Notes: This big installment has relatively graphic descriptions of violence, my desire to do violence (it’s really bad, I want to end the villain myself), Hector remains a sex pest near the end, body horror, some death by rats, and I guess I might cuss across this. I don’t know. I wrote this all while screaming.
On the surface, it looks as if I’m having mercy on you all by doing a speedrun through the last six chapters of this book.
But I am not.
If I were to have mercy on either of us, I would make up an ending where they all died and then move on to one of the books I want to go over because of how good they are. Instead, I am consolidating the suffering… by making the few of y’all still here go through six chapters all at once because in total that’s only gonna be like 5000 words max anyway!
Chapter 27 opens with the reminder that this basically rat shifter fight club and one thing that I wonder in the moment is… how are the cops in St. Louis ignoring this? I don’t think very highly of law enforcement and while I have been assured that they are very bribeable, how much money do you think it’d cost to get them to ignore rat shifter fight club in the warehouse district?
Because I highly doubt that the rat shifters have enough clout to keep the cops from arresting everyone?
Anyway, so Fredo – for the life of me, I can’t remember his full name – pats down both Rafael and Hector. Hector of course is combative and annoying, telling Rafael and the crowd via microphone that, “After I kill you, I will carve the crown from your skin, old man!” Seriously, I need an explanation for how incredibly weird Hector is because so far, we don’t actually have anything to explain how awful his behavior is?
Rafael saluted Hector with his knife. Hector returned the gesture, but with the blade pointed at the ground; in practice it points up or a little to the side, never at the ground, because that means it’s a fight to the death, as in I’m going to put you in the ground. I hadn’t been able to see Rafael, but I guess he gave the same salute. This wasn’t training, or practice, it was for real. The men moved in a blur too fast for me to follow and the fight was on.
I’m just gonna let y’all know that I ugly laughed at the two things:
1) Anita being all “This fight was for real” like… Pumpkin, they have knives. What did you think they were gonna do
2) this chapter was 446 words long
Anyway, on to chapter 28 and Hamilton doing something she’s really not good at: writing fight scenes.
IN THE MOVIES knife fights last a long time, because it’s supposed to be good cinematography, it’s supposed to be pretty and exciting. In real life they’re fast, because you’re fighting for your life and you don’t give a damn about pretty, you want to survive. Rafael and Hector moved forward at the same time, but the exchange of blades and arms blocking and moving them each past each other was so fast I couldn’t follow it with my eyes. It was like special-effects fast and then Rafael was bleeding from his lower arm, but Hector was bleeding from his side. Blur of movement and blood. The side wound bled more, dripping down in a bright red wash I hoped meant it was deeper, but wasn’t sure. They both ignored the wounds as if they were nothing; neither of them even hesitated. Most people will when they get cut, and a lot of them die in that moment, because the person who isn’t cut takes advantage of it, but neither of the men on the sand was going to make that amateur mistake. The first exchange had turned them around so that Rafael was facing us and all I could see was Hector’s back.
If knife fights last a long time in the movies, Anita should blink and Hector should be dead or whatever? I’m just saying… But okay, in the Dragon Ball series, there’s a whole thing where ordinary people and even lower powered heroes can’t see the movements from the really powerful people because they’re moving that fast. That’s what I’m using to help me understand this whole chapter and Anita basically blinking and blood being everywhere.
As an aside… this fight in text form does actually last as long as a fight scene in a movie.
Anyway, Hector and Rafael tear the shit out of each other. Like there’s blood everywhere and broken bones and it’s honestly almost a good chapter. It’s brutal and at one point I absolutely cussed because I didn’t expect it. Hector seemed to be dead and then he blinked and tossed sand into Rafael’s eye and tries to take him down but then when Rafael flips the script and stabs him again… nothing happens.
His good leg was around Hector’s waist so that he was holding him against him as he plunged the knife into the neck and tore it outward, the blade version of what he’d done with claws to the other side, but this time blood didn’t fountain out.
Power breathed like the faintest of winds, trying to hide what it was, but I knew. I said, “Vampire.”
“What?” Claudia asked.
“Vampire; Padma is pumping more power into little Hector.”
“What kind of power?” Benito asked.
“Healing,” Pierette said.
Okay but even with a vampire healing him, Hector should still bleed if he’s stabbed in the throat. The magic in the Anitaverse really doesn’t make sense. Anyway, Rafael is just laying there all bloody and kind of fucked up and Hector is fully healed… but dripping metaphorical vampire juice everywhere. Like he even supposedly uses vampire voice tricks, something that shape shifters in this universe can’t do, before launching himself at Rafael…
And Hector sure does beat Rafael’s ass. Like fucks him up at the start of Chapter 29. Even Rafael stabbing this bitch in the heart can’t stop him because he keeps freaking healing.
Hector went up on his knees, still straddling Rafael’s body, and Rafael used the weight of the other man to give him the leverage that his ruined legs couldn’t give him, so that he sat up and started digging with the blade that he’d plunged in under Hector’s ribs, going under the sternum for the heart. It was the knife that Hector had had to drop to call claws. Rafael must have found it in the sand. The hilt of the blade was kissed as hard against Hector’s skin as it could go, but Rafael was digging for the heart—no, he already had the heart on the tip of the blade. Now he was trying to rip it to pieces while it was still in the other man’s chest, and it would be game over.
I cheered without meaning to, and then Hector levitated straight up and off the knife point as if by an invisible hand. Hector ended up on his knees, coughing dark blood and thicker things out on the sand, but it started to slow almost immediately. He was healing again, damn it.
Hector is such a pain in the damn ass oh my god.
Just die already, bro??
Anyway, Hector cheating with the help of his vampire master (Padma) means that Rafael can too. Which means Anita is finally in play! It’s exciting. So Claudia and Pierette both urge Anita to leap like fifteen feet down onto the ground like they basically tell this woman to “tuck and roll” and I just??
I cannot handle this. This is too funny.
Anyway, now Hector has swords.
“There are weapons behind all the barriers,” Benito said. “Since there was no negotiation, you can use any of them.”
“But so can Hector,” Claudia warned.
I heard the clang of metal sharp and sudden, and just by the sound of it I knew it was swords. My hand hit the railing and I launched myself up and over. I had a moment to see Pierette with her swords from the sheaths on her back, one in each hand. Hector had double swords, too. My seconds of hesitation had given Hector time to grab them from behind the wooden barriers.
What the fuck?
Anyway… chapter thirty has another knife fight. Like not to be Extremely American but like… oh my god just shoot this man?? I do not understand how nobody has a derringer at this point like pull a tiny gun out of your cleavage and pop this bitch somewhere important – that will let him live because I guess this is important:
“Neva says we need him alive,” Benito said.
“To find his master,” Claudia added.
All of the shifters – who weren’t on Hector’s side – are now like “yes find the vampire”. So… yay? There are now like nine people down there? (Hector, Rafael, Anita, Claudia, Pierette, Benito, and the three brujas including Neva.) And if you vaguely remember the orgy in Jason, you won’t be surprised that Hamilton is bad about keeping track of people in intense scenes period.
Somehow, they subdue Hector and cuff him with special shackles and they tell Anita to leave Hector to him and she has to work on fixing Rafael up… without breaking the rules. Except…
I could have asked what that meant, but it seemed self-explanatory, so I just turned and started walking toward Rafael, because Fredo was kneeling beside him. I’d send Fredo back and I’d hold Rafael’s hand, and this would all work out. I tried really hard to believe that as I walked toward them. I tried not to look at the blood on the sand around Rafael and do the math in my head of how much blood you can lose before it’s too late. I had never dreamed that a shapeshifter could bleed to death, but the only thing that prevented it was their healing abilities; take away that and they were just stronger, faster humans. It was ridiculous that we would all let him bleed to death when regular first aid could give him enough time for us to fix whatever Padma had done so that Rafael’s own power could heal him. I would not let that happen, even if it cost him his crown, I would not let him die because of rules, not if I could save him. I promised myself that as I walked across the sand and saw all the blood around him. I promised myself I would save him, fuck the rules.
I do love a “fuck the rules” situation, that’s for sure.
Chapter 31 starts with Anita clearly kinda… on the edge:
I CROSSED THE sand with the borrowed swords still naked in my hand. I had no sheaths for them and until the fight was declared finished, I was holding on to them, just in case. I knew the idea was that by delaying Hector’s death, we had a chance to find Padma and end the larger threat, but it still felt like the swords should have been soaked in blood, with maybe Hector’s head to throw at Rafael’s feet. Here, here is your enemy dead; even if you die, he died first. As presents went it probably wasn’t very romantic, but for survival and shared rage, it would have been nearly perfect, or maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly?
Please someone fix these people. This is stressful.
Like Rafael is bleeding out, something that doesn’t usually happen to shapeshifters? I can’t remember if this is a universe where shapeshifter-on-shapeshifter injuries heal slowly or not but I think, ultimately, what was is not what is because Anita is currently losing her shit. And so is Fredo. Who is crying.
The Anitaverse makes it clear that strong men crying are a sign of the end. Situation FUBAR if a “dominant” male cries in this series. But I don’t even care about the gender role reinforcement right now because I’m actually stressed for Rafael because, and I don’t know how I missed this, but the reason why he’s bleeding out? His one leg is gone and he’s not doing so hot.
“We are a complicated people.”
I smiled. “You can say that again.”
He smiled back, but his eyes were beginning to wander as if he couldn’t see me or was having more trouble focusing. He was pale. He had a slight dew of sweat on his forehead. I touched his hand to my face, but it was still warm and then I realized that Fredo had been holding it. Had his shoulder been warm or cold when I touched it? I couldn’t remember, so I raised his arm and laid my cheek against it. His skin was clammy. Shit!
Anita gets permission to use a tourniquet and surprise, surprise… she has one or two on her?
I mean, smart lady, but also… weird.
There’s a huge chunk of text for the medical stuff and I just… do not understand why she does this. Just blocks of “i know my army medicine on the fly” hurled at you. It’s just… boring. But Anita’s tourniquets and something called QuikClot will save the day and keep Rafael from bleeding out!
With Chapter 32 we start the beginning of the end of the book. Thank god.
Despite how bad a position Hector is in, he still finds time to be a sex pest:
HECTOR WAS STILL on the ground with his wrists and ankles shackled together with a long bar of metal. They were the new restraints that the police had designed for supernatural prisoners now that they were actually taking some of them into custody instead of just executions all around. Fredo and Pierette stood ready with sword and knife. When Neva and the other two brujas looked at me, their eyes were all black and shining with the cold light of distant stars, but Hector was still laughing. “The greatest magic the rats have at their disposal and it is not enough. You cannot defeat my master.”
“Where do you want me?” I asked.
“Riding my cock,” Hector said, and laughed.
I ignored him as if he weren’t there and looked at Neva.
Okay but… I could kill Hector right now if no one’s gonna get around it…
Anyway, Anita links up with the brujas and then gets a smart cute little rat as a buddy to guide their power.
Neva whispered, “Our power will touch you, do not be afraid.”
I didn’t know what she meant until I felt something much smaller than a human hand touch my hand. It startled me enough that I looked down and lost concentration on Padma. The black rat with its white spots was looking up at me. The other rats had spilled around the island of all of us, but some had climbed the three brujas and the one on my hand. I stared into those black button eyes, and I swear there was too much weight of intelligence and personality for any rat I’d ever seen. I mean they’re smart, but not that kind of smart.
“They will not hurt another rat,” Hector said.
I laughed, and there was that uncertain look that I knew was Padma’s and not the confident swaggering man that Hector was supposed to be. “Do you know anything about real rats?” I asked.
I need you to know that I haven’t gone to the next page yet and so if they eat Padma and/or Hector, I fucking called it. (Because rats will eat anything and the second book in that one Ilona Andrews series with the semi-superheroes? Had rats eat someone. Hella fucked up but metaphorically primed the pump for me for all rats-eating-people adventures!)
Anita and her cute rat buddy call Obsidian Butterfly’s power and ahaha –
They eat Padme.
I felt the rat scramble up my bloody shirt and push its way through the mess of my hair with its drying blood, and the rat didn’t care. It liked being near me, and I realized I liked the weight of it on my shoulder, the way it cuddled against my face. This was the first time I’d ever been able to interact with the real-life version of my animal to call—with all the others it was the wereanimal, but never just the animal part without the human in there somewhere.
It was as if I’d been holding my breath and suddenly, I could let it go. I could relax in a way that you can around your dog, or cat, because they aren’t judging you like people do. The rat settled more heavily against my neck and the side of my jaw. If it was relaxing to touch the wereanimal you could call, touching the animal version of it was even more soothing.
And just like that was all right, it was all right to feel like the darkness was made up of a million rats. It was all right that the rats fell through me and were me, and weren’t me, and filled the hotel room and began to swarm over Padma.
“I forbid you to hurt me,” he commanded.
The rats didn’t care what he wanted, and neither did I, because I wanted him dead. I did not want him haunting our steps and I never wanted him near our child. We needed him dead and the rats liked me better because he didn’t like them. He didn’t even like wererats, because they were just animals, after all.
The first one took a bite. “Stop, I command you! You will not hurt me. You cannot hurt me; I am your master.” He sounded so sure of himself, but we could feel his fear, we could smell it on him, feel the trembling of him underneath our feet and against our bellies as we climbed him. Fear meant food.
This writing is so childish, wow.
Unfortunately, while Hector does die… the rats don’t eat him.
Regular rats shouldn’t have been able to hurt him, it would have been like a lead bullet, but the magic changed the rats into something more like a silver-dipped bullet that could pierce supernatural flesh. The fire died in his eyes while they were still tugging and slicing the flesh from his bones. And then we were back on the sands, and the light died in Hector’s eyes while we were still pulling back from them. He hadn’t survived the death of his master.
I half expected the rats all around us on the sand to fall on Hector’s body like the other rats had on Padma, but the rat on my shoulder made a soft, almost chirp sound in my ear. We aren’t that kind of rat, it seemed to say.
Neva said, “That is not how we dispose of bodies here in the fighting pit.”
And so, we hit the end:
“I had hoped to take you up on your offer with Pierette tonight, but though I am healing I will not be able to do anyone justice tonight, let alone you and another lovely woman.”
“That’s all right, I think I’m not in the mood after all this.”
“I am sorry that you found our world so harsh.”
I shook my head. “It is what it is, but if Padma hadn’t attacked us here, then we couldn’t have defeated him this easily. He underestimated the power of the rodere.”
“He underestimated more than that, Anita.” Rafael leaned toward me as far as his healing legs would allow, so I moved the rest of the way to him.
“I told you before, I’d come to you.”
“You did, but I know you like your men to meet you partway.”
I smiled and we kissed.
These are not good books. None of us expect that at this point. This book was… more and less racist than I expected. There’s no real explanation for suddenly getting magic as a thing all shapeshifters have but many lost. There’s no unpacking of how Hamilton is making a shapeshifter diaspora with magical traditions. I just…
I keep quitting these books and then returning because I’m bored.
I will try to stay away for longer this time.
What will help is approaching urban fantasy through a lens of “How Does What I Love Do A Good Job” starting with Stephanie Ahn’s Deadline, the first book in the Harrietta Lee series. Get ready to see urban fantasy done really well. (And after this, I’ll do the other two books out so far!!)
Thanks for sticking around/I’m sorry I made you stick around for this specifically! The future of my readalongs will be better, I promise!