Vlad and Leila’s lives are still overshadowed by the ongoing threat from Vlad’s most ancient and powerful enemy. That enemy has focused on Leila as a weak link in Vlad’s life – and he is determined to keep her safe by whatever means necessary, even if he has to put her in a gilded cage; whether Leila likes it or not
But that crushing hold is not just destroying their marriage – but it is ultimately fruitless against an enemy that knows him so well
It would be nice to have one book go by without Leila being kidnapped. Especially since this book contained a lot of graphic torture and sexual assault that verged on the torture porn at times; the only thing that really stopped it was the surprising casualness that Leila often referred to it. Like she was skinned, absolutely skinned alive which happened in the down time (which I appreciate because we do not need a graphic description of that) but the way she refers to it feels roughly on par with mentioning someone cutting your hair. I had very little sense of trauma from her after what she went through which made the whole thing feel kind of off to me.
There’s also a completely gratuitous sexual assault scene. It’s an odd scene in that both parties are doing the very best to avoid a rape and everything that happens is to stop a rape – but because it’s used to stop a rape both parties seem to miss that it’s still sexual assault and still not a happy, fun situation. Leila’s muted reaction turns a lot more focus on Vlad’s reaction – in fact the whole focus of Leila’s abuse is Vlad, Vlad’s anger, Vlad’s pain, Vlad’s past love who died for him, Vlad debating whether he should be with Leila and put her at risk, Leila worried about Vlad blaming her – Vlad Vlad Vlad Vlad.
The whole thing feels unnecessary as well – like Vlad couldn’t have been super enraged and outraged by Leila’s kidnapping, there was no need to throw in rape as well.
There are some decent elements to the whole scene though; there is an express rejection of her sense of blame. And she may have been kidnapped but she’s also heavily involved in her own rescue which is certainly a good way of working through the whole kidnapping trope.
I also like that there’s a lot of rejection of the idea that Vlad needs to keep her safe. Not, necessarily, by saying she can look after herself (ableit she can to some degree) but by showing the extremes he has to go to to keep her safe and how even those aren’t guaranteed – but by taking those steps he damages their relationship and drives her away. Ultimately he’s destroying their marriage in a futile attempt to keep her safe by endlessly smothering her and overruling her agency. And it’s not just her words that counter this, the plot of the book expressly shows how ridiculous Vlad’s plan is; not just for Leila but how he himself nearly fails without her.
I’ve started out discussing this because this really is the primary focus of the book. Leila is kidnapped pretty early in the book and remains captured and abused for a substantial chunk of it, after which they then try to find their big bad enemy. It’s not a bad plot and we have several cameo appearances from different characters from the wider world but the few twists don’t change the ongoing path of the story. Ultimately, Vlad and his allies are just too powerful to fight and while there were some interesting deviations along the way and it wasn’t a bad plot line, it lacked anything deeper. It was still a good and fun story though; once the imprisonment was over it moved at a good pace with a few useful elements to draw it out.