Trigger warning for: Discussion of rape and sexual assault
When I picked up Immortalis, I decided to look past its incredibly pompous title in the hopes that it would be a fun, interesting adventure featuring an interesting vampire heroine. I had visions of her mastering her new powers, then kicking ass and taking names while indulging in a hot male conquest or two. I figured it might get a little cheesy in some places, as vampire fiction is wont to do, but I didn’t care. The idea of a cool vampire heroine was too alluring for me to resist.
Alas, my expectations and reality were leagues apart.
Instead of giving its female protagonist, Alyssa, a can of Whoop-Ass and a sense of agency, this book does everything in its power to torture and break her. The book opens with a brutal assault and almost-rape, which of course the male protagonist, Lysander, swoops in to save her from just in the nick of time…only to once again violate her by Turning her against her will. The whole first chunk of the book is essentially torture porn as we are guided through every moment of Alyssa’s pain and fear in explicit detail. What’s worse, is that Alyssa immediately begins blaming herself for this attack, constantly feeling guilt and shame that she dared to walk alone on a darkened campus. Because, by god, a woman should never go anywhere unaccompanied, right?
The book takes perverse pleasure in violating Alyssa’s boundaries, actually, because that’s exactly what her “sire”, Lysander, does on a constant basis. Not only does the book consistently center around his feelings–so much so that Alyssa literally becomes a conduit for his emotions at one point–but when the book briefly touches base with Alyssa’s feelings, they’re always one of shame, guilt, and fear, which no one tries to do anything about unless it benefits THEM. And any time Alyssa tries to stand up for herself, (such as having a moral issue with killing other human beings in order to survive) she is called childish and hysterical, and shut down utterly by her “mentor”. They fight constantly, and the end of these fights is always the same: Lysander gets his way, and Alyssa beats herself up for having a different opinion because of course, he’s just trying to help.
In traditional Harlequin-romance style, Lysander is an emotionally unavailable rock, and it’s his way or the highway. If he doesn’t get his way, he takes it out on Alyssa by shouting at her, emotionally manipulating her, or just downright forcing her to stay in the house. When she does manage to sneak out, he stalks her. (ROMANCE, EVERYONE.) But of course, Alyssa feels compelled to seek his affection anyway, and despite the fact he spends most of the book treating her with disdain, she falls madly in love with him. (Ah yes, ye olde “woman becomes key to unlock man’s True Feelings” trope–oh how I have never ever missed you so) Lest you catch yourself thinking that the moment when they finally consummate their love is sweet and exciting, let me rectify that for you: The morning after their night of passionate lovemaking, it’s suddenly revealed that Lysander can read Alyssa’s mind and has, in fact, been doing so the entire time. She has literally had no privacy from him for the entire book. When she calls him out on this, his response is “It just comes naturally to me.” Basically, he can’t be bothered to not read her mind because well, it’s just so darn easy! And really, it’s her fault for having such “loud and direct thoughts.” (YES, THIS IS A LITERAL THING THE BOOK ACTUALLY SAYS.)
For a 2,000-year-old mind reader, Lysander sure does lack empathy.
As if all this crap weren’t bad enough, the plot of the book is absolutely laughable. It’s like the author decided to squish together the traditional idea of a rich, modern-day vampire “coven” with some weird Roman occultism thrown in for flavor. Every plot point in the book is painfully predictable. There’s not a single twist you can’t see coming from a mile away. Even for someone who likes the idea of vampire covens or clans, (Blade & Vampire: The Masquerades are two of my favorite vampire-related things on this Earth) this book is a snooze because it misses out on the things which actually make these concepts interesting. Instead it’s just another way to give Lysander Sad Manfeels, because of course the coven which is at play in this book is run by his ex-lover who cruelly cast him out and now wants to kill Alyssa because haha, wimminz be crazee, amirite???
Oh, and did I mention that this book treats PoC like literal trash? Early on in the novel, while Alyssa is still struggling with the morality of feeding on other human beings, Lysander instructs her to take those who have evil intent. This makes it easier to stomach snuffing out a human life, I guess. So of course, since Alyssa is a woman, the author uses her as bait for street harassers. Specifically, she puts her in a scene with three men who are described as dirty, yellow-toothed, mustached men who are using “Spanish slang” and refuse to leave her alone. So what does Alyssa do? She brutally murders all of them, then throws their bodies into a dumpster and sets them alight. All in a night’s work! Later on in the book while Alyssa is at a club with her vampire friends, a white douchebro of the highest caliber starts grinding on her. Alyssa’s kind of into him, but trying not to be, so she rebuffs him. In typical douchebro fashion, he doesn’t listen, and coerces her and a friend into a private room with him. Throughout the entire encounter, Alyssa does not want to be there. Eventually her instincts take over and she kills the dude, but she feels TERRIBLE guilt over it because he was just a “nice guy who wanted to have some fun.” He did almost the exact same things as the Spanish men before, but because he’s a clean white boy with an embroidery dragon on his shirt, he gets to be humanized. Fuck. Off.
Another weird thing about reading this book is that it’s like reading some kind of sick PSA which is constantly shouting: Women, the world is out to rape you. The author never misses a chance to make their female characters feel threatened and at risk for sexual violence. Ever. The author also forces their characters to make light of their own assaults and situations by blaming themselves for everything that happened. For example, no one ever challenges Alyssa’s belief that it was her fault she died. (In fact it’s later revealed that Lysander got there well in time to save her, but didn’t because he was too wrapped up in the “brutal emotions” of the men who were about to assault her) I hated it every fucking minute of it. I’m sorry, but I read books like this to escape from the shitty world in which I live in. Since I’m a woman over the age of, oh, twelve, I already know that I’m at risk for sexual violence in pretty much every single situation of my goddamn life– I don’t need a book to beat me over the head with that. And even if you are going to uses these themes in your book, for fuck’s sake, do it with some respect. Don’t make it into a victim-blaming circus. Don’t make it so that they never regain their agency, or heal from what happened to them in even a small way. Don’t make it into a joke.
tl;dr this book was a let-down in every possible way, and instead of being centered around women being badass and having fun, it was a neverending parade of people lining up to violate Alyssa’s boundaries and then being praised for doing so. Give it a miss.