After being totally deprived of his followers’ support by the unsupported accusation of a single outsider who’s strongly coded herself as one of their most hated enemies, the local high priest calls upon his goddess for support, at which point she complains about having had her scripture misinterpreted and delivers divine retribution upon the high priest guy, depriving him of all mana and class levels so that the succubus can kill him. Because apparently what this book really needed was some heavy-handed moralizing.
It’s not like the analogy is entirely baseless. There’s a few verses in the New Testament where some people ask Christ what they should do about immodest women provoking sinful thoughts with their skimpy clothing and Christ’s response is (paraphrased) “that sounds like a ‘you,’ problem, have you tried gouging your eyes out?” When a bunch of people tried to stone a prostitute, he had that famous “if any of you are without sin, let him cast the first stone” line, and then he, the actually sinless guy, just asked her to please stop being a sex worker. So Jesus seems to be pretty opposed to sex outside of marriage, but also opposed to taking coercive action to prevent it.
More important than relatively minor differences in philosophy between the actual Jesus and the NPC drafted into playing Jesus for this morality play, the only reason I know all of this is because I already know all of this. Using quotes from the actual Jesus to illustrate the hypocrisy of an allegedly Christian preacher would still be kind of preachy, but if a book included a scene like that I could at least appreciate the scholarship. There would be an actual point made and people who didn’t know this already would learn something. People probably don’t pick up a book about fucking a succubus to learn theology, but they probably don’t pick it up to hear the author whine about how Christians don’t interpret the New Testament the way he thinks they should. And let’s get real here, AJ Markam is spectacularly unlikely to be Christian himself, so this isn’t even a Christian insisting (baselessly) that his interpretation of the New Testament is more valid then everyone else’s. It’s an outsider to the religion telling them how they should interpret their own scripture, not because he’s studied their scripture and can point out valid hypocrisy between what is written and how they act, nor because he has a greater moral philosophy about how the world should be regardless of what’s written in a book, but just because he said so. Because he apparently feels that his book should be regarded with more reverence than theirs.
The counterargument that immediately springs to mind would be “does the book have to be saying something?” And the answer is no, it would be way better if it hadn’t, but after drawing explicit parallels to Christian churches of 1850s America, you cannot then claim that your preaching is not meant to have any applicability to American Christianity. Shamus Young recently described this kind of thing as like a white guy showing up to a Black Lives Matter rally with a shirt that says “******* black people,” and then when someone asks what the asterisks stand for, saying “what? I’m not saying anything. It’s just a shirt. Why does it have to be saying something?” Once you’re making overt political or religious allegories, you can’t then back out of the allegory because you find it inconvenient.
The book then stops to remind us that we’re in a video game:
I quickly opened the next message and pumped my fist when I saw that it was from an official Westek technical support account. Unfortunately, I shouldn’t have been quite so quick to celebrate.
We are aware of your technical issues and are working rapidly to resolve them. Don’t worry – this is only a minor technical glitch. We will have you sorted out in no time at all.
Translation: we have no idea what the hell is going on, or we would have fixed it by now.
The framing story is completely undercutting the plot, and yet rather than let it fade into the background so we can just pretend we’re reading regular portal fantasy, it’s being shoved into center stage. The succubus isn’t real. Nothing that anyone has ever done to her matters, because she’s a stage prop. She’s a marionette. The AI pulling her strings hasn’t been wronged, it invented the wrongdoing as the basis for Ian’s quest line. The victim and the perpetrators are both appendages of the same intelligence. Like Awaken Online, though, this book is using a full dive MMO as though it were portal fantasy, but it’s not. What’s weird to me is, why hasn’t anyone had the idea to just have an easily accessible two-way portal fantasy? Like, if you want what happens to the NPCs to actually matter, to have inherent stakes within the game world, then instead of a full dive MMO, just have a portal to Azeroth open up in your protagonist’s broom closet, and let him step back out of it using a magic item or incantation he has on the other side. Now you can have your protagonist going back and forth between reality and your fantasy world as much as you want and the NPCs are actual real people whose health and happiness matters. Not that it actually makes a difference here, since Ian can’t log out, so he could’ve just had a perfectly normal portal fantasy.
Even after getting away from religion, this book’s efforts to have morals continue to be awful:
“You have sex with men while they sleep,” I snapped.
“What’s so bad about that?” she asked as she yawned and stretched, arching her back and jutting out her breasts.
It’s rape. The entire plot is about the succubus avenging herself on a string of rapists, and yet here they’ve got her casually asking what’s wrong with raping people.
The trio get ambushed by a bunch of soldiers, who want to take the succubus to the Baron, because he’s having a beauty pageant or something. Probably he’s the next one on the succubus’ hit list, because instead of actually having our protagonists be proactive and hunt down their targets, the game is just going to serve them up one after another. I’m gonna stop here to comment on something I’ve been ignoring:
Stig came running up next to us. “What we do, boss?”
“I don’t know!” I looked over at Alaria. “What we do?”
Is AJ Markam not a native English speaker? Because this “what we do” typo has been really common so far, and now there’s two of them right on top of each other. It’s a weird typo for a native to make, and I have no idea what nationality “Markam” would imply.
In any case, what they do is get caught and dragged before the Baron.
“My lord, it is a capital offense to attack your guards,” the captain growled.
“I’m sorry!” Alaria wailed. “I didn’t know it was bad! I was just scared!”
It was the worst acting you’ve ever seen. Swear to God.
Of course, looking the way she was she did, virtually everybody in the room bought it hook, line, and sinker – except for me and the captain of the guard.
Abusing the Halo Effect for fun and profit isn’t exactly unbelievable, but intentionally portraying the execution as terrible certainly is. This guy is a baron rounding up all the hot chicks his guards can find. Now, the book has tried to establish that a succubus is an otherworldly beauty beyond what mortal minds can comprehend, but it’s also consistently failed to pull it off. I don’t believe that this succubus is all that hot, so I don’t believe that a baron is going to look past her blatantly horrible acting in hopes of getting a chance to bang her, because he’s a baron, so he’s got options. It’s not like he’s described as physically loathsome or anything. He’s described as broad-shouldered and bearded and that’s it. If gathering together all the most beautiful women of the land – presumably so he can bang them – is just a thing the can do and not a gross violation of norms, then he shouldn’t be so desperate that he’s willing to wave off really obvious red flags in hopes of fucking the succubus.
She can plausibly talk her way out of consequences, sure, but only by plausibly expressing interest in him. It doesn’t even have to be that plausible. She could overtly flatter his ego as being superior to his underlings, or express intense physical desire for him, or something. I’m totally willing to believe that some random schlub who lucked his way into power from birth is easily manipulated through extremely obvious flattery. I’m not willing to believe he’s going to look at a succubus and instantly think “good god, her boobs are a cup size larger than the last girl I fucked, I can’t do anything that might upset her for fear of missing out on a chance to tap that!”
Reading Alaria’s clumsy efforts at seduction is painful. These days, people toss around “cringe” at anything they think should be mocked, even when it’s really obviously true that they’re only mocking it because it’s the thing Those People Over There believe and god knows that anything Those People Over There believe is automatically ridiculous because it is different from the things we believe. The term’s origins, though, come from something being so awkwardly pathetic that it is hard to continue looking at it, so that you physically cringe away. So when I say that watching this “seduction” is cringe-inducing, I want you to understand that I mean the second type. I mean that this paragraph is going on long because I am procrastinating reading more of it.
Here’s a snippet of it:
“Yes, of course,” the Baron said, never taking his eyes off her heaving bosom.
“Is there anything I can do to make it better?” she cooed, then allowed herself a little smile. “Anything at all?”
The Baron sat back in his chair, raised his eyebrows, and cleared his throat. “Ahem – well, perhaps we should retire to my chamber to discuss an appropriate… punishment.”
She smiled coyly. “I’d like that. I deserve to be punished.” She gave him a smoldering look, intermixed with the fakest of innocence. “I’ve been a bad, bad girl.”
This is an extremely overt seduction. Which is later mixed in with claims of virginity. The baron is being lied to, and he’s apparently so dumbstruck by the succubus’ beauty that he doesn’t catch on and wonder if maybe he should be at all wary about what she might be scheming, what with her transparent (and explicitly poorly acted!) lies. Again: He acts like someone who doesn’t have ready access to sex, and who’s so desperate to get some that he’ll ignore obvious warning signs of deception on the way there.
The captain hesitated, unsure whether he should press the issue or not. “But sir – the woman was an accomplice.”
“You heard her,” the Baron said dismissively. “She was frightened – you scared her! Easy mistake to make in the heat of the moment. Isn’t that right?” he asked, with a sappy sweet smile directed at Alaria.
“I was frightened, too!” I yelled.
“You’re not a helpless female,” the Baron replied.
“Helpless female” is a weirdly stilted way of phrasing it. There’s times when it makes sense to use “female” as a descriptor, mainly when you need a catch-all for both girls and women. This is obviously not one of those times, because we’re referring to a specific individual. Broad generalization could not be less necessary. “Helpless woman” or “helpless damsel” or whatever would work just fine. So the inclusion of “female” mainly just seems like someone who’s not deep into incel enough to be using “femoid,” but who’s getting there. Having the baron speak like he’s halfway to unironically whining about Chad and Stacy is not good characterization.
After the succubus seduces her way out of trouble, and gets Ian out of an execution, and gets him out of the dungeon and into the wizard’s tower, she kills the baron offpage, finds Ian, and they make their escape together. It’s not any more climactic in the book than in this summary. She just turns up and is like “yo, I shanked a fucker, let’s bail” (although, note on this paraphrase: The author’s self-censorship of the word “fuck” is ongoing, and remains extremely obvious, with “effing” and “motherhumper” and so on, rather than just not using those expressions at all) and then they do, with no further complications. So the entire point of this seduction is just to get Ian all flustered and jealous because he is too stupid to figure out that she is keeping him safe. And then at the end?
“Maybe if you wouldn’t keep teasing me and leading me on, it wouldn’t be a problem,” I fumed.
She narrowed her eyes. “You know, jealousy is really unattractive.” I didn’t say anything, but I felt my heart sink in my chest. She smiled and tapped my nose. “Normally. But on you, it’s kind of cute.”
Oh, thank God. For a second I was worried I’d have to stop at merely criticizing the book for having a poorly executed arc in which the protagonist gets over jealousy. No fear, though, it turns out the succubus finds all of Ian’s character flaws adorable.