A review of Laurell K. Hamilton’s ‘Narcissus in Chains’ chapter forty four


Donovan Reece is lounging around on Anita’s sofa, with ‘near translucent skin’.

Why the hell has he got translucent skin? Swans don’t have translucent skin. Birds have sort of pink skin. Hang on, give me a moment. *attempts to check skin under budgie’s feathers. Budgie does not appreciate this* Edgar’s skin is pretty much the colour of his feet. Birds might look fragile, and indeed, they kind be, but they don’t have see-through skin. That’s just stupid.

Of all the people in the room he seemed the most surrealistic.

I… I don’t think you’re using that word correctly. That doesn’t seem right in that sentence. It doesn’t read right. ‘Abnormal’. ‘Unreal’. ‘Fantastic’. Those would be better there, I think. He’s surrounded by unnamed women who are all varying shades of wilting flower. We also see the return of Christine, banana split lady, who is overawed by the fact that Anita remembered her name. Oh, zowie!

Donovan took over then, introducing me to the man and woman sitting between them. They were both dark-complected. Their bone structure was pure middle America, nothing special, but their eyes were too big, too dark, the hair truly truly black. There was something exotic about them that straight European just doesn’t give you. They also looked amazingly alike, like male and female versions of each other. They were Ethan and Olivia MacNair, respectively.

TIME FOR BULLET POINTS!!!!

  • ‘Dark-complected’. That’s the most awkward way to say someone is black. Just say they were black or African-American.
  • Pointing out they’re black makes it more noticeable you never introduce your main characters are Caucasian. Because Caucasian should be the default for people after all!
  • ‘Their bone structure was pure middle America’. So, they look like white people, but just happen to have dark skin. Got it. More POC who aren’t really POC because they’ve been made white in some way. Can’t have anyone…. ethnic in your book.
  • ‘Their eyes were too big’.
  • Look at the one on the bottom right. Hmm. It looks like his make-up is designed to make his eyes look ‘too big’ for his face.
  • ‘Exotic’. STOP. People of different ethnicities aren’t mystical creatures for you to gawp at.
  • So, black people can’t be European, then. That’s what you’re saying with that. That no black person can ever be ‘pure’ European, despite the fact that their ancestors might have lived for hundreds or thousands of years in Europe.
  • BLACK PEOPLE WERE NOT INVENTED DURING SLAVERY, LKH.
  • Europe is a very big and complicated place. Lots of areas of it were controlled by people who were – gasp! – not Caucasian. Like, Spain and most of Eastern Europe. So, yeah, Europe is not some mystical land full of the whitest of white people.
  • ‘Straight European’. Um, I’d like to meet this mystical European person with only Caucasian DNA. As the last point says, Europe is a very big and complicated place. Do you know what Europe is right next to? Africa, Arabia, and Asia. People have been moving between these continents and areas for hundreds of thousands of years. The European gene pool is incredibly mixed. I don’t think you can ever classify anyone from Europe as being ‘straight European’. Take me, f’r instance. I’m part Roma and part Afrikaner (Afrikaners have a lot of black African ancestry, before the horror of racial segregation became state policy). While I certainly am never going to claim a position as an other, I am definitely not ‘straight European’. And there is no one in Europe who could claim to have entire purity of WHITENESS in their DNA.
  • I’d also like to point out that the American race model is not applicable to Europe. Race theory, mostly in regard to eugenics, only became big in Europe during the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Before that point, nationality was what mattered, not ethnicity. This ‘straight European’ bullshit is a race model foisted on Europe by Americans and it really does not work over here.
  • ‘They also looked amazingly alike’. Oh yes, the two black characters LOOK JUST LIKE EACH OTHER. That’s not racist in the slightest!
  • In short, WRITER BAD, NO BISCUIT.

Let’s recover with some pretty James McAvoy.

There’s a guy called Boone, two unnamed women, two unnamed men, and a man called ‘Gilbert’.

No, no, this Gilbert has ‘golden red hair and strangely uptilted green eyes’. Or, he’s Asian but LKH couldn’t just say he’s Asian, she had to make a reference to his eyes.

You’re on thin fucking ice LKH. And you wonder why people accuse you of racism.

There’s a woman called Jane Talbot and then Nilisha MacNair comes in because ‘I didn’t come here to make small talk’.

Nilisha MacNair was about my size but even more delicately put together so that she seemed smaller.

Making women of colour seem ‘delicate’ is racist. VERY RACIST AND YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Nilisha is like totes a badass and has a white man who has too many muscles is standing as her bodyguard. Nilisha, the mother of Ethan and Olivia, announces that her husband, the king of the cobras, is dead. I note that the amazing strong badass animals who are large and impressive are all white people. I’m not arguing that a cobra isn’t impressive, or deadly, but notice how the wolves and the lions and the hyenas and the leopards are all white people. The black characters, aside from a few tokens, get to be an animal that is regarded as suspicious, deceitful, and wicked in popular culture.

Hmmm. HMMMMM.

Olivia shouts at her mother that Nilisha just wants to make him dead by giving up and then reveals that the only black character who has any sort of power within the shapeshifter community was cheating on his wife.

Hmmm. HMMMM BLOODY HMMMMM.

Olivia and Nilisha then scream at each others faces and they have the temerity to not even do it in English. The only female black character with any sort of power within the shapeshifter community is a hysterical woman who fights with her daughter in public.

Hmmm. HMMMM OH MY GOD HOW DO YOU NOT NOTICE THIS HMMMM.

Anita goes out of the room because she can’t deal with people airing their problems in public. This embarrasses Nilisha and Olivia into making an apology. They’re just worried about the husband, Henry. Jane Talbot’s son, Andy, has gone missing. Boone says his bear queen has gone missing. Christine is here as a representative of the… lions, as she’s the only weretiger in St. Louis. Joseph the lion has gone missing and this is awful because his wife is pregnant and she can’t do with the stress.

“Until she loses it, you mean,” Cherry said.

Thanks Cherry. This is an appropriate time to mention how Joseph’s unnamed wife is really stupid and has suffered three miscarriages. That’s totally related to what’s going on and totally necessary for the story to now dash off on a tangent about how shapeshifters can’t have children because the change means they loose all their babies.

Um, if that’s true, then Joseph’s wife shouldn’t be pregnant right now. It should have stopped with the very first change. If a foetus cannot survive one change, then Joseph’s wife would have lost it right then. Besides, why can’t a child survive the change? If a human being can change into an animal, what part of the magic terminates pregnancy? Cherry says ‘it’s too violent’, which is too vague to mean anything. Foetuses are pretty resilient little buggers – they can get through a lot. Why not say that the animal womb rejects the alien embryos? That makes sense. But seeing as this is all magic anyway, why should it follow the rules of biology? If magic can make people have the bones of birds, which are hollow to allow for flight, and totally different from the bones of mammals, why doesn’t that allow for women to have children? Shapshifters are a ‘species’, as stated by this book. A species has to be able to successfully reproduce. Otherwise it’s not a species!

Oh, and Nilisha had children by laying snake eggs.

I don’t even begin to know how that would work.

But this is all about Anita and her twagedy that she might not spawn. Let us all cry out with a collected sigh of relief.

Henry MacNair was the first victim, and had had the most struggle. Then, the werelion, Joseph; Andy Talbot, weredog, as it turned out –

Nope. Werewolves and weredogs would be the same because wolves and dogs are genetically the same. There is no difference between a pug and a wolf. Weredogs would have to be were-specific type of dog.

– and last the Ursa of the bears, Rebecca Morton.

The last time we’d had this many wereanimals missing, it had been the old swan king who was delivering them over to be hunted by illegal thrill seekers.

And despite this, Anita took no notice of this happening, at all. She immediately suspects Donovan though. She suggests the police and no one will go to them, probably because they know Dolph couldn’t fit shit in the foods. She then mentions the snake people, because, oh right, those murderous snake men who were abducting people AT THE START OF THE BOOK.

The group spend hours talking about it and cannot come up with anything. Also, it would seem that Nilisha’s husband is white. Can’t have a black man in any sort of power position, I see. The families reported the people missing but not that they were shapeshifters, something the police could use to find them but I understand why, considering how you can shoot five shapeshifters and no one cares.

Nilisha refuses to go to the police.

Olivia took her hand. Ethan knelt in front of her. “Mother, without father, what does it matter?”

BECAUSE LIFE IS ONLY WORTH WHILE WITH A MAN IN IT.

And of course Nilisha agrees because her life would mean nothing if she didn’t have the husband, who sleeps around with other women, in it.

 

 

This chapter broke things inside me.

can we all fit on that white horse to ride away from this

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10 thoughts on “A review of Laurell K. Hamilton’s ‘Narcissus in Chains’ chapter forty four

  1. So “middle America” only has white people in it? Dude, unless you mean Native American tribes from that area of the US, there is no one way that “middle America” looks, you amazing racist. Ditto for ‘straight European”—what the fuck does that mean? Europe is a big continent with a lot of ethnic groups. Like, even among “white” ethnic groups you can find dark hair and eyes. Heck, in some those are the NORM. When she says “straight European” does she maybe mean “the GOOD kind of white people like English and Western Europe but not like Jewish or Eastern Europe or Italian types because they’re not the RIGHT/NORMAL kind of white people” or what? Like I just don’t know but it sounds racist either way. And that’s not even touching that, as you said, lots of POC have been in Europe for a long time.

    AND THEN WE JUST DESCEND INTO EPICALLY PROBLEMATIC OH GOD WHY LKH WHY

    I remember that in high school (WHEN I SAW NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS SCENE WHATSOEVER, BLESS MY IGNORANT HEART) the reveal of all these new shifter types and characters and all coming together had me SO EXCITED because I couldn’t wait to learn about them and how each animal group worked and stuff…and was so, so disappointed that none of them except Donovan ever reappeared. Not as individuals, or as a species. It’s so sad to think I was ever naïve enough to believe LKH would ever revisit anything potentially *interesting* in her work or even just remember her own damn canon.

    • Coming from a position of privilege, it’s hard to learn how to see where certain things stack up to make unfortunate implications. Hell, I made one of my own in the post – I assumed that Nilisha’s husband must be black. But with all the other unfortunate stuff in her work, LKH does not help herself. At all.

      Why do you want to read about interesting politics when you can read about boring orgies?

  2. I stopped reading the series after finishing Guilty Pleasures (It was the parts where LKH’s coherency of writing just *goes* that convinced me to drop it). Can someone please list all the different were-species that have been listed up to this point? I would assume it was just the species that were four-legged and furry, but what about the were-cobras? Does that mean all reptiles have were-species of themselves? EXPLAIN THINGS GODDAMMIT!

    Also, ‘near translucent skin’? I’m pretty sure that person has a serious vitamin D deficiency and needs to go outside more.

    • Werewolves
      Weredogs
      Wereswans/swanmanes
      Wereleopards
      Werejaguars
      Werelions
      Weretigers
      Werecobras
      Wereanacondas
      Werebears
      Werefoxes
      Werehyenas

  3. Only one complaint (from a biological sciences major): wolves and dogs are not the same, not genetically. They have the same number of chromosomes and can interbreed, but they are not the same.They share about 98 or 99% of their DNA, but humans also share about 98% of our DNA with chimps, and we are definitely not the same, so that 1-2% difference counts for a lot. Also, in this case, I don’t see how LKH is being inconsistent with including weredogs (which are of the same genus as wolves and foxes, which are also wereanimals) when she has leopards, lions, and tigers – all felines. If anything, she would probably have to mention what sort of dog if it was talked about in detail. As you mentioned, a werepug is probably a lot less intimidating than say, a were-German Shepherd.

    • It’s never stated what weredogs look like so I personally imagine them as either pariah-dog types (since “breeds” are all the result of humans managing their breeding) or large black dogs of no particular type (to evoke the ‘black spectral hounds’ lore)

    • In a better story, written by a better author, we would have a group of were-puggles, who would be perpetually pissed off because their shifter forms were so adorable instead of badass like those aloof were-Mastiffs down the street.

  4. your point on race theory being different in different places is spot on. I don’t think that would ever occur to Anita though. I am giving her a certain amount of pass because Anita is a bull headed fool and I don’t expect her to be a paragon of racial knowledge but at the same time since none of it feels like an intentional comment on her character it just ends up pissing me the hell off instead of being a legit character flaw.

    • I think ignorance could work as a legitimate character flaw – and from what I understand about certain parts of St. Louis, it would be in character for a woman of Anita’s background and age to be somewhat ignorant – but a lot of it comes from LKH. There’s been such a huge pile of unfortunate implications throughout the whole series that I had to, uh, blow up a little.

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