The party arrives at the town where they’re supposed to meet their mysterious benefactor. The whole town is staring at them, and at one point comes at them with a torches and pitchforks, before a guy in a bowler hat shows up and talks the crowd down. It’s not really clear why the crowd was so angry in the first place, but bowler hat guy takes them to see Captain Hancock, who is a cyborg working for the Rebellion, hands Alister his giant sack of money, and Alister takes it and leaves. Charlotte asks Annie to go with him in order to keep him safe.
And again I’m wondering: Is this supposed to be our act two down beat? The moment when all seems lost? That Alister and Charlotte might not get together after all? Are the Rebellion going to turn out evil and Charlotte will be forced to deal with that entirely by herself until Alister comes back for…some reason? That feels like the only way this can go.
Charlotte gets all gussied up in a nice white dress and meets with Captain Hancock, who has a black dress that somehow blends well with her cyborg bits, which I find hard to believe, considering that her cyborg bits include large portions of her face. I can see a dress making a cyborg arm look regal, but I don’t see how it could do anything for your face, considering the dress presumably ends at the neck at the highest. In any case, the book takes a paragraph to clumsily pretend it’s a movie:
Charlotte took her drink and walked to the fireplace as well. The flames emphasized the contrast between Charlotte’s white dress and Hancock’s black one.
This feels less like painting an image with words and more like a camera direction from a scriptwriter who doesn’t trust the director.
Charlotte explains what she knows about her mysterious super stone:
Charlotte looked down at her feet, “My theory is that we must touch the stone to Harthum. I believe that it will unravel his immortality.”
“And why is that?” Hancock asked.
Charlotte fumbled for an explanation but in the end decided on the truth. “I do not know. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any information that explains the existence of the stone and its ability to be active outside of a designated flask.”
“But you believe that contact between the stone and Harthum,” she said his name as if it were poison, “would result in a reversal of his immortality?”
“I think that it is the most plausible outcome.”
Captain Hancock nodded and took one last drink of her wine before setting it down. She turned to Charlotte and held out her good hand. “Very well, you will hand the stone over to me. My men and I will infiltrate Callan in three days. We will attempt to destroy Harthum with this stone.”
So note that this conversation basically goes:
Charlotte: “I think touching the stone to Harthum will make him mortal.”
Hancock: “What makes you think that will work?”
Charlotte: “I dunno.”
Hancock: “Good enough for me, brb staking my life on your totally unsupported guess.”
I don’t know if this is the author beaming accurate information directly into the protagonist’s head or if Charlotte and Hancock are both just staking everything on wild speculation and hoping for the best. Regardless, now it’s time for the Rebellion to turn evil, right? Hancock’s clearly got some sinisterness to her, just because of how the narrative has been framing her as kind of a jerk, she’s wearing black instead of white, and has the gall to be a woman with physical imperfections. There’s no particular reason someone can’t be a bit of an asshole and also a hero with strong morals willing to risk their life for the benefit of others, but the Immortal Cure has not exactly been long on trope subversion, so I feel pretty confident that everyone who is a jerk to Charlotte for any reason will turn out to be evil, except for Alister, who is forgiven for whatever mistakes he ends up making (if he ends up making any) because he makes Charlotte’s panties wet.
So, time for the big betrayal:
“Very well,” Charlotte said resolutely, “Then I shall assist you by studying the stone and will help you infiltrate Callan.”
“No, Lady Harthum, you will turn over all your findings and I shall handle the operation from here.”
Charlotte looked at her, dumbfounded. “But wait,” she stuttered, “I am coming as well.”
“No, you are not. You are the seed of Harthum and cannot be trusted.”
Charlotte blinked in surprise. “I found that stone,” she said incredulously, “I traveled to the Blight and risked my life and the lives of friends, all to stop Harthum.”
“Yes and it is appreciated. But you will not be joining us.”
Ha ha, that’s right! The big betrayal is that Hancock holds prejudice against Charlotte in slightly dickish but completely non-threatening way! Truly, our heroine has reached her low point, when it turns out that someone who is willing to risk her life in pursuit of a common goal dislikes her for something she has no control over! How will Charlotte ever get invited to all the rebel leadership slumber parties now?
Also, Hancock’s tragic backstory revolves around sexual exploitation, because of course it does:
Captain Hancock tensed and her mask of cool calmness seemed to melt away. “What have you done to me?” she asked in a deadly whisper. “You are the daughter of Harthum, the man who has killed millions of people in the last five hundred years.”
“Yes, and does that make me responsible? Why do you think I hate him so? Why do you think I want to stop him? Why do you think I would endanger my own life traveling into the Blight – something even you weren’t willing to do?”
The comment cut deep, Hancock’s mechanical eye giving her an evil gleam. Something within her seemed to snap. “I watched you as a child,” she said in a low, venomous voice. “I saw you grow up in all the comforts possible, Harthum’s whore in training, pampered and unaware of the pain and suffering around you.”
Charlotte blinked in surprise. “What do you…”
“I was one of Harthum’s concubines!” She growled, towering over Charlotte. “I became one when I was sixteen years old. He kept me for five of the longest years of my life then handed me over to the Crimson Order.” Hancock stepped forward, jabbing a finger into Charlotte’s chest. “I watched you play. I watched you dance around in your expensive dresses. I watched you beg your mother to meet your father day in and day out. All while I was being used and broken.”
So literally every female character in this story is either a ten-year old child or sexually victimized by the villain.
And also the whole thing lasts all of two pages before Hancock walks it all back:
“You may come,” she said, cutting Charlotte off. “I am obviously allowing my emotions to rule me. Having you join us on our mission would be an understandable advantage.[“]
As Charlotte drifts off to sleep, the book decides that it can get way more misogynist than just being kind of male gaze-y all the time, but only if it starts applying itself.
Hancock represented something, something Charlotte never considered. She symbolized the outcome if Harthum wasn’t stopped. Tatiana… Lindris… myself… Harthum will destroy us and turn us into empty shells just like that woman.
I mean, obviously there’s plenty of room to get worse than referring to an apparently perfectly capable rebel commander as an “empty shell,” tossing a woman’s accomplishments and capabilities out the window in favor of defining her solely by how virginal and pure she is. If this book wants to out-misogynist Succubus, it’s gonna have to start putting in a lot more effort. But hey, there’s like 15% of a book left here. That’s still enough time! I believe in you, Immortal Cure! Suck like you’ve never sucked before!
Charlotte’s getting ready for her assassination mission, which would be a lot more exciting if there were any reason at all to believe it was going to work. Also, Alister is paying off his creditors one by one, and then suddenly realizes he’s in love with Charlotte.
Annie looked down, thinking about what he said. She looked up, giving him a frozen smile. “I know! What if Charlotte hired you? Then would we go back?”
Alister climbed the ladder up to The Ephrait’s hatch. Annie followed behind. “I don’t think she will,” Alister said, stepping into the ship’s corridor. “She’s… busy.” …Possibly dead. The thought crashed down on him. What if she can’t stop Eternal Harthum? he thought, setting his hand against the Ephrait’s iron wall.
“Oh? But aren’t you in love with her Prince Alister?”
“Of course I am,” Alister said, distracted. He put his hand to his forehead. Harthum wouldn’t kill his own daughter, would he?
“Well, then you should go see her.”
It doesn’t change anything, Alister thought to himself, she is a noble and is in love with another noble. Besides, it’s not like I could take on an Eternal.
“Prince Alister, you should go see her.”
Alister looked down at the golem. “Why would I go see her? I told you, she’s busy,” he stomped off toward the wheelhouse, “and so am I.”
“But you said you loved her.”
“No I didn’t. I…” He stopped and looked at Annie… looked through her.
“You said that,” Annie asked, “… didn’t you?”
Alister looked at her painted blue eyes. I did, didn’t I, he thought slowly… I love her.
Is this news? Alister was about to give her the heirloom jewelry he inherited from his mother when he found Charlotte’s love letter to Jonathon. It’s not that he doesn’t love her. It’s that there’s been a wacky rom-com misunderstanding and he thinks she loves someone else.
Also, Hancock divulges more backstory. She was rescued by a mysterious masked man. Maybe that guy’s identity will actually be important at some point. Like, it was secretly Alister’s father or something.
The next post is probably going to be the last, just looking at the amount of space left in the book, which is weird, because that means the entire assassination attempt is gonna be, like, one chapter. Granted, this is a duology, but if the first book isn’t good, I’m not buying the second. The end of a book is a perfect place to lose your audience, so you can’t use “it’s a series” as an excuse to have books which are, as individual works, terribly paced. That’s far from the biggest problem this book has, though, so whatever.