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_Bound by Flames_, Jeaniene Frost (Night Prince series, Night Huntress universe) SPOILERS

Sometimes, when I'm a half dozen or a dozen books into a universe of a particular author, I have a moment where I sit back and I go, do I really want to continue with this? In some cases (notably, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series), I go, oh, hell no, not ever again. Yuck. Authors can offend me so deeply that I not only quit reading, I wish I'd never _read_ those books that I once loved (and in some cases reread many times), simply because the author took that long arc to a place that I will never voluntarily and knowingly go. (Think I'm confusing the author with the work? Well, _someone_ is responsible. Books don't write themselves. I subscribe to the author-is-goddess-of-their-universe theory. Bad goddess, no worship.)

Frost got really close this time, close enough to make me seriously think about pre-emptively bailing before I get so mad I can't reread the series any more. Which is _sad_, because I really have enjoyed reading -- and rereading her books, especially the Cat and Bones books.

HEY SPOILERS RUN AWAY RUN AWAY RIGHT NOW

Everyone gone? Excellent.

The Leila Dalton series (the Night Prince series, the ones with Vlad, etc.) has had real problems all along. Vlad is BAAAADDD. I really enjoy reading books with a lot of violence, but this guy is sufficiently awful that I kinda worry about whether I should be reading these anyway (YES dude actually does impale people, especially vampires, so they hang around and don't die and just hurt until he takes them down).

Speaking of which, there are a couple reasons (okay, many) why people might be drawn to fictional depictions of violence, and they really come down to the same one in the end, in a chicken-and-egg form. People are drawn to violence -- real or imagined -- because they have been done unto and would at least like to if not have actually done unto others. I've blogged on many occasions in the past about the appeal of DOOOOOOMMMM to me, whether Y2K or Peak Oil or Climate Change or whatever the fuck, and I (because I'm slow like that) eventually realized that was just kind of a hang over from when I was a JW and diligently praying for Jehovah to come kill all the non JWs pretty please quick m'kay?

Old Habits Die Hard.

Fictional depictions of the protagonist being imprisoned, tortured, raped, etc. to motivate them doing unto the perp have never made me happy, and when a Woman is Put in Jeopardy to motivate an already violent guy to Take It To Another Level, I don't react well. I get that this is a way to induce moral clarity, but I'll actually sacrifice moral clarity if you can establish that someone is awful without having them kidnap and torture people. A serial hit and run driver, say, as the Bad Guy, and a squad of Vigilantes as the good guys would, in some ways, be ideal.

Leila Dalton, over her not terribly long series, has been kidnapped and tortured repeatedly. In her favor, she self-rescues about half the time, utterly destroying her captors (I applaud!). Going against Frost, however, this time Szilyagi kidnaps her, maneuvers Maximus into raping her on video, oh, and did I mention that he (Mihaly not Maximus) skins her? And I don't mean some kind of rug burn abrasion type of thing.

The skinning thing is super weird all by itself, partly because Vlad uses the video of it to coerce Dear Old Dad into begging to restart a relationship with Leila. BECAUSE THAT'S NOT FREAKY AT ALL. Because at least in this universe, vamps can regrow limbs (OH WAIT I FORGOT THAT HE RIPPED HER ARM OFF AND SHE THOUGHT SHE LOST ONE OF HER SUPERPOWERS WITH IT), never mind skin, the effect of skinning Leila is that she's now got completely perfect, gorgeous skin, whereas before she had a huge scar from the event that gave her her electric super powers that triggered all kinds of pity reactions and interfered with her forming healthy relationships with people (YOU KNOW, THAT AND THE CAN'T TOUCH PEOPLE WITHOUT KILLING THEM THING).

Where was I?

Oh. So post torture/rape/arm ripped off capture, Leila is way more beautiful than she was before, and has far less evidence visibly on her of what she's been through in life. I could not help but remember Angelina from Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat, series, with her locket of ugly girl she used to be on a chain around her neck.

Cat, from the main series, and Leila, in this series, both have enormously fraught relationships with one parent, and the other parent is/gets dead. Both women take sides in the parental relationship and both find out that they didn't fully understand what was going on at all. Most importantly, Frost novels are characterized by people dragging around all the troublesome people from their past along with them. In a more typical paranormal series, the protagonists have a fraught past, and they stay the fuck away from the fraught. Or possibly, it has all died anyway.

JAK novels are not even remotely violent on the scale of Frost other other paranormal novelists, but JAK novels are also characterized by people with fraught pasts. Maybe half of JAK novels involve staying the fuck away from the fraught, but a lot of the older categories involved going back to the fraught and applying leverage to extract better behavior from the bad actors. I distinctly remember more than one character telling parents that if they didn't shape up, they weren't ever gonna see the hypothetical grands. Meanwhile, Frost novels are characterized by people who don't get to have kids cause they become vamps (there are some interesting weird exceptions to this) -- and a lot of later JAK novels dodge the kid question as well.

The thing that tempts me to continue with Frost's _Night Prince_ series is the family part. I'm morbidly fascinated with where she's gonna go next with the family theme, and I'm really interested in whether she does anything with the heinous-but-erased-or-forgotten-past-with-a-beautiful-powerful-exterior thing. But if she's gonna get there on the let's rape and torture the heroine repeatedly train, I'd like to get off now.

Finally, Leila hitting the spell on Mihaly and then trying to kill herself, especially occurring shortly after she is rescued from him, smells of reworking the kind of self-destruction that is common among many victims of imprisonment/torture/rape. I worry that this referencing? working through that theme? may trivialize it. But sometimes, externalizing the trigger -- saying the self-destruction was caused by a spell associated with the evildoer -- can make it easier to think about and understand.

This book is right on the hairy edge of too-torture-porny for me to continue. Frost has included enough psychologically resonant material to make it still interesting to me, but goddess help you if any of these issues might trigger you. Cause the author isn't providing an enormous amount of support or a framework that translates easily into Real Life, other than, One Day At A Time.

ETA: Oh, goddess, how did I forget to mention this? Because this is actually sort of important. Leila tricked Vlad into not killing Maximus in a previous book, and that is sort of key to not only the whole Maximus thread, but the Radu thread that is set up at the end of this book. Radu is stepson (I DID MENTION SPOILERS I KNOW I DID WTF ARE YOU READING THIS FOR?) and nephew of Vlad by his evil brother and his second wife Ilona. He's also the necromancer whose spell used by Cynthiana triggered the need to convert Leila into a vampire AND the spell on Mihaly that causes Leila to try to kill herself in this book. In an effort to weaken that spell, Leila says, hey, it connects skin to skin and blood to blood so just skin me, okay, hubs? Yeah, because victims always think that reliving the experience is somehow gonna change it. *sigh* I mean, if you get the relive it thing done right in a therapeutic context, maybe, but it often just redamages ... look, you know all this. Anyway. They decided that burning her will work better, take less time and Vlad can do it while she's asleep. So they do that -- and later discover that actually just made the spell even stickier. The necromancer YAY SIDE EFFECT was tortured by all this, and figured out he'd better dim down the suicide part of the spell if he wanted to survive, but basically, the current big bad and Leila are now deeply connected necromantically -- you do anything to one of them and the other one apparently feels it? And if you kill one, it's unclear but probably the case that the other one will die, too.

On the one hand, this could lead in all kinds of interesting family theme directions. On the other hand, it's just a huge nuisance, and I am unconvinced I want to play along. The best outcome would be psycho-surgery on Radu to make him Not So Evil any more (a la Angelina Digriz).
Tags: book review, paranormal fiction
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