Despite the fact that everyone has told her to give up on Doctor Pete, Jace is determined to kill Tair and bring back her friend. To that end, without securing back up, Jace attempts a magical rescue mission of sorts, only to end up scratched by Tair and no closer to Doctor Pete. Now Jace has to deal with the potential of turning into a werewolf - that is if her boss cannot cure her with vampirism. If that weren't enough to deal with, Jace now finds herself chasing down a mob boss gone rogue, as she follows Tair's trail. With so much at stake, Jace is desperate to hold onto her humanity; however, even if Jace is cured, someone might still have to die.
As mentioned in the description, a lot of the plot revolves around Jace's quest to stay human; however, as a reader I never believed that Jace would lose her humanity. Other than being from another dimension, Jace's humanity is a lot of what makes her super special in this world and if she were to lose that, she wouldn't be the same character. The minute that Cassius became involved, it became evident that not only would Jace remain human but that this would be used to advance the romance between the two of them. At no point did I ever really feel that either Jace or Cassius were in actual jeopardy. Let's be honest, the two have plot immunity up the ying yang.
I still very much enjoy this alternate dimension world with its slightly twisted versions of what we have today. Gally the weredog continues to be one of my favourites, along with Charlie the golem. At this point, Jace is pretty much acclimated to this world and is quite comfortable with the fact that she doesn't really fit in anywhere. Jace knows that remaining human means that she won't quite fit in but is confident that without her humanity, she won't be her authentic self. Even though the end goal is to return to her home, Jace seems less and less fixated on this as this series goes on.
As a protagonist, I still find Jace somewhat irritating because she tends to just barge forward without much forethought. When Jace frees a group of vampire sex slaves for instance, she sends them to a hotel with a bag of money and that is pretty much the last we see of them. How exactly is this solving the problem that these now free women find themselves in? Jace is simply content to pat herself on the back for a good deed done and move on. As much as the acclimation with this new world is good, Jace as a character really needs to have some growth. At this point, she feels absolutely stagnant.
In terms of isms, Better Off Undead is absolutely loaded with problematic elements. Reading this book very much feels like wading through muck to get to the good parts. None of the problematic elements inBetter Off Undead are necessary to the plot whatsoever, particularly given that Thiropirelem is an alternate universe. This means that Barant made very specific choices about what to include and what to exclude. The history of Thiropirelem didn't have to unfold the way that it did.
Jace was brought to Thiropirelem in Dying Bites to chase down an insane human serial killer. From the very start of this series, it was clear that ableism would be an ongoing problem and Better off Undeadseems to bear this out. Until Stoker (yes, an actual descendant of Brahm Stoker) circulated a video of an Elder God designed to make everyone who sees it "nuts", mental illness really didn't exist on Thiropirelem. The recording would later come to be known as the Ghatanthoa meme. Thropes can also be infected by Hades Rabies, which is a cursed virus which makes them mentally ill. Let's start with the fact that mental illness is not caused by woo woo. There's also the issue that everyone in this series thus far who has been labelled mentally ill is extremely violent and a serial killer. This is an ableist trope because as we've said countless times, the person most in danger of being hurt, is the person who actually has a mental illness and not the population at large. The idea that mental illness means violence is a harmful and reductive stereotype. Even if I could forgive the ableist trope which Barant unfortunately seems wedded to, there's tons of ableist language in Better Off Undead.
I try to bring my breathing under control. "In my considered professional opinion," I say, "he's in a state of nocturnal airborne rodent feces."
"He's batshit. Crazy as a square cueball. Off-his-rocker-around-the-bend-out-if-his-mind. Your Don is riding the crazy train, compadre, and I think he's brought a first-class ticket. (pg 28-29)
The aforementioned is the kind of language Barant has Jace use throughout the book to discuss people with mental illness. Jace is a doctor and a professional FBI profiler, therefore; I find it hard to believe that this kind of language is something that she would utilize on a regular basis, even if the above quote comes from a time of stress in her life.
After a few minutes of interviewing the Don, Jace is quick to diagnose him as a paranoid schizophrenic, based on the belief that he had a psychotic break. When it is discovered that the Don has been killing his own people, Jace explains that, "paranoid schizophrenics often attack the people closet to them." Here's the issue: the people that the Don is attacking are not people he is actively interacting with; they are not his carers. It is also worth noting that when violence does happen with paranoid schizophrenics, it's often because they are not getting proper medical treatment and are self medicating with drugs and alcohol. This is an important distinction that must be made. Jace does tell us at the very beginning of the book that there are no mental health facilities on Thiropirelem because until the introduction of Ghatanthoa meme, with the exception of thropes who suffered from Hades Rabies, no one actually had mental illness. This may explain why violence can become an issue in Thiropirelem but at least in the world that Jace came from, as a doctor, she would know that problems largely stem from inappropriate care such as treat and release and that the most common victims other than mentally person themselves, are the mothers of the mentally ill because they are most often the carers. If Barant is going to continue with the ruse that Jace is a doctor who specializes in mental illness, then he needs to have her act like one and think like one.
As much as I like this world, the appropriation of atrocities has got to stop. Just as in our world, Thiropirelem went through a second world war. Just as in our world, six million people died during this war but in the case of Thiropirelem, it was so that vampires could procreate. Barant directly compares this to the holocaust by invoking Hitler. While Jace does not approve of what happened, she seems to understand it. How exactly does one understand genocide? It seems that the real reason behind Jace's so-called understanding, is her attempt to justify what she believes Cassius's role in the event was. Jace actually questions, "was it justifiable to kill millions of one race to ensure the existence of billions of another?" Later, we learn that Cassisus attempted to save humans which to this day would be considered treasonous; however, this does not make up for the way in which Jace tried to twist events in order to continue her at that point friendly relationship with her boss.
The holocaust is not the only atrocity that Barant appropriates. When Jace decides that she needs to get back in touch with her humanity, Cassius takes her to a human reservation. Cassius is quick to explain that the security precautions are for the protection of the humans - something that humans insisted upon. I personally can understand why a human would be scared to live in a world in which vampires, golems and shifters make up the dominant population; however, the idea that they would willingly choose a reservation is beyond problematic. The entire reservation system as we know is the creation of White supremacy, as a by product of colonialism and racism. Barant's spin of the reservation system belies the actual damage it has caused and doing this in an alternate world does not somehow magically make it okay. This is particularly so because Jace makes a point of noting how defeated the human population is, despite Cassius's protestations otherwise. Jace doesn't want to be like the people who live on the reservation because she still has fight in her. This point ignores the lack of choice. People who live or lived on reservations didn't just give up and sequester themselves away from the world.
Relationships and sexuality, Better off Undead are a problem as well. We are introduced to a subculture known as "crosskink", where werewolves dress up as vampires and vampires dress up as werewolves.
I read the file while Charlie drives. The Mix and Match isn’t your ordinary sort of bar; it’s a fetish club.
On the world of my birth, that would mean leather and rubber, whips and chains, masters and slaves. On Thropirelem, though, it’s something very different. Whereas most thropes and pires seem attracted to only their own kind, there’s apparently a subculture known as crosskink where the opposite is true. And it’s not just about members of one supernatural race dating another—there’s also an aspect of it devoted to pires posing as thropes and vice versa. Transexual Transylvania, indeed—though maybe transpecies is a better way to describe it. (pg 70)
Not only does Barant establish this kink as a sexuality. he invokes gender identity with the snide reference to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's worth noting that there are no LGBT characters inBetter Off Undead; however, this does not stop Barant from invoking homophobia and gender identity discrimination.