You might think that the last post is going to precipitate either a total abandonment of Succubus or else some in-depth rantviewing. If so, you may wish to prepare to be disappointed, because we are now entering detached summary mode. Succubus is not recovering from chapter 11, but the thing is, there isn’t much room left to go down. Sure, there’s some, and I even have confidence that Succubus will at some point pull it off – but mostly I expect it to continue making the dumb mistakes it already has. As a rabid completionist, I’m going to see the book through, but I’m only going to go into details if Succubus shows signs of either getting better or somehow getting worse.
All that being said, Succubus does manage to fuck up in a novel way almost immediately:
Stig and I raced past the livestock pens over to the simple stone house with its timber roof. Three bandits were out in front, holding their hands over the mouths of three small, wriggling children.
Crap – I didn’t know if my powers would hurt the kids if I attacked the bandits.
So I opted for some real-world strategy instead.
“Kids – bite their hands!” I yelled. The children must’ve followed my orders, because every single bandit screamed and let go of them.
“Go to town and get help!” I yelled, and the children took off for the woods. Of course, that meant three bandits were coming right at me.
This is apparently how you solve a hostage situation. Have the hostages bite their lethally armed captors. That’ll go well.
The counter up in the left-hand corner of my vision begin to drop, sold by soul, until it plummeted down to zero –
Further implication that the HUD is fixed to Ian’s head, if not to his eyes, but if that were the case I’d expect he wouldn’t even be able to consistently look at it. I’m not entirely confident AJ Markam realizes this, though. Maybe he expects that pasting a WoW HUD directly into someone’s vision will work just like having it on a screen.
You can probably guess from context that this is the succubus summoning. Here is how said succubus introduces herself:
“Never fall in love with a succubus,” I read aloud in whatever bizarre language I was speaking, though I understood the words’ meaning perfectly. “Only a man who is pure of heart can resist the lure of the succubus.”
Suddenly, the purple light disappeared in a bright flash, night turned back to day, the earth closed up – and the collar was gone.
“What the hell?” I asked in frustration.
“That’s a laugh,” a sultry voice spoke behind me. “There is no man who’s pure of heart.”
If this book hadn’t already catastrophically fucked up once without manifesting a single noteworthy strength (unless you count the early interactions with Stig, which have dried up completely and lasted for all of one conversation), this setup would not completely ruin my optimism that this book might be able to sell itself on characterization alone. As it is, the introduction of the succubus was needed just to convince me that the use of rape to establish villainy was a one-off fluke and that more horrible hack-level writing would not follow, and it is doing the opposite of that. We all know where this is going. Ian is going to fall in love with the succubus, the succubus will fall in love with him, and Ian is probably going to be “pure of heart” somehow. Speaking about this book with a friend on Discord, he said that after this passage he was 146% sure that it was alluding the succubus ultimately falling for Ian’s Nice Guy charms, rather than Ian growing past them. That figure seems about right to me.
I won’t bother quoting the full description of the succubus. It would take up a lot of space and it’s exactly the generically sexy video game lady you’d expect. Also, for some dumb reason Ian still hasn’t scrubbed the skunk smell off of himself, despite having gotten the tools to do so several chapters ago. Apparently this book thinks repeating the exact same “ha, ha, Ian smells” joke over and over again is just hilarious, and I’m beginning to suspect the author is using it as some kind of therapy for having been the smelly kid in high school.
The succubus – her name turns out to be Alaria, we’ll see how long I retain that – is constantly trying to seduce Ian. Ian is a shy, blushing virgin about all of it, and it quickly becomes clear that he’s been putting his bath off because the author wants to contrive an excuse for Ian to have to get naked while the succubus is nearby. Here’s a brief excerpt:
She watched as I lathered up with the bar of soap. “Would you like me to do that for you?” she asked flirtatiously.
Yes. YES I WOULD.
Although I knew she was just messing with me. “No, I’ve got it.”
“Are you sure? I could help you with those hard-to-reach places.” She paused suggestively, then purred, “Like between your legs.”
Good God, the way she said it put all sorts of images in my mind.
“I can reach that just fine,” I said.
“Yes, I can tell. Be sure you keep both your hands where I can see them,” she tsk tsk tsked, waving one finger like I was a naughty little pervert.
This is the best example I could find. This back and forth almost works here when you see it detached from context, because you can imagine it’s more-or-less friendly. That the succubus is flirting for funsies, and that Ian is just awkward around women he’d like to bang. It’s not original, but it’d be more of the same “mediocre but never awful” quality that Succubus has been hovering at pretty much since it started.
Then there’s this:
“Who… who do you have sex with?” I asked, my voice cracking like a teenage boy’s.
“People I want to kill, for one. It’s a fun way to off them.” She winked at me and grinned. Then her smile faded, and her expression hardened. “Then, of course, there have been previous masters who have commanded me to sleep with them.”
“Did you kill them?” I asked in alarm.
“…not yet,” she said, and smiled grimly.
Alaria fucking hates Ian. She makes that clear. Her flirtation is intended to harm him, not in a fun way, but in the sense of causing genuine distress and psychological damage. And she’s brought up before how she’s basically been enslaved by him, and is here stating that previous masters have raped her, so it’s not like she doesn’t have good reason to be angry.
Where do you think this is going, though? Because personally, I’m guessing that Alaria does the full tsundere routine, and then when the tsun falls away to reveal the dere, it’ll be because Alaria is enamored with him for not raping her.
In the interests of fairness, I should mention that it’s not completely out of the question that Succubus can still back out of this. Ian does explicitly call himself out on his “nice guy ways”…
She smiled. “Sure… but the easiest way to do that is to get all the way in the water, and I’m not getting my outfit wet.”
“Oh,” I said, and immediately reverted back to my normal nice-guy ways. “Never mi– ”
Except those “nice guy ways” are just being awkward and terrified of offending hot women. There’s a degree of sexism in that by itself (since I tend to get angry about racism/sexism a lot more than I anticipated when I started doing these reviews, I’m going to assume my audience is familiar with why already, but if anyone isn’t, feel free to comment about it – God knows I’m not averse to writing long-winded explanations of writing minutia), so maybe Ian really is showing a flicker of self-awareness of his problems here, but the way this book is trying to build up Ian’s righteousness by giving him the boldly progressive stance of “rape is bad” I don’t have any confidence that we’re actually going in that direction.
And after laying on the “rape is bad” theme super thick, the book then goes on to have the succubus completely disregard Ian’s own boundaries concerning sex. The prospect of sex clearly terrifies him, and yet Anaria destroys his clothes so he’s forced to traipse through the woods naked and later gropes him without his permission and while he is clearly uncomfortable with being exposed:
Something warm and soft grabbed my left ass cheek and squeezed. I yelped and turned around. She was standing there grinning like the cat who ate the canary, her hand still in the guilty act of cuppage.
It’s not unrealistic that a sexual abuse victim would then go on to sexually abuse others, but I’m already near-certain that Succubus lacks the self-awareness for Ian to even own up to the fault of disregarding his underlings’ agency and ambitions, and will instead have “not a rapist” as his defining moral philosophy beginning to end, adding on top of that a requirement that the story explore the cycle of abuse in a way that is interesting rather than stupid makes bad odds into a rounding error.
My audience is, with one exception, either lurkers or just bots. Which means I have no idea if anyone would ask “is it really sexual abuse if he likes it, though?” Just in case: The answer is yes, because Anaria is using the immediate physical pleasure of what she’s doing to distract Ian from all the damage she’s doing to his self-esteem and sense of bodily autonomy. Even if – and given the book we’re reading, this seems likely – Ian ends up coming through all of that psychologically unscathed, unless Anaria is a mind reader she has no way of knowing that constantly and knowingly pushing past Ian’s boundaries will just so happen to have no bad side effects on him emotionally.
The next chapter (and I’m breezing through them quick enough as to not bother marking them separately by now) establishes what I expect is going to be our main plot: The succubus wants to kill her former masters for raping her. One of them is in town, and is the high priest of the local goddess of chastity. Having the holy paladins of chastity be the enemies of a succubus-summoning warlock is a perfectly good setup for a dumb fun adult fantasy romp. Having a hypocritical sexual predator as the head of a church preaching chastity is a perfectly good setup for a dark and unflinching examination of the hypocrisy of the religious right in America (and others of similarly theocratic bent across the world and throughout history, although the visual parallels in this book are very explicitly to America’s history with religious fanaticism), provided it has something interesting to say. You cannot combine these. They do not go together. For starters, there’s no point setting the latter in a fantasy world when you’re just going to make direct parallels to a specific manifestation of the overall trend anyway. If you wanted to make a rule about religious fanaticism in general, you’d do it by inventing a new religion for people to be fanatics of, that way you can make your point without having to directly reference a specific religion people might be protective of. If your goal is to directly attack a specific religion for its crimes, then there’s no reason not to actually do that by portraying that religion directly, rather than creating a transparent fantasy expy.
In the middle of the lecture, Anaria drops her disguise, accuses the high priest of being an ex-warlock and raping her, and the obvious happens:
“Kill her!” the Priest yelled at his parishioners.
With a…less obvious follow-up:
“It sounds like she has a problem with you, not us!” someone yelled.
“What in Azoth’s name did you do to her?” someone else shouted.
Yeah, because if there’s anything the #MeToo movement has shown us, it’s that a deeply religious community will instantly turn on their religious leaders after a single accusation from a woman with strange appearance and values. Getting nominally liberal Hollywood not to quietly tolerate child rapists was a struggle that rocked the nation to its foundations. After setting up a villain directly modeled after far more conservative parts of the country – directly stated to be “straight out of 1850s America” – a single accusation from a literal demon instantly deprives this guy of all his allies.
I don’t object to the wish fulfillment of wanting to live in a world where entire communities didn’t pledge their undying allegiance to sociopaths, didn’t shed every single one of their morals enabling them to hurt more and more people, all just so they don’t have to admit that they were wrong, but you can’t bring up rape and child slavery and then ask your audience to just ignore all the nuance and have a fun ride. Rape isn’t light reading. When your main plot is about a rape victim avenging herself on her abusers, you have completely locked yourself out of the possibility of an unexamined joyride where the details don’t matter so much.