward for a cross draw. I added a couple of Emerson assisted-opening folding blades into the pockets along the legs of the tactical pants, though I’d go for the waist blade first. I also had two karambits, which were curved knives, though that didn’t do them justice. They were supposed to mimic the shape of a tiger or leopard claw, and they did just what claws do, tear and gut. The smaller one was a necklace sheath, and the bigger one hooked over one of the many pockets in my black tactical pants. If I drew either of the karambits, then things had gotten serious and I was being forced to do major damage.
Claudia was carrying just a knife at her waist, hilt up because she had waist for days, and a sword on her back in a custom shoulder harness. Her long black hair was in a braid nicely out of the way. I was wearing it long for Rafael and yes, I’d put on makeup. I had hair ties in one of my pockets in case I decided that I didn’t want to be blinded by my hair in a fight. I could always take it down before Rafael saw me, or maybe by the time I got to him I wouldn’t give a damn what he thought of me. I automatically grabbed a pair of tourniquets that were both rubber-banded to combat gauze that would help slow bleeding. I’d started carrying them shoved in my tactical pants pockets since I’d started going out with more humans, both fellow marshals and SWAT, for delivering warrants on preternatural citizens. There wouldn’t be any humans there tonight and shapeshifters could heal anything that either would help with, so I almost put them back, but that still, small voice in my head that had kept me safe in so many dark places gave that little push. I didn’t argue with it, I just put the tourniquets and combat gauze in the pockets of the tac pants. I had to remove one of the folding knives, but in the end that little voice said it was a good trade. Besides, five knives were probably enough. I really missed having a gun tonight.
Pierette had a custom-made back harness that held two swords with the hilts coming off the same side. I’d asked if it wouldn’t be easier for there to be a hilt over each shoulder. She’d replied that it’s easier to do a shoulder roll if you’ve got one shoulder that’s clear. I was really going to have to get one of the sword-sheath harnesses. She had a waist knife with the hilt forward like mine, for the same reason. She was only a little taller than I was, and her hair was so short that she didn’t have to worry about it getting in the way. She’d put on makeup when she realized I was wearing it, and then she suggested makeup to Claudia. I’d never seen her wear any, so I’d just assumed she didn’t like to wear it, not that she didn’t know how. But she surprised me by letting Pierette put mascara and eyeliner on her with just a little neutral color to the eyelids. It was both neutral and eye-catching, which was a trick I’d never mastered with makeup. I went for bold eyes and bright lipstick, because it looked good and I honestly didn’t know how to do anything else. Maybe we could have a sleepover and Pierette could give us makeup tips. I almost wasn’t kidding.
Just over 750 words all about how these three differently sized women are all absolutely matchy-matchy in their cute outfits.
Again, take this book as a “Do Not Do This” guide for your writing life.
Because this isn’t how you’re supposed to do this.
One big thing that happens in this chapter is we get more of that famous Laurell K Hamilton-level worldbuilding where she introduces something new but pretends that it was there all the time. Last time it was the “werehyenas are an African diaspora dominated shifter group that’s more powerful than everyone and has magic” thing.
This time it’s… that actually rat shifters (also POC-oriented, by the way) also have magic… and also leopard shifters have wizards and magic too… but they lost them.
I felt tears start to build in my eyes, I wasn’t even sure why. I turned to Pierette and clung to her hand. It helped anchor me a little in the pounding surf of magic. “This is what you meant when you said we were all broken here in St. Louis, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she said.
“The rodere are not broken,” I said, and felt the first tear trail hot and unwelcome down my cheek.
“No, they are powerful and whole.”
“Is this what we’re all supposed to feel like?”
“I do not know about all, but yes, this is what we are meant to be.”
“Can the leopards be this?”
“Only if we can find our wizards again.”
Claudia said, “Without our brujas we would not be rodere.”
“I’ve never met one of your witches,” I said.
“Why would you? You’ve never been here before and they are not bodyguards.”
I felt diminished in the face of the power all around me, or as if I should have power to answer it and I didn’t. The beasts inside me stirred not to rise, but as if they felt my thought. Where is our magic?
It was the hyena who stared up at me with brown eyes and slit pupils. I looked into her eyes and realized that I’d learned earlier today that the hyenas had never lost their magic either. What the hell had happened to the rest of us?
(Rodere is the in-group term for rat-shifter, by the way.)
Anyway, I would like to know what urban fantasy series Hamilton ganked this from because it’s not an idea she even hinted at any of this in her previous work. It also doesn’t make sense overall because she’s basically creating shapeshifter diasporas but… that’s never been how that works in her world. It also simply wouldn’t work in the US at the very least because this isn’t how communities in this country works?
I’m 60% of the way through this book and after I finish this book, I’m going to engage in some radical self-care… possibly by spite-writing my own necromancer-themed urban fantasy short story or some super queer shifter stuff. We’ll see.
But we’re almost done.
So close to being done.
We’re going to do something super fun next time I do a book semi-spork… like a Matt Wallace book or one of Stephanie Ahn’s. Something good.