Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Undead, by Kim Harrison

Now I'm sure my readers will be a little surprised that I decided to return to this series. In my review of the first book of the series I had raised considerable doubts about very big issues I had with the book. Specifically the topic of vampire rape which does surface again. However, in my first review I had said that the book was still entertaining and fairly well-written so I figured I could at least try the second book and see if the series gets any better. Unfortunately this book is much, much worse than the first one and it's not because the book is mechanically broken, Harrison is a competent writer and I will give her credit for that. This book simply does not work for me because of the characters' actions and how the author handled the subject of rape, which is a really big issue that can make or break a book for me. Clearly there are a lot of people who like her books and more power to them, but I still think there are a lot of really big issues with this series and I'm definitely not going to read any more of it.

Warning! I will go into several spoilers about this book to specifically address my issues. You have been advised. 

I want to begin with the big issue of rape, both as we know it and in the vampire form which exists within Harrison's universe. All of my readers are probably aware that rape, rape culture, and sexual violence are all very big issues which deserve their own posts and people who can articulate the issues much more clearly than I, so I'll just have to ask you to accept that it is an issue and if you want to know more please read and get informed. That being said, as I mentioned in my review of the last book there are a lot of innocuous things that turn vampires on and want to make them rip your throat out and drink your blood in a very violent and sexual fashion akin for all intents and purposes to rape. Furthermore there are powers that some vampires have to make their victims more willing, although even a hard no certainly won't stop a determined vampire. And throughout the book it's stated that it's not the vampires' fault that they're this way, it's just hardwired into their DNA and they're just going to occasionally violently drain someone of blood against their will. And quite frankly I find that to be bullshit because vampires have free will in this series and are therefore in control of their actions, just like people. People are genetically hardwired to have sex and ensure the continuation of their DNA in the species, however we do not give in to the slightest impulse to mate and say it's not our fault, it's our biology. Society assumes that people will maintain control of their biological impulses and only act upon them in a legally acceptable manner. The same thing should go for vampires. I can accept it and perhaps even be supportive if you need blood to survive, however vampires could probably get blood donated voluntarily at a blood bank much more easily than from a screaming and fighting victim, to say nothing of the moral superiority.

Now, someone might counter that it's simply just in the vampire's nature and we shouldn't criminalize it, just as we don't criminalize a grizzly bear for eating people. At the same time, however, the bear does not have the free will which makes it an equal member of society. This is also why we safely keep bears in zoos where they won't eat people and where people and bears coexist in the wild we take measures to keep the bears from wanting to eat us. At the same time, if we know there's a bear out there that is actively eating people and can't be stopped, then we go out and kill it to remove the threat from themselves. Now I'm aware I've sort of gone off on a tangent but this is connected to the book because I kept thinking about this when I was reading the book. If vampires have no self-control when it comes to taking blood and they always want to take it in a violent and sexual manner, then that makes them no better than wild animals. You clearly have no self-control and cannot be considered an equal member of society. I kept saying to myself, "Come on you humans, werewolves, and witches! You outnumber the vampires and they're a threat to you all! Wipe them out, lock them up in cages! If they can't control themselves than make sure they can never harm you again!" Obviously I went to the very extreme of wiping out every single vampire from the face of the earth, but if that's what it takes to keep them from eating people than so be it.

As a last rant about the issue of vampires and rape, the main character Rachel's roommate, Ivy (the vampire that I mentioned in the last book) is both sexually and vampirically raped by an elder vampire. A little later in the book the issue of consent gets a little fuzzier and turns into a he-said-she-said but that is one of many real issues that victims of rape and sexual violence experience. The important thing that I took away from this is that Ivy got raped by a powerful male figure and she and Rachel had very few options available to them because he was extremely influential in both regular society and the criminal underworld and so they simply couldn't go to the police and have him arrested. The fear that they won't be believed by law enforcement is a very real issue for victims of rape and prevents many victims from coming forward. This would have been a very good opportunity for Harrison to talk about these issues and use her fiction to encourage victims of rape and sexual violence to come forward to law enforcement knowing that law enforcement is on their side and want to help. Unfortunately the actions of Rachel simply reinforced the message that victims of rape are on their own and will have to cope as best as they can. I don't know if this was intentional on Harrison's part but it was an opportunity not only missed by shamefully squandered.

Aside from the rape issues, which as you've probably guessed by now make a huge part of my issues with this book, I realized that most of the characters are kind of idiots and I can't find myself to like them. Rachel is a good example. In the first book I thought she was pretty cool, thinking on her feet and just trying to survive the death threat that her former employers had put on her head. She couldn't rely on plans because she simply didn't have the time to formulate a good plan. With the death threat gone she's got the time to plan appropriately for the jobs she has to pull, but always seems to go into situations utterly half-cocked and as a result her half-baked plans always go awry. This ranges from stuff as simple as failing to consider every fine detail of a disguise she uses on one of her simpler jobs, to impulsively doing the exact opposite of what the police ask her to do at a crime scene out of spite risking the legal status of the evidence and the whole case as a result. And don't even get me started on her attempt to take on a several-hundred year old vampire with nothing but a bag of charms and some righteous indignation. A heavily armed SWAT team would have been useful, but I digress. Rachel even openly states that she relies more on intuition than logic and there is a way to write a character like that well, but almost always Rachel's intuition is wrong which makes me wonder why she even relies on it in the first place. I basically came to the realization that she's not very good at her job because she makes impulsive decisions based on her own prejudices and intuitions that turn out to be ill-informed or just plain wrong more often than not.

The other character that frustrated the hell out of me was her boyfriend Nick, who keeps dabbling in demonology despite the fact that both he and Rachel admit that it's very dangerous and downright stupid. In fact Rachel tells him multiple times to stop mucking about with demons but he just keeps on doing it. For those of you unfamiliar with why making deals with demons is always a bad idea, let me just say that demons are usually (and are in this series) masters of temptation and you may think you hold the power in the relationship but the demons always hold the power. Eventually they'll tempt you with enough to get your soul and you spend all of eternity in anguish in hell or some sort of hell-analogue. Simple version, don't do it because it's never worth the risk or the ultimate cost. And yet despite knowing it's not the best idea, despite being told by his girlfriend to stop and told of the danger, Nick continues to mess around with demons. To return to the bear analogy, it's like you tell someone to stop taunting the bears and sticking their head in the bear's mouth. Eventually you just have to accept that if they're not going to listen it's their own damn fault and they deserve to get eaten by the bear. Maybe that's callous but it makes me less supportive of the characters because of their constant poor judgement.

Overall I'm just utterly frustrated with how the author handled rape and the sheer stupidity of the main character. Ivy and Jenks would make much more interesting characters, as well as Captain Edden and even Trent Kalamack. I'd much rather follow around someone who thinks before they leap and considers the consequences rather than just jumping in like Rachel does. Ivy could even be sympathetic because she actually struggles with resisting the urge to drink blood and overcoming her vampire heritage. That at least is a vampire who's trying to be a good person rather than using the "I'm a slave to my biology" card all the other vampires seem to be using. I certainly will not be reading this series in the future.


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