Not to be Like That on main, but a huge high point of doing these sporkings is knowing that you’re all cringing along with me as I do this. There is no point where you stop cringing across a modern Anita Blake installment, no point at which it stops being concerning, sexist, racist… or all three things at once. So thank you all for suffering along with me once more.
Chapter fifteen opens outside of the warehouse where the rat shifters are having their smackdown showdown. We get this wildly… ridiculous moment around a river that I need to share with y’all.
The three of us stood alone with huge warehouses surrounding us except for the gate just behind us and the fence. I wasn’t going over the razor wire. I looked past the few people still outside the warehouses to the river. St. Louis is too large a city for it to be truly dark, but even without the illumination I would have sensed the river. The Mississippi is just too damn big to be ignored this close to it. The energy and flow of it, the sound of it faint and persistent, and water, you knew a big body of water was close by like a big lake, or even the ocean. The river had that kind of aliveness to it.
I realized that the rush and beat of the energy was tied to the river somehow. Had the rodere’s witches, their brujas, used the river as part of their circle of protection, or had the river just been here and they’d worked with it, because they had no choice? Some things are just too vast and too powerful to be ignored. I guess it was a chicken/egg question that didn’t matter. The heartbeat of power used the river like blood to keep it pumping. It was like a huge mystical battery.
So one interesting thing is like… the concept of “if you live near a huge body of water you’ll always know it” is super funny to me because I have lived next to lakes, canals, the ocean, a bay… and you genuinely cannot tell. There is no sense of water. We are not Nereids. But because Hamilton can’t simply have Anita be like “I could hear the loud sound of the Mississippi River behind me” (I guess) she has to add a mystical component to draw Anita’s attention and to explain the proximity of the fight club to the river.
And if you think that’s bad, wait for how Hamilton has chosen to describe one of the suspicious rat shifters that’s like “hey rafael, we don’t need a panshifter queen and also you are a bad king”:
He thought he was fast, because he was startled when he found us both looking at him and ready. He was about our size, delicate-looking for a man, and he didn’t look as strongly Hispanic as Rafael, more Asian-ish.
Meet Danny. He’s short – like under 5’5” because Pierette and Anita are like 5’3” max and while he’s also Mexican… he doesn’t look as “strongly Hispanic” as Rafael supposedly does. First of all, what does that even mean? What do “Hispanics” look like? What uniform look of latinidad is Hamilton trying to thrust on these characters to then excuse what she’s saying next…
That he’s “more Asian-ish”.
Like first of all, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Hispanic really isn’t a visual identity like that – not that many identities really are to the way people like Hamilton will insist. Anyone can be Latine… including Asian people. Now if she’s talking about specific features that she’s given this character that clock as Asian – and Asian from where, I wonder because that’s a huge continent that also includes most of Russia – she should just say what those features are so I can yell about her doing so.
Anyway, the next rat shifter to be introduced is Neva, a powerful rat shifter that both Anita and I clocked as being a bruja from the second she was on-page. Anita managed this because she could sense the woman’s power. I managed this because Hamilton is the least subtle writer I have ever read.
“Neva,” Claudia called out, “we are honored by your presence.”
“I knew you would know I was here, Claudia, but how did you know, Anita Blake?” The woman stepped out of the shadows, or maybe the shadows thinned out and let us see her, but either way she was taller than Pierette, but still well under six feet, so I guess average height. Her skin was very brown and showed her age as if she’d spent all her life in too much sunshine and not enough sunscreen. Her hair was still thick and black, unbound around her thin shoulders. She stood very upright, no stoop at all, but her body had begun to wear down anyway. Her bones were strong, but her muscles were thinning down the way that comes only after seventy.
“I don’t know.” And that was the truth.
Neva then like… literally unleashes thousands of natural rats on them and that’s how we close out the chapter.
And if Hamilton could write, chapter sixteen would begin with thousands of rats attacking Anita, Claudia, and Pierette, plunging us all in the horror of the situation. Since she cannot write, what we get are the rats coming to a stop several yards away from the girlies and pausing as they wait for Neva, big bitch bruja to let them at Anita. There are glimpses of the writer Hamilton could be in this chapter, like when she opens it with a description of all of the rats:
I EXPECTED THEM to rush us, but they stopped a few yards away as if they’d come to some invisible barrier I couldn’t see. Some of them stood up on their hind legs and sniffed the air, but most of them waited in silence, barely moving like a frozen dark river of furred bodies. Only the glittering of their eyes as it reflected the dim light here and there proved that they weren’t all asleep like some magic Pied Piper lullaby. They should have been squeaky, or squabbling, or grooming, or something. The unnatural stillness of them was almost more unnerving to me than anything else.
Or when Anita calls forth the power she gained in Obsidian Butterfly – but then like never remembers she has even though it came from a self proclaimed goddess and is super powerful.
She stared at me aggressively, both eyes forward, and there it was, starshine in her black eyes. They were the darkness of space with stars scattered and shining in the permanent night between the worlds.
“I’ve seen eyes like yours before,” I said, keeping my voice low and careful, just in case.
“You have never been to the heart of our people, so you have never seen eyes like mine.”
“I think I know why your power and I are getting along so well.”
“How about if I show you?”
“Show me what?”
“I’m going to call a little of the magic in me, so you can feel how similar it is to yours.”
“We are not necromancers here.”
“This isn’t necromancy. I just don’t want you to freak out when I open myself to the power, okay?”
“Show me something worth seeing, Anita Blake.”
I took that for reassurance that she wouldn’t freak out and I called an ability that hadn’t come through Jean-Claude, or any of the shapeshifters I was tied to, but a self-professed goddess. My skin ran with the energy she had shared with me. The magic around us pulsed and then hesitated like a heart skipping a beat.
It’s clumsy and bloated, like a zombie that needs to be put to rest, but it’s actually not as bad as you expect it to be. You can see the potential just waiting to be peeled away underneath the rot. One issue – of many – that Hamilton has, however, is that there has to be an explanation for anything. Itzpapalotl, the vampire known as Obsidian Butterfly, has to be a vampire. She can’t be a real goddess. One of the references to angels in this series will one day be like “this was actually a regular hallucinogen”. There’s no point where things can just… be spooky. So she ruins the intrigue of her worldbuilding because we have to take it seriously and gods can’t walk among the earth with Anita.
Like she does here.
Which is always weird because she wants Anita to get all the power, but then she insists on whipping off the mystery of the power so it’s not that a god has gifted so-and-so with power but that Anita gained it in some slightly less interesting way.
Neva and the other brujas of the rat shifter packs got their power from their ancestors and their Nahua gods… Anita? A vampire shared energy with her and oh by the way your gods were probably vampires too.
The chapter is… largely pointless except for the reminder of earlier books and Anita having a face to face with a natural rat that seems smarter than it should be. Foreshadowing and Hamilton’s inability to be subtle ever in her life as a writer tell me that rat is probably going to become a really important part of the narrative.
But, this isn’t Disney and that’s definitely a bit weird of a choice for this absolutely family (and… reader) unfriendly series.
Now chapter seventeen is where things get… weird. I mean I was not expecting the choices made in this chapter. So Anita and the girls start walking through a crowd of shifters to the warehouse and they cannot stop touching her. They’re reacting the way people react to seeing the pope except for one person, Mariposa, there’s a clear sexual note to it.
It was a woman with half her head shaved and more tattoos and piercings than I’d seen in a while who took my hand in hers and said, “When you feed the ardeur on us, it’s amazing.”
“Thanks,” I said, not sure what else to say.
She stepped a little closer, both hands holding mine. I thought her eyes were black, but they were just the darkest charcoal gray I’d ever seen. “My name is Mariposa, it means butterfly.”
I looked at the butterfly tattooed on her left shoulder and smiled. I think the smile encouraged her a little too much, because she leaned in even closer and said, “I would love for you to feed on me in person.”
My face must have shown that I didn’t know what to say, because she laughed and said, “Don’t tell me I’m the first one who’s asked.”
She laughed again, lips parted enough that I could see her tongue was pierced.
Here’s where the weird comes in: Mariposa is functionally addicted to the ardeur just from feeding from afar/Rafael opening his power to let Anita feed on everyone. She and Anita are both Mexican Americans. There shouldn’t be anything unevenly weighted or worryingly racialized about this… but… there kinda is. Mariposa is lightly aggressive, an addict, and the first person to make a move on Anita knowing full well she’s got a very busy dance card. Hamilton probably didn’t think this through but juxtaposing her against Anita’s pale perfectness – who has never been addicted to anything ever – is… a bit much.
We then go to the first potential assassination attempt. We’ve got thirty percent left after this so I’m sure there’ll be more, but this dude tries to kill Anita and he’s being driven by something that doesn’t seem to let him feel the pain of her dislocating his arm.
But he sure does feel Anita ripping off is arm and then slitting is throat in the totally tiny chapter eighteen. This book went from “mildly violent” to “oh this is for the HBO show we’ll never get, huh” real fast. And then she has this whole thing where like… she panics because if the guy’s knife wasn’t high-silver, then he hadn’t meant to kill her in the first place, but here’s the thing:
None of this makes sense. Not the rules. Not the biology. Not the characterization. Not the fear of being punished. Ultimately, if you try to stab someone even if you think you won’t kill them, you kinda deserve what comes next especially in the context of an urban fantasy series. Anita straight up ripped his arm off by accident but it’s something foreshadowed by her strength training and the different conversations in the novel/la so far: Anita has no idea how strong she is at her baseline but she’s just as strong as the other shapeshifters around her. And shapeshifters are very strong.
Anyway, Anita will probably get punished in chapter nineteen for something she has no control over. In the meanwhile… I’m going to see if I have any frozen pizza left.