Quick update on stuff on my end! Mr.Jen’s injury that I’ve mentioned before is healing through the miracle of physical therapy several times a week. And I’m getting un-depressed. After a wild week, I decided to get out and go. I attended a cast party, a film audition, did some grown-up things that needed doing and now I’m back and ready to roll.
For like a week before I go away to my family’s cabin. I know. I know. But I promise I’m trying to bust through the end of this recap as fast as I can, so we can all get back to our regularly scheduled programing here and I can start writing The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp for your…I don’t know. I feel like “enjoyment” might be tossing the word around loosely. I don’t want you all coming in with heightened expectations.
Anyway, according to Publisher’s Weekly, as of three weeks ago, The Mister had sold a whopping 220,300 copies.
Fifty Shades of Grey has sold over 100,000,000.
That’s a bit of a drop. And yes, the books are almost ten years apart but call me a pessimist…I just don’t think the same hype is there this time, guys.
Content Warning: There are explicit depictions of abuse in this chapter (again) and basically from here on out there’s going to be nonstop rape threats.
We start in Demelssia’s POV, where she notes they’re driving on an autobahn and that struck me as immediately weird because why wouldn’t you just call it a highway? That’s what autobahn means, doesn’t it? It’s just the system of highways? Why would she think of the German word?
It’s a cold, wet, winter day, and the landscape is flat and bleak, reflecting Alessia’s mood.
So, I see this kind of phrasing a lot in books and I don’t know why. I may have even used something similar in the past. But it always stops me to read “this natural thing that occurs with or without my presence is a reflection of my mood.” Like, we should really be saying that our mood is a reflection of the big natural force, right? Why do we do that?
Whatever. New headcanon: Demelssia controls the weather.
No. She feels more than bleak–she’s desolate.
Jesus, one-up the landscape, why don’t ya?
Sleep is what she wants.
I don’t generally ding people for passive voice because I feel like sometimes you can’t avoid it without sounding really stiff and awkward. But sometimes, passive voice is itself really stiff and awkward. This is that time. Just say, “She wants sleep.”
For this part of the ride, though, she just kind of stares at Anatoli and we learn that he’s blond because he has “Northern Italian roots.” The first time she met him, he impressed her and she actually was all into the idea of getting married but she saw some red flags about his temper and treatment of women.
It was at a local dignitary’s wedding, where Alessia was playing the piano, that Anatoli finally revealed his dark side. Two young men, whom she had known at school, lingered when she finished playing. They flirted with her until Anatoli managed to usher her into a side room, away from them and the festivities. Alessia, secretly thrilled, had thought he wanted to steal a kiss, since it was the first time they’d been alone together. But no–Anatoli was furious. He slapped her hard across her face, twice. It was a shock, even though living with her father had prepared her for physical anger.
The story of Anatoli’s abuse continues in an info dump. She remembers the time a male student had asked her a question and Anatoli had tried to break her fingers. She blamed herself and planned to somehow fix things but her mother was like, nah, you’re not going to live the way I did.
Maybe her mom should have been the character who snuck in books and taught her English. For like…this very motivation. It would have made way, way more sense.
So, someone mentioned in a comment that Anatoli and Demelssia have more chemistry than Moss and Demelssia. Uh…
Yeah. They go to a service plaza (where her PTSD in these places is suddenly no longer an issue) and he buys them food. But because this is an E.L. James novel, eating stands in for control when the heroine has none, and Demelssia refuses.
“Oh, do your worst, Anatoli. I’m not eating. You bought it, you eat it,” she snaps, ignoring her growling stomach. His eyes flare in surprise, but he presses his full lips together, and Alessia suspects he’s trying not to smile. He sighs, reaches over, picks up her baguette, and takes a theatrically large bite out of it. With his mouth full, he looks both absurd and ridiculously pleased with himself, so much so that an involuntary snicker escapes from Alessia.
Anatoli smiles–a proper smile that travels all the way to his eyes. They regard her warmly, and he no longer tries to hide his amusement. “Here,” he says, and he hands her the remaining part of the baguette. Her stomach chooses this moment to rumble, and when he hears it, his smile broadens. She eyes the baguette and him and sighs.
If I gave you this excerpt right here and you had no idea what was happening in the story, you’d assume this was a romantic comedy and these were the hero and heroine.
The service station, with its large parking lot and smell of diesel fumes, is hauntingly familiar and reminiscent of the journey she made with Maxim–but the difference is, she wanted to be with Maxim.
Call me someone who has read this book all the way so far but last I knew, those places were hauntingly familiar because you were trafficked and you’re suffering untreated PTSD. So, you know. Note that her love for Maxim takes precedence over her personal trauma. Losing him is worse than human trafficking.
In the business-class lounge at Gatwick, Moss and Tom are drinking champagne while they wait for their flight. I know this is supposed to be wealth porn but how obliviously upper class do you have to be to go, “Here is my heroine, tied up in a trunk. Here comes the dashing hero to rescue her…by waiting for a commercial flight instead of just hopping in one of the many cars we’ve heard about him owning. Their struggles and sacrifices for love are of equal measure.”
Maybe she went with him willingly.
Maybe she’s changed her mind about us.
I don’t want to believe that, but doubt is creeping into my mind.
If that’s what happened, at least I’ll get to confront her about her change of heart.
Yes. This is a great plan and proves you really care about her. You know her father is abusive. You know the fiance is jealous and abusive. And you’re going to stroll in and reveal the relationship she had with you. There will be zero consequences for her and you definitely shouldn’t have thought of that. You’re so good at being a hero, Moss.
To distract myself from my unsettling thoughts, I snap and upload a few photos to my Instagram.
“How do I make him sound young and hip? I know! I’ll have him Instagram his girlfriend’s kidnapping!”
Once that’s done, I think back over the morning’s events.
Which he goes on to list, so we don’t miss out on anything. He had a business meeting with Oliver. You know. Because THE ESTATE is so pressing that he has to real quick check in on it in the middle of his daring rescue. What was this super pressing matter? Signing paperwork to be included on the “Roll of the Peerage.”
Yes. The man who hates being an earl put being an earl ahead of the women he’s supposed to desperately wish to rescue. The woman he could be driving after at this point but is not. Moss also suddenly remembered that he has a lawyer and that lawyers are needed to do immigration things. So, that ball is rolling now.
Afterward, on a whim, I’d visited my bank in Belgavia, where the Trevethick Collection is secured. If I find Alessia and all is not lost, I will ask her to marry me. Over the centuries my ancestors have amassed quite a haul of fine jewelry crafted by the most prominent artisans of their day. When the collection is not on loan to museums around the world, it is safely stored in the bowels of Belgravia.
I needed a ring, on that would do justice to Alessia’s beauty and talent. There were two in the collection that might have been suitable, but I chose the 1930s Cartier platinum-and-diamond ring that my grandfather, Hugh Trevelyan, bestowed on my grandmother, Allegra, in 1935. It’s an exquisite, simple, and elegant ring: 2.79 carats and currently valued at forty-five thousand pounds.
Your hero should not be doing anything “on a whim” during a time when he should be completely on edge and impatient over a dire situation. He most certainly should not pause in his agonized fretting over his girlfriend’s kidnapping to visit the family trove.
When trying to make something sound fancy you need to not describe it using the word “bowels.”
We don’t really need to know this much about the ring. At least, not at this point in the story, when someone is being actively kidnapped.
Last, and perhaps most importantly:
EVERY SINGLE THING YOU DID IN THIS SEQUENCE WAS SOMETHING THAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE EITHER ON THE ROAD OR WHEN YOU GOT BACK. YOU COULD HAVE DRIVEN AFTER THEM. THEY ARE IN GERMANY AND YOU ARE IN THE SAME GOD DAMN PLACE YOU WERE BEFORE YOU WASTED ALL THOSE HOURS DOING PAPERWORK AND RIFLING THROUGH MUMMY’S JEWELRY BOX.
There is no tension, no build-up, no sense of any real urgency at all. We’re seeing Demelssia go through all this shit and Moss is carrying on with his regular life but being really, really sad about it. This is like if the Sherrif of Nottingham kidnapped Marian and Robin Hood is like, “Okay, I’m going to go after her! I’m totally going to save the day! First, I just need to restring my bow and polish my sword and finding a new feather for my jaunty little cap because I really want to impress her when I get there! Hope he hasn’t already married or executed her or both!
I pat my pocket yet again, checking that the ring is safe, and scowl at Tom, who’s stuffing his face with nuts.
How dare Tom eat something at a time like this! It’s almost like he’s following the lackadaisical tone Moss set by the several hours of errands he ran earlier in the day.
Tom loves an adventure. It’s why, back in the day, he joined the army. He’s up on his metaphorical white charger, ready for the fray.
But Tom has PTSD from the war. How did he suddenly become bumbling sidekick adventure man, jamming nuts in his face faster than Andrew Zimmern at a Rocky Mountain oyster eating competition?
Yadda yadda yadda, they’re gonna rescue the girl.
Over in Demelssia’s POV, they’re still in the car. So fuck it, I guess we’re going to experience this book in real-time now. Get a sleeping bag.
Anatoli asks Demelssia why she wanted to leave Albania, but she can’t say much without knowing what he thinks the situation is. We learn that Magda’s message wasn’t a horrible betrayal after all:
“What did my mother’s friend say?”
“Your father intercepted the e-mail. He saw your name and asked me to read it for him.”
“What did it say?”
“That you were alive and well and were going away to work for a man.”
So, this is something that needed to be cleared up the moment Anatoli got there. There should have never been any doubt to any of us or any character in the story that Magda wasn’t simply looking out for her friend. It was distracting and confusing for Magda’s motives to go suddenly ambiguous. This conversation should have been part of their first encounter or at least taken place before they left Moss’s house so there was never that, “Huh?” moment when Magda’s actions were brought into question. I would have gone so far as to add something about Magda knowing how Demelssia’s mother worried, etc., to make it explicitly clear that Magda had no intention of leading Anatoli back to London to look for Demelssia.
Anatoli has no idea what happened with the traffickers but he also didn’t bother to ask Demelssia’s mother about any of this because she’s just a woman. Demelssia calls him “prehistoric” for not considering that her mother might have wanted to know that he was going to drag Demelssia back to Albania.
“You are a man from another century. From another time. You and all the men like you. In other countries your Neanderthal attitude to women would be unacceptable.”
He shakes his head. “You have been in the West too long, carissima.”
“I like the West. My grandmother was from England.”
This grandma thing, Lord Jesus. We’re back with dear old Nana. And here, she’s being tied directly to Demelssia’s love of the West as a strong, independent woman’s playground. I still cannot reconcile her grandmother’s feminist influence with selling her own daughter into marriage. Especially when it would have been far more powerful for her mom to just be Albanian and a feminist of her own accord despite her situation in her marriage.
Demelssia tells Anatoli that she doesn’t want to marry him and he’s kind of like, eh, what you want doesn’t really matter.
Alessia huffs feeling aggrieved but brave, too. After all, what can he do while he’s driving?
Beat you one-handed and accidentally cause a fatal crash in his fury?
“You would dishonor your father?”
Alessia flushes. Of course her attitude–her defiance, her willfulness–brings great shame to her family.
If you wanted to write a historical romance, Erika, you should have just written a historical romance. But even if you swapped the centuries, this line of conflict doesn’t work. How is Demelssia the one bringing shame to her family if it’s her father’s possible debt to the local mafia that put her in this position in the first place?
Demelssia then ends the section by staring off out the window and wondering if she’ll ever see Moss again and it feels like it’s the nineteen thousandth time that has happened.
After a section break, they’re in Austria, about to enter Slovenia. Anatoli tells Demelssia that she’ll have to get back in the trunk to cross into Croatia. But he bought more batteries for the flashlight. He also says he doesn’t like putting her in the trunk because he’s worried she’ll get carbon monoxide poisoning.
He frowns, and if Alessia is not mistaken, she would swear he’s concerned. This afternoon at the restaurant, he had regarded her with warmth.
“What is it?” he asks, snapping her out of her reverie.
“I’m not used to concern from you,” she states. “Only violence.”
Anatoli reiterates that he’s only going to hit her if she isn’t obedient and honestly, at this point, I’m like, wait, this is an E.L. James book. Are we sure Anatoli isn’t the hero?
Then Demelssia stares out the window some more while we go to Moss’s POV. They’ve just landed in Tirana.
Tom and I are traveling with hand baggage only, so we go straight through customs and emerge into a modern, well-lit airport terminal. I don’t know what I’d been expecting, but the place looks like any small airport in Europe, with all the facilities one might need.
You were probably expecting what your author was expecting. Peasants with steamer trunks waiting for their goats to come around on the baggage carousel and street vendors hawking dubious-looking kabobs.
Our rental car, on the other hand, is a revelation.
You thought Demelssia was a revelation, too. Are you going to fuck the car now?
My travel agent had warned me that there were no prestige cars for hire,
Wait. You checked with your travel agent, in the middle of this literal emergency rescue, and you were like, “Are there any prestige cars I can rent?”
so I find myself at the wheel of a car whose make I have never heard of: a Dacia.
Great news! I refuse to believe that Moss has never watched a single episode of Top Gear. I refuse.
For those unfamiliar with Top Gear (because somehow such people exist, much in the way that people who have never seen Star Wars exist), Moss loves cars. Top Gear was the number one auto review program in the world and it was based out of England. It was a worldwide phenomenon. The most illegally downloaded television program on planet Earth, even bigger than Game of Thrones. Moss would have almost certainly have watched it, if not religiously, then casually for sure.
And this compilation video from is why I find it absolutely assinine to write an English hero who is into cars not knowing what a Dacia is:
I’m surprised to find myself liking the car; it’s practical and sturdy. Tom christens it “Dacy,” and after some negotiation at the exit to the car park and a small bribe to the parking attendant, we are off.
You…you know you’re trying to rescue your kidnapped girlfriend, right? And details like how much you like the car, how it drives, what your friend nicknames it, all of that is completely unnecessary to your story?
There is also zero explanation of why they had to bribe the parking attendant. I think we’re supposed to take that as a, “Ha, those wacky, thieving, swarthy Albanians.”
They go to their hotel, where they acknowledge that it’s just another three-hour drive to Demelssia’s home. Rather than drive a measly three hours in the hopes of preventing the marriage between the woman he loves and her abuser, Moss is going to catch some sleep. This is certainly a heart-pounding rescue. A “rollercoaster,” if you will.
This arrival at presumably the finest hotel in Tirana is in laughable contrast to what’s going on when we switch into Demelssia’s POV:
In the trunk of the Mercedes, Alessia clutches the flashlight as the car lurches to a stop.
I continue to be amazed by the author’s lack of awareness about her own damn writing. Erika, your heroine is in the trunk of a god damn mobster’s car. Your hero needs to have any sense of urgency at all. Any.
Anatoli and Demelssia get across the border and he lets her out of the trunk. Now, he’s rested enough to assault her.
“Why are you so hostile?” he breathes against her temple. Tightening his hold around her waist, he grasps the back of her head with his hand and grips her hair. In spite of the cold, his breath is hot and heavy between them. As Alessia registers what’s happening, his lips swoop down hard on hers. He tries to force his tongue into her mouth, and she struggles, fear and loathing careening through her body in a potent mix. She pushes ineffectually at his arms and frantically twists, trying to struggle out of his hold. He leans back to look down at her, and before she can stop herself, she slaps him across his face, her palm ringing from the blow, and he retreats. Shocked. She’s breathing gulps of air, adrenaline coursing through her veins, cahsing away her fear and leaving anger in its stead. Anatoli glares at her, rubbing his cheek, and before she can blink, he slaps her hard across her face. Once. Twice. Her head jerks from the right to the left, and she staggers at the force of each blow. With little care he picks her up and drops her back into the trunk so that she hits her shoulder, her backside, and her head. And before she can protest, he slams the lid shut.
“Until you learn to behave and be civil, you can stay in there!” he shouts. Alessia clutches her throbbing head as anger burns in her throat and behind her eyes.
This is her life now.
So, we’ve seen this horrific assault played out for us. I appreciate that she used, “with little care,” to describe Anatoli’s actions, as if there were a loving and caring way to throw someone you’ve just beaten into the trunk of a car. But what happens when we jump over to Moss?
I take a sip of Negroni. Tom and I are in a bar next door to the hotel. It’s contemporary, sleek, and comfortable, and the staff are friendly and attentitve, but not overly so. What’s more, they serve a bloody good Negroni.
Then they talk about how they both had expected wattle-and-daub houses and goats roaming everywhere and honestly, given how Demelssia described the place? I guess that was reasonable.
Now that they’re actually in Albania, as in, bought the tickets, waiting in the airport lounge, took the flight, picked up the rental car, checked into the hotel and decided to go out for drinks, NOW is when Tom asks Moss why he wants to go after Demelssia. They have basically the same conversation Moss had with Caroline. I want to marry her. She is but a lowly peasant. I know but I am in love. That kind of bullshit.
“Just deal with it, Tom. I’m going to marry her.”
He splutters into his drink, spitting red liquid over the table, and I wonder again at the wisdom of bringing him on this journey.
I’m not understanding here. Tom was the brooding, mentally scarred friend. Now, he’s a snobbier version of Beauty and the Beast‘s Le Fou, complete with 2D animation spit-take.
Moss once again brings up the fact that Tom’s girlfriend is “a saint” for staying in a relationship with Tom, presumably a super ableist allusion to the PTSD Tom…IDK, I guess it’s cured like Demelssia’s is now?
Tom is like, hey, maybe you’re falling head-over-heels for this woman because you’re mourning your recently deceased brother and Moss rattles off a list of reasons that sound like a husband who definitely murdered his wife trying to make a convincing statement to the press:
“[…]She’s smart. Funny. Courageous. And you should hear her play the piano. She’s a fucking genius.”
He also makes a point to say she’s not like other girls.
Tom reminds Moss that it’s the job of the Earl of Trevethick to carry on the family name, and Moss is like, yeah, but I want to do that with someone I love. And this makes Tom realize that he’s taking his girlfriend for granted and he should propose to her. So, I’m glad we took time out of RESCUING THE HEROINE FROM A KIDNAPPING to wrap up that side plot that was both unnecessary and which everyone had pretty much forgotten.
In Demelssia’s POV, they arrive at a fancy hotel in Zagreb, where Anatoli casually lets her out of the trunk right in a public parking lot. He has gotten them a suite.
There’s a couch, a desk, and a small table, and through the sliding glass doors Alessia can see one bed.
They slept in the same bed already. Do we really need a retread of “maybe he’ll rape her?”
He tells her to get room service:
The entries are in Croation and English; she scans the selections and immediately chooses the most expensive item on the menu. She has no compunction about having Anatoli spend his money. She frowns, remembering how she resisted Maxim’s attempts to pay….Anatoli has retrieved two small bottles of scotch and is unscrewing the top from each in turn. Yes, Alessia has no compunction at all. She’s a kidnap victim, and he’s meted out enough physical abuse on her body already. He owes her.
And this explains so, so much about Fifty Shades of Grey, doesn’t it? The heroine can be abused, so long as she is compensated with small luxuries. That was the entire premise of those books but here the man doing the abusing is the villain.
No wonder James’s biggest fans didn’t like this book. She made their dream abuser a bad guy.
They order room service and have yet another conversation about whether or not Demelssia is a virgin. I’m summarizing a lot of this chapter because it’s all just repeating what we’ve already seen in the last two. The author has run out of steam before meeting the word count she promised her editors. That’s the only logical explanation.
Anatoli watches the news, then asks:
“So you ran away from me?” he says.
Is he talking about yesterday?
“When you left Albania.” He takes a last swig of scotch.
“You threatened to break my fingers.”
He rubs his chin, thoughtful for a moment. “Alessia…I–” He stops.
“I don’t want excuses, Anatoli. There’s no excuse for treating another human being the way you have treated me. Look at my neck.” She pulls down her sweater, revealing the bruises he left yesterday, and raises her chin, making them conspicuous.
Yeah, that’s only acceptable as punishment for topless sunbathing on your honeymoon. And you have to do it on your yacht.
Seriously, Anatoli reminds me so much of Christian Grey that I’m wondering if the author realizes it and did it on purpose. It’s a good thing her heroine won’t fall for it this time!
“Gëzuar, Alessia,” he says, and she looks up. Anatoli has raised his glass in quiet salute to her, his eyes wide, his expression warm. Her scalp tingles. She wasn’t expecting this…honor!
What the fuck.
Because she can only drink wine with sexy appreciation, Demelssia accidentally turns Anatoli on:
“Mmm,” she says, closing her eyes, seduced by the taste of the wine. When she reopens them, Anatoli is watching her, his eyes darkening, and in his gaze she sees a promise of something she doesn’t want.
Her appetite vanishes.
“You won’t run from me again, Alessia. You will be my wife,” he murmurs. “Now, eat.”
She stares down at the steak on her plate.
And that riveting hook about steak is where the chapter ends.
My Impression So Far: It absolutely stuns me at how many parallels E.L. James has drawn between Anatoli and Christian Grey. This almost certainly has to be intentional, right? Nobody is so unaware of their own creation that they could possibly recreate him in the very role their most vocal critics accused them of glorifying, right? There were times in this chapter that I read with my mouth agape. I assumed that this book would come out and be an instant hit. But more and more, it’s reading like the last gasp of a writer who has no skill in storytelling unless the story was already written by someone else.