I’m going to take a moment here to recognize my Patreon patrons for the month of July. Usually, I do this in a video but due to my phone being a super asshole, the video I filmed went away into the ether, never to return. So, allow me to force your eyeballs onto this list of people who donated $5 and up in the month of July:
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Thank you so much for your patronage and you’ll be named in the combo July/August video. If you’re not a Patron, you can see past videos and the weird shit I did for them on my YouTube channel. Everybody, let’s give them a big hand because without their support, this place wouldn’t run as smoothly. And I mean. This place doesn’t run smoothly. So just imagine how bad it could be.
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So, now it’s onto the bad part of this recap. Ha ha, just kidding, it’s ALL bad. But here’s the part where I have to give a CONTENT WARNING: Not only is there a violent attempted rape (which I don’t excerpt), there’s also suicidal ideation and more discussion of intimate partner violence.
We’re almost done. Let’s do this.
We pick up chapter thirty exactly where twenty-nine left off. In other words, the chapter was ridiculously long, had no hook, and needed to be broken up somehow. So, the hook we ended up with was Demelssia looking at her steak and the next chapter being Anatoli just seconds later telling her she should eat.
Again, notice how the villain of this book so strongly resembles the “hero” of the most popular romance novel franchise of all time?
Demelssia refuses to eat and Anatoli says:
“In that case I think it’s time we went to bed.” The tone of his voice makes her look up sharply. He’s sitting back in his chair, watchful. Waiting. Like a predator.
His eyes on her, intense, darker. She’s paralyzed by his stare.
From Fifty Shades of Grey:
I am mesmerized…watching him like one would watch a rare and dangerous predator, waiting for him to strike.
Anatoli is like, look, this is happening, I’m going to rape you. She fights back and he drags her off to the bedroom for a super graphic and violent assault that I’m not going to excerpt here because it’s horrific. She only gets him to stop by telling him she’s on her period, which works. He says they should wait and leaves her alone to cry.
How long can she cry before her tears dry up?
Moments. Seconds. Hours.
Yes, those are indeed measurements of time.
So, after the attempted rape, there’s a section break and Anatoli tells her they’re suited for each other and he gets in bed with her. Then there’s another section break and time has passed. Demelssia wakes up at dawn and Anatoli is still asleep. She slept in her clothes and realizes she could run from him.
Beside her duffel she spies Anatoli’s suitcase. Maybe he keeps his money in there….If he does, it could help her escape. Carefully she unzips it, not knowing what she’ll find inside.
It’s neatly packed. There are some clothes–and his gun.
Demelssia realizes she could kill him right now and get away.
A tremor runs up her spine, and her breathing shallows. He’s kidnapped her Beaten her. Choked her. Nearly raped her. She despises him and everything he stands for. She’s terrified of him. She raises her trembling hand and takes aim. Quietly she releases the safety. Her head is throbbing, sweat beading on her brow.
This is it.
Her hand wobbles, and her visions blurs with her tears.
No. No. No. No.
Four this time. Serious business.
She’s not a murderer.
This makes sense and is consistent with her character. We know she’s a kind person with a tender heart. I just wish there would have been maybe a little bit more here. Like, an acknowledgment that she can’t prove she’s been kidnapped, that she’ll go to jail and almost certainly be put on trial in a country where she doesn’t speak the language and has no allies, that kind of thing. Because it would have hammered home her predicament a little more. Real-world details like that up the stakes more by narrowing down the options the character has.
She turns the gun around. And stares down the barrel. She’s seen enough American television to know what to do.
She doesn’t want to blindly accept her fate. This is one way out.
She could end it all, now. Her misery would be over.
Hold up. Is the implication here…I mean, I don’t have to preface it with a question. The implication here totally is that people in Albania need to learn how to commit suicide because they aren’t Westernized enough. Of all the fucking weird shit in this book, this might be the weirdest. Demelssia knows how to kill herself because she learned it on American television. As if there is no way she could have possibly put together “shoot self in face = die” on her own. Because she’s from Albania.
People paid money for this book.
FUCK ME I PAID MONEY FOR THIS BOOK.
The thing that stops her from killing herself is the thought of her mother and the fact that someone would have to clean up. Which, again, those are really fucking true-to-life thoughts when someone considers suicide.
She crumples to the floor. Defeated. A failure. She cannot take her own life.
Yes, absolutely, thoughts you have when you decide not to commit suicide, as your brain frantically tries to convince you to go through with it. 100%.
She doesn’t have the gumption.
Everything was actually going really well until this point. Honestly, I was thinking, “My god, this is accurate. This is actually a true-to-life depiction of someone’s thoughts when they’re in suicidal despair. Wow! E.L. James did a good job with this.”
And then I got to “gumption.”
Gumption is positive. Gumption means resourceful. The ability to take initiative to find solutions other people might not be bold enough to ask for.
Gumption is not a word you use to describe a trait someone is lacking because they didn’t complete suicide.
The sorrow is overwhelming.
This is a sentence you never, ever need in a scene where your POV character has just tried to kill themselves. If it’s not obvious that they’re overwhelmed by sorrow when they’re putting a gun to their own head then you’ve failed and need to rewrite the scene.
Look. There are moments of actually good writing with a nuanced understanding of the subject matter in this book. And that’s why I’m so furious. A good editor who wants an author to present their work in the best possible form and an author invested in their own work enough to put aside their ego could have made this book so much better. And that’s infuriating.
Demelssia decides to take the bullets out of the gun and put it back. Anatoli wakes and Demelssia takes a shower and breakfast has arrived. Then, they have this conversation that I swear to Dog could be inserted anywhere into Fifty Shades Darker or Fifty Shades Freed and it would fucking fit:
“You stayed,” Anatoli says quietly. He seems subdued, though he’s as watchful as ever.
“Where would I go?” Alessia replies warily.
He shrugs. “You left me once before.”
Alessia stares at him. Mute. Despondent. Exhausted.
“Is it because you care for me?” he whispers.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” she says, and, sitting down, picks out a pain au chocolat from the bread basket.
He takes his seat opposite her, and she can tell he’s hiding a slight and hopeful smile.
Seriously. I was inspired to rewrite this as Ana and Christian, in their first-person, present tense:
“You stayed,” Christian says quietly. He seems subdued, though he’s as watchful as ever.
“Where would I go?” I reply warily.
He shrugs. “You left me once before.”
I stare at him. Mute. Despondent. Exhausted.
“Is it because you care for me?” he whispers.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” I say, and, sitting down, pick out a pain au chocolat from the bread basket.
He takes his seat opposite me, and I can tell he’s hiding a slight and hopeful smile.
Anatoli is Christian Grey. E.L James managed to write a book that confirms that the hero of her first series was an abusive monster, contrary to her repeated insistence that he’s just troubled or whatever. I wish it was on purpose but I can’t believe that it would be.
We check in with Moss’s POV now, where he’s considering the many tourist options of the city.
Tom and I wander across the vast Skanderbeg Square, which is close to the hotel. It’s a clear, chill morning, with the sun reflecting off the multicolored marble tiles that pave the gargantuan space. It’s dominated on one side by a bronze statue of Albania’s fifteenth-century hero on horseback, and on the other by the National History Museum. Although I’m anxious to get to Alessia’s town to find her home, we have to wait to meet our interpreter.
I’m unsettled and jittery and unable to keep still, so to kill time Tom and I take a quick walk through the museum.
You have got to be fucking kidding me right now with this bullshit.
I distract myself by snapping numerous photographs and posting the odd one online.
I get told off twice, but I ignore the officials and continue to take photographs surreptitiously.
It’s hardly the British Museum,
but I’m fascinated by the Illyrian facts. Tom, of course, is preoccupied with the displays of medieval weaponry;
Albania has a rich and bloody history.
Your girlfriend has been kidnapped by her abusive fiancé. You go to a museum as a guest in her country, snidely remark that it’s not as good as the Museum in your country, and ignore the rules even after being reprimanded by guards because you have to post on Instagram. Which, by the way, if that doesn’t fucking come up in this book later, like she sees his Instagram and knows he’s coming after her or something, I will dress up like a pirate, run into a Barnes and Noble, yell “Argh, I be piratin’ this book,” grab a copy of The Mister and run into the street with it, where I will set it on fire.
Just kidding. I tried to burn an E.L. James book once. It wouldn’t even catch. It barely smoldered.
The elements don’t even want anything to do with this crap.
As for Tom, his friend with war-related PTSD, “of course” he’s going to want to view only the most bloodthirsty parts of the museum. Because that shit couldn’t be a trigger at all. And while we’re on the subject of “rich and bloody history,” you know who else has a rich and bloody history? FUCKING. ENGLAND.
This English author is really writing about another country having a “bloody history” when her country went out and colonized 3/4 of the world but ofuckingkay.
At ten we stroll down one of the tree-lined boulevards toward the coffeehouse where we’ve arranged to meet our translator.
WHERE IS THE URGENCY? WHERE IS IT? WHERE!?
I am struck by how many men are sitting around drinking coffee outside, even though it’s cold.
Where are the women.
Inside where it’s warm because they’re just a little bit smarter than the men?
They meet their translator, get his full name and a backstory and good news, he brought his girlfriend and we get her backstory as well!
She wants to come with us.
Well, this could get complicated.
Yes. And that’s why the author should not have added a superfluous character. We don’t need to know much about the translator at all.
What do you know of Kukës?” I ask Drita directly.
She gives Thanas a nervous glance.
“That bad?” I eye them both.
“It has a reputation. When the Communists fell, Albania was…”
ENOUGH WITH THE GOD DAMN COMMUNISTS.
By the way, they have this whole chat over a cup of coffee instead of like, on the drive.
“Shall we get going?” I ask, eager to leave.
YOU COULD HAVE FUCKING FOOLED ME.
In Demelssia’s POV, we’re desperately grasping to meet word count:
Under any other circumstances, Alessia might have enjoyed this journey. She’s had a lightning tour of Europe’s highways. But she’s with Anatoli, the man she’ll be forced to marry–and she still has to face her father when they reach Kukës.
Wow, really? Are you going to be forced to marry Anatoli? Things are all coming together now. I wasn’t quite sure what motivated you to attempt suicide earlier in this chapter.
She sees the sea and it reminds her of Maxim and Anatoli is like, oh, I have some properties here in Croatia and the entire scene is there for no reason at all. We pop back to Moss’s POV where he describes the chaos of driving in Albania (which, from what I understand, is a valid observation) and an interesting-looking building that their translator explains is a hotel that’s been under construction for a long time.
We. Don’t. Need. These. Details.
If you want to show people photos from your vacation, put them on Facebook. Not in your fucking novel.
We also have to hear about how the translator’s parents learned English from the BBC World Service while it was banned by the Communists because it’s important to get more backstory about an extremely minor character who shows up 94% into the novel. Why? So Moss can assert British supremacy.
It transpires that the BBC, and most things British, are held in high regard by Albanians. It’s where they all want to go.
They all want to go to the BBC. You heard it here first, in a sentence that doesn’t say what the author thought it did.
Because this is a child’s social studies report on Albania, we also learn about Kukës winning the Nobel Peace Prize for taking in Kosovo refugees escaping genocide.
Is that…is that the bad reputation the town has?
They drive through the mountains, where Moss is shocked to have cell signal. Oliver calls and says the police want to talk to Demelssia, that some stolen stuff has been recovered from the break-in, and that the traffickers were wanted for other crimes already. Then there’s a lot of stuff about the landscape and how beautiful it is that I’m going to skip because the author should have, as well.
In Demelssia’s POV, she and Anatoli go to a diner, where he’s super agitated and won’t let her talk to her mother when he calls her. Then it’s back to Moss’s POV:
Close up, Kukës is not what I thought it wouldd be. It’s a nondescript town of weathered Soviet-style apartments build in blocks.
Then there’s a history of the town. Not shitting you, when it was built, how it gets its power from a hydroelectric dam, and again, no women. The hotel they stay at is American-themed, so we hear all about how it’s decorated and what the owner looks like and what the rooming arrangements are for all four people on this trip now, and then it’s FINALLY time to give a shit about the fact that they’re about to rescue Demelssia.
“Yes. What time would you like to go?”
“Five minutes. Just give us time to unpack.”
He’s gonna unpack.
Before he goes to rescue the love of his life.
He’s gonna take the time to unpack.
Steady on, Trevethick,” butts in Tom. “Can’t we have a drink first?”
Hmm…As my father would say, some Dutch courage always helps.
“A quick one. And just one. Okay? I’m going to meet my future wife’s parents–I don’t want to be stocious.”
Nevermind, they’re going to unpack and go for a drink.
You guys, I just can’t, anymore. I just want to put my head down on my desk and take a nap.
We cut to an hour later and they’re outside Demelssia’s parents’ house:
We’re on a large plot, surrounded by naked trees, though there are a few firs and a sizable, well-kept vegetable patch. The house is painted a pale green and has three stories and two balconies that face the water, from what I can see. It’s larger than the other houses we saw on our way here. Perhaps Alessia’s folks are affluent. I have no idea. The lake looks magnificent, lit up with hues of a fading winter sunset.
On the outside of the house, there’s a satellite dish, and it reminds me of a conversation I had with Alessia.
Was it the conversation where she told you she didn’t live in Kukës? Like, seriously, she lives an hour away? It’s not a geographically huge city, looking on the map. It’s like, three square miles.
Anyway, is anyone else having a hard time reconciling Demelssia’s stories of her hardscrabble childhood with a three-story lakeside retreat, a sprawling lawn, and a satellite dish? Just me? The way she described her home I thought she would be living in a half-under ground dirt-walled hovel thing like a moisture farmer on Tattooine.
Moss goes up to the door and knocks.
My heart is pounding, and in spite of the cold a trickle of sweat runs down my back.
This is it.
Game face on, dude.
I’m about to meet my new in-laws–thoough they don’t know it yet.
Remember, he’s not sure if Demelssia was kidnapped or left, but he’s been leaning toward kidnapped, right? So, why is his thought that he has to bring his game, rather than some kind of hope that they’ve heard from Demelssia or know where she is? And if he doesn’t think Demelssia is in danger, isn’t he just acting exactly like Anatoli, assuming he can make a woman marry him if she doesn’t want to?
So, here’s an interesting thing:
The door half opens, and a chink of light behind her reveals a slight, middle-aged woman in a head-scarf.
This is 100% pure speculation on my part here but is it possible that we’re supposed to have read Demelssia as coded-Muslim this whole time but the author just like, never used the word? We’ve heard about Demelssia wearing a headscarf and referring to Christianity as her grandmother’s religion, her home is in an area where a lot of Muslims live, and the stereotypes about abusive patriarchal customs and forced marriage and honor killings are exactly what I would expect James to present if she were trying to get across that her character was Muslim. Demelssia’s mother even tells Moss that he can’t be there because her husband isn’t at home. It feels like James wanted to write a story with a Muslim heroine but thought all the stuff she wrote would sound xenophobic if she used the actual word because what she wrote was super xenophobic. I can’t say for sure that’s what happened, I’m just saying that’s how it comes off to me as a reader.
Anyway, Moss tells Mrs. Demachi that he’s come to ask her husband for permission to marry their daughter, and we go back to Demelssia’s POV.
“Our final border crossing, carissima,” Anatoli says. “Back to your home country. Shame on you for leaving it and skulking away like a thief and dishonoring your family. When we return, you can apologize to your parents for the worry you have caused them.”
This dialogue is like like the first scene of a soap opera airing on a Monday after a hell of Friday cliff-hanger.
The chill in the air reaches through her clohtes and entwines around her heart. And she knows it’s because she’s pining for the only man she’ll ever love.
Well, I’m glad she knows why. I was worried she forgot.
Anatoli puts her in the trunk.
“Get in. It will be night soon,” Anatoli snaps as he holds open the lid.
The night belongs to the djinn.
And she’s staring at one now. That’s what he is. The djinn personified.
Okay, but djinn can be either bad or good. I have this feeling that James thinks djinn means like, the devil or demons.
Anyway, Demelssia’s in the trunk now.
Over at Demelssia’s childhood home and in Moss’s POV, Mrs. Demachi asks him to come inside. He takes off his shoes and notes that he’s glad his socks match and how Demelssia is the reason for that and like, damn, dude. Get yourself together. He describes the house, which I’ll skip because it basically boils down to colorful, folksy rugs and blankets on everything and framed photos around. Of course, he sees one of Demelssia playing the piano and then he actually sees the piano, etc. Maybe I should care about this whole section more but I just don’t because the kidnapping/chase has been dragged out for so long now.
Mrs. Demachi asks for news about Demelssia, and Moss tells her that she worked for him and they fell in love and they were very happy.
“How do you know that she wants to marry you?”
“In truth, Mrs. Demachi, I don’t know. I haven’t had the chance to ask her. I believe that she’s been kidnapped and is being brought to Albania against her will.”
Like, I feel like her mom would know that her daughter has been kidnapped, though, if Anatoli is bringing her back.
Moss tells Mrs. Demachi that Demelssia told him she doesn’t want to marry Anatoli.
“My husband will return soon. And it is for him to decide what will become of Alessia. His mind is set on her betrothed. He has given her word.” She looks down at her clasped hands. “I let her go once, and it broke my heart. I don’t think I can let her go again.”
“Do you want her to be trapped in a violent, abusive marriage?”
Her eyes whip to mine, and in them I see a glimpse of her pain and her insight, swiftly followed by her shock that I know–this is her life.
Mrs. Demachi’s motive here is absurd. She risked everything to send Demelssia away. Mrs. Demachi put herself in danger just to make sure Demelssia could escape that life. And now the excuse is, well, I’ll just miss her so ding-dang much? Not buying it.
Mrs. Demachi tells Moss he has to leave but says he should come back at eight because that’s when they’re expecting Demelssia to return.
I have a question.
WHY THE FUCK DOES THAT NEED TO BE A THING?
This rescue is so fucking convoluted and it didn’t need to be. We didn’t need the translator and the translator’s girlfriend and their entire backstory. We just needed, “After we picked up our translator,” and then move the action forward. We didn’t need them to arrive at their hotel and have a drink or go to a museum or to get the history of Albania at this point. We needed them to drive up to the Demachis’ house and boom, the action moves forward.
None of this was an attempt at suspense or creating tension. It’s just here to make the book longer. Nothing here is working. There’s a big misunderstanding that just got abandoned, I guess, because Demelssia didn’t go with Anatoli because of the misunderstanding, she was just really upset about it while she was with Anatoli and it changed her behavior and reactions zero percent. There’s a problem with the time table that’s slowing everything down. Moss needed to come home and find the fucking note, believe she left him, and then have some kind of memory or clue that she didn’t leave on purpose and now it’s days later and oh no, now there’s really a time crunch. This book is a master class in how to not write romantic suspense. The stakes can’t be high if the risks are too low.
But no, we have to account for every hour of the god damn day, we go back to the hotel bar and wait with Tom and Moss until Moss says he can’t wait anymore and they go to the house early. After a section break, they get there and do the whole nervous-to-meet-the-parents thing because Moss knows he has to prove he’s a better option for Demelssia than Anatoli is.
Maybe you should open with, IDK, “I’m an earl.”
I’m going to cheap out on you a little here and just summarize the scene, but I do have to give you this picture of Mr. Demachi:
Demachi is older than his wife; his face is weather-beaten, his hair more gray than black. He wears a somber dark suit that lends him the air of a Mafia don. His eye give nothing away. I’m glad he’s half a head shorter than me.
We had to get the organized crime in there somehow, right?
Anyway, the scene goes on with an exchange of information all the parties probably already know. Moss tells Mr. Demachi that he knows Demelssia ran away because of the arranged marriage. When Mr. Demachi asks Moss why he’d want to marry Demelssia’, his answer is that he loves her. We go back to Demelssia’s POV, where she’s expecting to be beaten upon arrival. They get there and she notices the extra car outside but she’s so focused on getting to her mom that she doesn’t really think about it. Instead, she runs in and sees Moss sitting with her dad.
And the chapter ends.
My Impression So Far: This book needed to be half as long as it is and include twenty-percent of the characters and details. Why do we need to know about the translator and his girlfriend? Why did they have to be named and given backstories? In this genre, they didn’t. This is supposed to be suspense. The time to introduce a side character with a rich and interesting backstory is not and never will be during what should be the fairly fast-paced climax of a romantic suspense novel. What’s worse is, even as bad as Fifty Shades Freed was, and even as obvious and boring and ridiculous as the kidnapping plot in that book was? It was more exciting and more tightly paced than this. And that was supposed to be erotic romance, not romantic suspense.
Every time I write one of these recaps, I’m chilled to the bone by the knowledge that in the Berenstein universe exists a version of E.L. James who has deft instincts for plotting, pacing, and characterization.