Thursday, February 25, 2016

Drizzt Do'Urden and the failure of fantasy racism

(Content: discussion of racism and other oppression.  Fun content: I hope you like elves.)

I should preface this with a giant disclaimer (in case there was any question) that I'm white, so this whole post is an extended 'it seems to me...' and I don't want to speak over anyone's experiences.  I don't think I've seen anyone address this specific flaw to supposedly progressive fantasy; I'd be happy to link to any such works if y'all know of them.  (Also, I think a lot of what I say below can translate to representation of other demographics and types of oppression, like LGBT people and comic book mutants, but it's Black History Month, so that's where we focus.)

Pictured: either my family tree or a box of assorted entertainment crackers; who can tell?

The best thing that speculative fiction can do is show us a bizarre new world that loops into our real mundane world right now and gets us to see something in a new way.  Consider classic Star Trek's episode about an alien cop chasing a fugitive, each of them literally half paper-white and half ink-black, divided down their centre line, but the cop is convinced that he's racially superior because he's black on the correct side.  The Snowpiercer movie (thankfully nothing like the original comic) is a beautiful, layered, sickening, and ruthless exploration of capitalism and literal class war.  And if I start talking about Discworld novels we'll be here all day.

Countless stories--like Star Trek there, and like Forgotten Realms and Lord of the Rings and X-Men and basically every other serialised speculative story sooner or later--take the opportunity to criticise racism, usually by showing us elves and dwarves scowling at each other or something.  The first problem with this kind of scenario is that it extrapolates human 'races' (a nebulous and nonscientific concept) into entirely different species, so that the story is about (white) humans learning to get along with weird other-y pseudo-natural entities (of colour?).  We can do better.  But, at the same time, there's no reason that identifying with the badass werewolves or dragons or fae should be restricted to white people either, so yes, let's have elves with high tops:

Pictured: painting of an armored elf with distinctively black features, by Nick Robles.

Running with this, writers sometimes give us a paragon of virtue like Drizzt Do'Urden.  Drizzt is one of the most iconic characters in modern fantasy: a renegade drow (dark elf, literally black-skinned) from the underground city of Menzoberranzan who grew up disgusted by his people's cruelties and so ran away to the surface, where he roams the land of Faerun slaying monsters and rescuing the helpless.  He is, of course, nevertheless hounded at every turn by people who see his black skin and assume he's a monster.  I won't speak to authorial intention here, because I haven't read RA Salvatore's mind at any point in the last thirty years, but there's only one common reading of Drizzt's story and what it symbolises for our world.  We readers look at these presumptuous bigots, who think the only good dark elf is a dead one, and scorn them for failing to get to know Drizzt before judging him.  We know better and we are enlightened.

Drizzt is a good guy.

Drizzt isn't like other drow.

Drizzt is one of the good ones.  A credit to his kind.


But the thing about those narrow-minded common peasants who flinch or scream at the sight of Drizzt walking into town is that they're only wrong this time.  With literally any other member of his species, they'd be absolutely right to freak out, because a powerful and sadistic murder-specialist would have just said hello.  That's not racism; that's basic probability and pattern recognition.

Fantasy racism like a fear of dark elves is ultimately a terrible allegory for real-world racism because the dark elves have worked long and hard to gain that reputation for monstrosity, whereas in the real world white history is basically a laundry list of the other nations and peoples we've slaughtered and enslaved and oppressed for monetary gain, political power, or occasionally just for sadistic fun.  In order for Drizzt the onyx-black elf hero to be an actual metaphor for black people in North America, our continent would have to live in constant fear of invasion from a subterranean army of African-diaspora wizard-ninjas, and I figure there can't be more than five or six million registered voters who actually think that's a concern.

What I'm getting at when I say #notalldrow is that Drizzt's experience, being a variously privileged individual walking into vulnerable spaces full of people who have been hurt before by people who look like him (and who know that he has the power to hurt them further), is the experience of the oppressing class, not its victims.  White people, especially but not exclusively white men: we're the drow.  When Drizzt sees someone afraid of him at first glance, it's not because they've been arbitrarily taught that black people are inherently inferior and disgusting.  If we read these scenarios and all we think is "Bah, foolish bigots, we Drizzt would never be so villainous!" we're only reinforcing the idea that vulnerable people owe us their reflexive trust or they're the real racists.

To the credit of Drizzt's fictional persona, he sympathises with these people and is patient with the caution strangers take around him.  At least, this is a good aspect of his character if it's taken as a model for, say, white people to not go around acting indignant that people of colour aren't always ecstatic about our presence.  From the 'surface' reading of his story, where Drizzt is the victim and he is patient with having to work to personally win over every single racist he meets... that's suboptimal to say the least.  The tangle that this kind of speculative fiction has made of power dynamics makes it harder to draw any conclusive arguments out of the text beyond a lukewarm 'everyone should be good to each other'.  That kind of 'equal opportunity learning' gives us stuff like the unholy mess that was Disney's Pocahontas, in which the indigenous Powhatans are also guilty of prejudice against strangers just because the white people are here to conquer, pillage, and murder.  I cannot even.

Fantasy racism doesn't speak to real-world racism as long as it seeks to justify its existence: as long as those simple innocent farmers are afraid of orcs because orcs are literally and objectively the twisted embodiment of malevolence forged by an evil god to burn the world, fearing orcs isn't racism, it's self-preservation.  Fantasy that wants to tell us that racism is bad has to start by admitting that racism isn't a defense mechanism but a weapon--a philosophy that helps the people in power convince everyone else that it's okay to kill and exploit those other people, without provocation, because they just don't deserve any better.  Stopping racism is about acknowledging and revealing and destroying that idea, and it's got to be done in us, the privileged, oppressing class.

I'd love to add some examples here of fantasy racism done properly (purely as propaganda and not based on objectively truth) but... I'm not sure I can think of any.  Even in Discworld, the conflicts between trolls and dwarves ultimately come back to 'both sides bear guilt'.  In the Warcraft universe, primary example of a setting where orcs are heroic protagonists as often as villains, the orc-human divide stems back to those one or eight times that the orcish horde got cursed into raging berserkers and tried to burn down the planet.  In settings like Star Trek (and often Star Wars, depending on the book) aliens often are pretty one-dimensional in ways apparently defined by their species.  I think a good case can be made regarding house elves in Harry Potter, but that'd be a book unto itself and there are plenty of people who feel the text ultimately fails to make a proper case distinguishing the racist propaganda from the truth.  If any of you readers have encountered a good speculative treatment of how racism functions that doesn't make these kinds of errors, I would love to hear about it.

Let me end by sharing with you a quote from Chris Rock, in an interview from 2014 which I was lucky enough to encounter this week:
So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years... The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
Hope everyone's been having a good Black History Month.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Storm Front, chapters ten and eleven, in which the worst and best of the book are on display

Sorry for the delayed post this week, folks.  I blame the unfathomable depths of my hatred for this dude.  At least a better plot shows up in this part of the story.

(Content: misogyny with a sex worker zest.  Fun content: literal word porn, muppet anguish, Ming-Na Wen being badass.)

Storm Front
Chapter Ten: This Book Is Noir, Dammit, NOIR*

Dresden drives away from Bianca's mansion in a loaner car from the tow trucker, but stops not far away to use a pay phone to call the victim's friend and sex-co-worker, Linda.  Forgive the pun, but apparently Linda's voice is like aural sex (I feel shame, if it helps) given the buffet of adjectives Butcher pours all over it:
The phone rang several times before a quiet, dusky contralto answered. [...] "Mmmm," she answered. She had a furry, velvety voice, something tactile. [...] She laughed, the sound rich enough to roll around naked in.
That's seriously only a sampling of it.  More effort is going into convincing us that this unseen woman is totally still worth having sex with than has been spent to explain Dresden's entire living situation (phenomenally rare superpowers and permanently broke).  There's one thing here worth a second glance:
"I'm not occupied. At the moment." 
In archaic English (1400s or so), using 'occupy' to mean 'currently having penetrative sex' wasn't wordplay--that became the default meaning.  It was considered an obscene term for centuries.  People said 'occupy' for sex so much that the word was kicked out of polite conversation.  When was the last time we managed that as a society?  Sure, no one says 'gay' to mean 'happy' anymore unless they're going for wordplay, but it's not considered obscene exactly.

I wonder if the current US presidential campaign will make people stop talking about 'trump card' like it's a good thing.

Anyway, Dresden says he's investigating Jennifer's death, Linda calmly panics and says she has to go and has nothing to say thanks okay bye.  Dresden fumes for a moment before deciding that, from Linda's new job as a driver for some rich couple, and the background noises, she's probably at O'Hare airport, so off he goes, luckily finding a "silver baby limo" still waiting at the second concourse he checks.  I'd make a wildlife documentary joke (the baby limo has an increased reflective capacity to confuse predators, but its hide will turn matte as it matures, to improve solar uptake) but I've got a million of those and we'd be here all night.  Dresden calls her again from another pay phone (did those still exist in 2000?  I guess) and uses the Objectively Worst 'flirting' response: "I like women who play hard to get".  She hangs up on him again, so he walks up and knocks on her window.

Linda gets another paragraph of description, because apparently just giving one to her voice was inadequate.  Highlights include: "a little too much eye shadow, [] which hung down close to her eyes in insolent disarray [...] a predatory look to her, harsh sharp".  Dresden repeats his desperate need to talk to her about Jennifer, and she concludes: "And I like a man who just won't stop".

Pictured: Kermit screaming as deafeningly as me right now.

Apparently in Butcher's version of reality, sex workers are incapable of not flirting, even when they are being pursued by a strange man who wants to ask them dangerous questions about their murdered friend.  At no point does she say 'Fuck off, creep', or 'I'm calling the cops' or just mace him.  She's a veteran sex worker and the chauffeur for a rich couple, driving their solid gold limo to the airport--there is exactly zero chance she doesn't have three flavours of pepper spray, a taser that can cook a frozen turkey, and an entire gun show in the glove compartment.  No, she's a sex worker, and that means that she is always conjuring boners, all the time in everyone, even her enemies.  Faith and fucking begorrah.

She keeps doing it even while he asks her about her recently murdered friend.  Linda admits to knowing Jennifer, having "shared a bed" (more girl-on-girl for the male viewer!), and regular threesomes with Tommy Tomm.  After literal pages of how Hard it is for Dresden to focus while talking to her, he realises--LE GASP--that she's trying to confuse him with boners so he won't realise she's hiding something!

So we're clear on relative badness: go back to literally any part of Eye of the World, no matter how much I hated it at the time.  Yeah, even that part.  This here is worse.  These pages are worse than the entirety of that book.

Dresden strikes upon the key question ("When was the last time you spoke to Jennifer Stanton"--what an unexpected direction!) and she drops the flirting instantly.  Turns out she called on Wednesday, the night of the murder, and she was supposed to have joined Jennifer and Tommy, but she'd had to work.  That, she assures us is the extent of her knowledge, so I'd skip the rest of this scene, except it's so bad and if I have to suffer, so do you.

Linda tells us that Jennifer would never get tangled up in anything dangerous or immoral:
"She was sweet. A lot of girls get like--They get pretty jaded, Mr Dresden. But it never really touched her. She made people feel better about themselves somehow." She looked away. "I could never do that. All I did was get them off."
Pictured: Kermit's face warped into overwhelming sorrow, like mine.

This tragic sex worker is only capable of selling sex, not actively improving the lives and self-esteem of her clients.  Very sorrow, such subsuming of self in the service of men, wow.  This also serves to assure us that Jennifer was someone worth mourning--she didn't get jaded like all those other sex workers.  She was more like a person, or at least cared about people (men).  Is that as bad as this gets?  No, it has one more circle of hell for us:
"Why," I asked her, the words slipping out before I thought about them. "Why the slut act?"
What's this?  Has Dresden noticed that he's basically writing a straight-faced parody and revealing some clever--oh, fuck it.
"Because it's what I do, Mr Dresden. For some people it's drugs. Booze. For me, orgasms. Sex. Passion. Just another addict. City's full of them." She glanced aside. "Next best thing to love. And it keeps me in work. Excuse me."
Yup.  That's where this ends up.  Linda can't stop flirting because she's a sex addict constantly looking for her next lay.  Now, look, I'm sure (I hope) that a considerable number of sex workers do actually enjoy their work, but you'll find a lot more addicts among their clients.  The idea that your average sex worker just desperately wants to screw all the time is a fantasy as indulgent as Dresden's mighty blasting rod.

Pro tip for dudes writing sex workers: don't; you're almost definitely atrocious at it.

Linda's employers, the ultra-professional Beckitts, arrive and demand to know who Dresden is; Linda claims he's an old boyfriend and tells him to take off.   Mr Beckitt cops a feel of Linda as he gets into the car, while Dresden notices that Mrs Beckitt's face reminds him of soldiers released from German prisoner-of-war camps after WW2: "Empty. Numb. Dead, and just didn't know it yet."  Because if you want precise characterisation, the best direction to leap in is something associated with Nazis.  That's definitely ideal for your scenario, and not a howling cliche used every time someone wants to be dramatic.  At least pick a different war.

Dresden heads inside the airport, gets coffee, and considers what to do next--he needs do to paying work, and interrogating Linda doesn't count, so he either does the murder-magic research Murphy wants, or he digs more into Monica's missing husband.  The latter is less likely to get him decapitated, so Dresden calls the only pizza place close enough to the lakehouse, and is soon put on the line with the cracking-voiced teenager who delivered to Victor Sells.  The kid immediately goes into "I told you I'm not gonna say anything to anyone" sputtering, and Dresden runs with it, getting the terrified kid to drop a few specifics: that he saw an orgy going on inside, and that he ran into a photographer as he left (explaining the unsubtle film canister mentioned some chapters ago).  The kid hangs up soon after, being much better at saying 'no' than Linda was.

Dresden brushes the whole thing off as "an advanced case of male menopause" on Victor's case, because apparently 'midlife crisis' wasn't misogynistic enough.  He hasn't yet realised that, as this novel's B-plot, the whole thing is going to turn out to be some kind of giant magic-related conspiracy.

(Question for the audience: are there psychometric magics in this setting?  Like, you can find a person via an object they've touched, or vice-versa?  I kind of assume there is, since Dresden apparently specialises in finding lost objects, but finding photographer dude or Victor himself would be way easier if so.  Just wondering if that remains consistent later.)

Dresden returns home and gets jumped by one or more goons just outside his door.  Foot on his neck and baseball bat smiting the ground next to his face, Dresden is told to stop snooping or else, and then left.  He stumbles inside, but of course as a protagonist, after some aching and groaning, he takes it all as motivational:
"You are not some poor rabbit, Dresden!" I reminded myself, sternly. "You are the wizard of the old school, a spellslinger of the highest caliber. You're not going to roll over for some schmuck with a baseball bat because he tells you to!"
Are you though, Dresden?  Highest calibre, I mean?  We keep coming back to this: you're either one of the less-than-two-thousand people in the world who can wield magic, and therefore spectacularly powerful by any reasonable measure and have no reason to live in fearful poverty, or you're a low-rung hobbyist whose physics-defying abilities are irrelevant in the magical hierarchy and indeed the societal power structure in general.  Any chance you'll make up your mind soon?

Dresden makes some tea and grabs his gun--sorry, his "Smith & Wesson .38 Chief's Special", because this is that kind of book--having decided that the goons were almost definitely sent by Marcone, and they would be more put off by a gun than a wand.  Then it's time to start reverse-engineering that murder magic after all.

Chapter Eleven: A Brief Interlude Of Actual Plot

We catch up with Dresden the next morning, sleepless, hextuple-checking his "calculations" on the magic.  Apparently the spell is impossible or the killer is godlike.  I'm very curious what kind of math goes into murder magic, but we won't hear any of that.  Dresden immediately takes off to see Murphy.
Things were bad. They were very, very bad!
Gripping.  General guideline: if you're using exclamation points outside of dialogue, they had better be ironic.  When they're not, I start reading in the voice of a failing standup comedian--one who doesn't know the difference between loud and funny, but has just realised that the audience does.

Dresden gets to the police station and is forced to wait (by a "greying matron", not the usual "mustached old warhorse" who would trust him like he deserves).  He can see down the hall to Murphy's office, though, where she stands:
...with a phone pressed to her ear, wearing a martyred expression. She looked like a teenager having a fight with an out-of-town boyfriend, though she'd tear my head off if she heard me saying any such thing.
Shucks, Dresden, I'm just a simple country lawyer, but maybe that's because you reflexively infantilise every woman you meet and Murphy (nominally a mighty cop) knows she has to constantly fight back if she wants you to take her seriously for ten seconds ever again.  I suggest we reverse the metaphor, and hereafter a teenage girl having a phone-fight with an out-of-town boyfriend shall be described as 'looking like a detective trying to get the chief to acknowledge that, even if she's a loose cannon, she gets results, dammit'.

While Dresden's waiting, some kid shows up at full sprint out of the holding cells, freaking out, Dresden tries to tackle him (ineffectively, because he's a squishy wizard) and they collapse into a painful heap, but the kid does stop trying to escape.  Instead he screams at Dresden:
"Wizard! I see you! I see you, wizard! I see the things that follow, those who walk before and He Who Walks Behind! They come! they come for you!"
The cops show up to drag the kid away and explain that he's a ThreeEye junkie, sending Dresden off into a spiral of frantic speculation, because "for reasons I don't have time to go into now" he really is marked with the shadow of He Who Walks Behind, a murderous spirit that one of Dresden's enemies once sicced on him.  He survived with a scar on his aura, which only wizards should know how to see, but the junkie apparently did as well, meaning--zomg--ThreeEye really does give people the Third Sight.

(I think I would actually really enjoy the 'oh, btdubs, I'm marked with the shadow of a spectral hitman, long story' aside if it appeared in a book that I didn't already hate.  I love a good noodle incident, even if I'm skeptical that Dresden can spare pages talking about how sexy a woman's voice is or how bored he is in the waiting room but not to explain what enemy he made who put a multiplanar contract on his head.)

Dresden further informs us that Third Sight is overwhelming, either tearjerkingly beautiful or awesomely awful, and that wizards learn to keep it shut most of the time or they go mad.  Possibly more dangerously than that, junkies run the risk of seeing through the masquerade and 'forcing' a vampire or other disguised beastie to kill them in pre-emptive self-defence, which he calls "double jeopardy" because he never went to law school.

Murphy shows up with coffee for him, filled with sugar just the way he likes it, because apparently she's his boss and his assistant.  (Spoilers: it's only going to get worse.)  She does demand 50 cents for it on the way to her office.  Her office does get some description, with its aikido trophies and sleek new PC (she unplugs it before Dresden walks in) and paper nameplate taped to the door as a reminder of how quickly she can be fired.  It's better characterisation than any other woman has got in the book so far, I'll give it that much.

Dresden explains the magic situation: he was right that it was a thaumaturgic ritual, but his math shows that it would take a hilarious amount of energy to do to even one person, let alone two.  Murphy suggests the "wizard version of Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled this off" and Dresden explains that being focused with your energy isn't the same as having a lot of it.  He provides us with an abruptly racist and bizarre metaphor involving "some ancient little Chinese martial-arts master" who can't "lift a puppy over his head" but can "shatter a tree trunk with his hands".  Yeah, that's not how anatomy works.  I mean, here's Ming-Na Wen breaking through concrete with a ruinous spearhand technique:

You're all welcome.  But: that still involves having muscles.  She can probably also slam-dunk an SUV.  I remember the last taekwondo master I trained under, and yes, he looked like a kindly grandfather, but there was nothing frail about him.  It was like shaking hands with a vise.  The magic men made of nothing but skin and bones who can headbutt mountains into valleys are just weird orientalist fantasy.

Anyway. Dresden goes on with the other possibility, which he says is less likely: a group of wizards, hard limit thirteen, all working together.  That requires absolute trust and devotion, so it's mostly only possible with a fanatical cult.  Either way, he has also worked out that the point of the murders wasn't to scare Bianca, but to send a message to Marcone, as part of the new secret drug war in Chicago between ThreeEye and conventional narcotics.

This chapter, in various ways, feels like it's from a much better book.  A book that's about wizards getting involved in mafia wars, and not about a parade of varyingly-naked skinny white women who would totally have sex with Dresden if only he weren't so tragically Devoted To Justice.  I suppose we're only halfway through.  Maybe it's going to get better?  Eventually?  Oh, who am I kidding, I know we still have Love Potion hijinks coming soon.

Murphy tells Dresden to give her a list of names of people who could have pulled off the killing spell, Dresden refuses, she threatens to haul him in for obstruction and says it's her job to be a cop, not his (true, and well done Murphy).  I would like to ask again about the existence of wizard cops, and whether Dresden (now that he understands the situation and has evidence that he couldn't be the killer) might not do better to inform the White Council of his findings.  But Dresden's pounding headache, which has been building momentum for a page, finally decides it's time for a quick end to the chapter, so he passes out on her office floor.

Next time: Murphy plays Florence Nightingale for no good reason.


*I suppose I should make a consistent note that these books don't have chapter titles and I'm just making them up for funsies, lest new readers be confused that the titles are so much more entertaining and thoughtful than the text.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Erika vs Burnt offerings, chapters 7 to 11

We last left Anita training some puppies to play fetch, after pulling rank to make them come take care of their own injured because he was bad and helped a werepanther (against the interim leader's orders). She might be getting some of these werewolves killed in the process, but, eh, these things, they happen.

Anita rushes home to change and read over the file on the arsonist, making her late for her super sexy date. Off Anita goes for her hot vampire date, where we are given fanfiction levels of description about her clothes and makeup. The word "blusher" is used to describe blush, which I don't think I've heard used by people who speak English as a first language under the age of 70. I will give credit: it is at least at first centered on "how do you stash a gun in formal wear" and "this is why I'm wearing a dress I am definitely going to flash in, so I can get to my gun".  Because god forbid she just... flash the gun? She's licensed to carry the thing. People are already staring at her for all her scars. Just--just embrace your lack of fucks, Anita. Strap the gun to your fucking face.

Also, after about three paragraphs of "it's so hard to hide a gun in a dress which is why I need to dress revealingly", I'm wondering why she isn't just wearing something with an A-line skirt, or fit and flare, or with ruching... All of those would work great to hide a gun in a thigh holster without too much risk of flashing and easy access, but it's the 90s, I guess. Those styles didn't exist yet. Nor did jackets and shoulder holsters.

Then we get a description of her vampire babe boyfriend:
Jean-Claude's hair is black and curly, but he'd done something to it so it was straight and fine, falling past his shoulders, curled under at the ends. His face seemed even more delicate, like fine porcelain. He was beautiful, not handsome. I wasn't sure what saved his face from being feminine. Some line of his cheek, bend of his jaw, something. You would never mistake him for anything other than male. He was dressed in royal blue, a color I'd never seen him in. A short jacket of a shining, almost metallic cloth was overlaid with black lace in a pattern of flowers. The shirt was his typical frilled, a la 1600's shirt, but it was a rich, vibrant blue, down to the mound of ruffles that climbed up his neck to frame his face and spill out the sleeves of the jacket to cover the upper half of his slender white hands.
I don't know about you, but I'm positively dripping.

Pictured: A hilariously ugly royal blue metallic lacy shirt.

The blue matches his eyes.

We're told like, two paragraphs later he's not wearing underwear. This has swerved wildly from "lots of action, even if some of it is hamfisted" to "time to fist some ham".

He keeps calling her ma petite and slipping in occasional French words. My French is bad.  Like, super bad. I'm basically illiterate in French. Also the French I do speak is Canadian French which is a strange and different beast onto itself. It's like the equivalent of Cockney to the rest of the English language. Hilarious and sometimes indecipherable to people who don't speak the dialect and often made fun of. Despite that, I bet I speak better french than Laurel K Hamilton. For instance, he just keeps calling her "my little". To me, this stuck out. I assume it's supposed to be "ma petite cheri" but he's been calling her that since like, book two. So I did what any reasonable adult with a question does. I called my Mommy.

My mother is Very French. But again, Canadian French (I can not spell the slang name for the dialect my family speaks, but it roughly translates to "mutt" according to her). I asked her if calling someone "ma petite" was weird. She informed me it was super old fashioned, and is generally something you would call a child. If the person in question was super little it was... ok. Yeah, she could see it. It made sense, she guessed? She also proceeded to tell me some more local versions of the term. "Ma petit crotte or". Rough translation? My little golden turd. Or simply "my petit crotte" and drop the golden entirely. I know what I'm assuming Anita is a little of.

This is why the rest of the world makes fun of Canadian French.

There is also one other factor I feel the need to mention. All my sources? Canadian. Canadian French is known for (besides being hilarious and the ugliest sounding version of French in existence) being very informal. Parisian French, which is what Jean-Claude would be speaking, is very formal. So (and if someone who speaks "proper" French wants to correct me please do) him calling her this is overly familiar (when he started) and makes him sound like a grandpa. Sexy.

They banter; it's actually not awful, aside from the fact that she is so incredibly turned on by his mere presence that they had to get her a fresh chair twice now. As part of being Jean-Claude's human servant, he can now taste food through her, and he hasn't been able to taste food for ages, so, this is great for him. He missed food. Strangely, we are told very specifically that this isn't a fetish, but it leads to this exchange:
"No, no more of this tasting shit. I've gained weight. I never gain weight."

"You have gained four pounds, so I am told. Though I have searched diligently for this phantom four pounds and cannot find them. It brings your weight up to a grand total of one hundred and ten pounds, correct?"

"That's right."

"Oh, ma petite, you are growing gargantuan."

I looked at him, and it was not a friendly look. "Never tease a woman about her weight, Jean-Claude. At least not an American twentieth-century one."
I'm not sure if this is "my body doesn't do this, so no, it means I'm doing something wrong" or "but I'm getting faaaaat" followed up with her actual weight to reassure us she's not. Anita is about 5'01, 5'02. Same height range as me. At my smallest adult size, I was about 115 lbs, and that wasn't healthy. I mean, she could have a super slender delicate frame, but given the fact that she goes around punching vampires and I think her tits are waxed poetic about, I don't think she'd be that delicate. I am now curious how she was going around staking vampires before getting super powers, like, at that size wouldn't she get dizzy halfway through? Presumably she's mostly muscle, which is actually heavier than fat, so, where are her organs? Does she have hollow bones?!

Ahem. Anyways.

They spend 20 minutes "negotiating" what to get for dinner--which: really? How large was that menu? They started off agreeing on the entree, so it was what? "I want an appetizer." "I don't." "Fiiiine. Soup or salad? I want soup." "Well I want salad."

Like..? How did that take 20 minutes? It's implied this whole time was negotiation over it. That sounds tedious. However, unlike in 50 Shades, we don't have to actually see said negotiation, so, not so bad I guess.

We then get this:
"Would you like wine with dinner, then, sir?" 
He never missed a beat. "I do not drink wine." 
I coughed Coke all over the tablecloth. The waiter did everything but give me the Heimlich. Jean-Claude laughed until tears trailed from the corners of his eyes. You couldn't really tell it in this light, but I knew that the tears were tinged red. Knew that there would be pinkish stains on the linen napkin when he was done dabbing his eyes. The waiter fled without having gotten the joke. Staring across the table at the smiling vampire, I wondered if I got the joke or was the butt of the joke. There were nights when I wasn't sure which way the grave dirt crumbled. 
But when he put his hand out to me across the table, I took it. Definitely, the butt of the joke.
Pictured: A very unimpressed puppy

Wat. I don't even know. That waiter better be getting such a good tip. Jean-Claude was drinking wine when Anita got there, and now he has to deal with these two laughing like jackals. Jean-Claude now isn't ordering anything, so the bill will be smaller, and therefore his anticipated tip. Anita was rude, and has probably flashed him when he had to get her a new chair because she soaked the last one, and they took forever to order. Unnamed waiter dude, you are not being paid enough to deal with this shit.

Also yeah. Vampires cry bloody tears in this world. Which he is dabbing away with the table linen. I mean, blood happens, but this seems like it could be a potential biohazard. The blood tears, not him using the napkin specifically. What if a vampire goes to a sad movie? These are questions I will never get answers to.

They order dessert, continue eye fucking and antagonizing each other before Van Damme notices some vampires walk in. Well, one vampire and one human servant (not her own), dressed all fancy in white. Because Anita and JC are in black/dark colors. Subtlety. They vaguely menace at Van Damme and Anita, who nearly shoots the human in the middle of a fancy restaurant, because that's how she do, and go off. They were sent by members of the vampire council, there about a vampire they killed a book or two ago who was hella old something something be scared of them for reasons. Anita and JC are In Danger because they killed a former council member and now anyone and everyone that they care about is also maybe in danger. OH NO ANITA JUST ADOPTED A BUNCH MORE DOGS AND SOME CATS!

They go out to Anita's car, and Jean-Claude's ex is there. Asher, super hot vampire dude with horrible scars over half his face. He and Jean-Claude used to have a threesome going with Asher's human servant before she got inquisition'd. He wanted to murder Anita as revenge, because he blames JC for... reasons? Either way, he's there to drag them to the council and has been promised revenge. It's all very overwrought and melodramatic.
"You've finally given me what I need to hurt you, Jean-Claude. You love someone else at last. Love is never free, Jean-Claude. It is the most expensive emotion we have, and I am going to see that you pay in full." He stood in front of Jean-Claude, hands in fists by his side. He was trembling with the effort not to strike out. Jean-Claude had stopped crying, but I wasn't sure he'd fight back. In that moment I realized he didn't want to hurt Asher. 
Guilt is a many splendored thing. Problem was, Asher wanted to hurt him.
I stepped between them. I took a step forward. Asher was either going to have to step back or we'd be touching. He stepped back, staring down at me as if I'd just appeared. He'd forgotten me for just a second.
"Love isn't the most expensive emotion, Asher." I said. I took another step forward, and he retreated another step. "Hate is. Because hate will eat you up inside and destroy you, long before it kills you." 
"Very philosophical," he said. 
"Philosophy's great," I said. "But remember this: don't ever threaten us again. Because if you do, I'll kill you. Because I don't give a fuck about your tortured past. Now, shall we go?"
 See what I mean by overwrought? Although I will give credit to Anita. I enjoy how few fucks she gives. She will murder you if she thinks she has to, and she won't lose too much sleep over it. It's one of her main character traits, and it's consistent so far. Although she is going to start losing sleep because she's not more bothered, and that will become a weird and vicious cycle.

 We find out in the car that the vampire council members that have popped up have taken over JC's stomping ground and wrangled his people. So all their people and toys are hostages which really leaves them with their hands tied. The vampire council think since he killed the other guy and didn't take his place he's trying to start a new council. A cooler one. One where they have smoothies. The reason he didn't join the council is because he knew he wasn't strong enough to not get his ass murdered. Asher believes him, and alternates between angsting and trying to be coy with Anita in the back seat. It's like he's a surly teenager hitting on his dad's new girlfriend.

This is all naturally a test of the two: they don't want them dead, because they're afraid they'll be seen as martyrs. They just want them, you know, physically and emotionally scarred into submission. Because that can't be turned into anything sympathetic either. Still, today, probably not going to do anything too horrible, they want to see what they've got. Because the ruling group of vampires can't start a smear campaign and kill him when he's disgraced and they brought no one here to see what the hell they're going to do to these two.

Before going into the Circus of the Damned--oh, yeah, that's the name of the place. JC also owns a strip club called Guilty Pleasures.  Anita takes a moment to marvel at how pretty JC and Asher are, and wonder how one vampire found both of them at the same time and place when they're not related.

Asher, horribly scarred, stretches out his scars trying to make himself more gross and asks "DO YOU THINK I'M SEXY NOW ANITA? HUH? DO YOU?"

And Anita just kinda shrugs. "I dunno, I'm into hair and eyes, and your hair looks like some spun gold fairytale shit, and you have very pretty eyes."

Asher rips his shirt open to show his torso and scars off: "STILL THINK I'M BANGABLE?"

"Yeah. I'd still tap it."


"Listen, I already said I would hypothetically ride that shit, why are you trying to sell me harder on it?"

Asher, confused because everyone has looked at him like he was disgusting and scary since this happened (holy water wounds, man, they are the worst) and vampire skingrafts aren't an option, is confused and distressed. He manages to get Anita a bit spooked at one point, but that was because he was So Angry, which also confuses him.

So he screams "NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME" and flies away.

You might think I'm exaggerating the scene in my rewriting it here, and I am, but barely. He literally tells Anita his dick is scarred too and flies away in rage because she isn't bothered by his scars.

I'm 69 (heh) pages into this book, and I have lost track of how many people Anita Blake has threatened to harm or kill. It's been like, maybe 8 hours so far. There are also the werecritters, the whole fire thing, and vampire murders going on too. After 50 Shades and Wheel of Time I don't know what to do with all these things happening in less than 800 pages.

Tune in next time to see who Anita shoots first!