All hospital emergency rooms have the same feel to them. They’re all decorated in the same dull, muted tones and softened edges, which are meant to be comforting and aren’t. They all have the same smell too: one part tangy antiseptics, one part cool dispassion, one part anxiety, and one part naked fear.
This feels like one of those situations where the author’s flunking out on the whole “write what you know” thing and resorting to cliche.
I went to one once. It was over a dog bite and I’d already gotten through the fainting thing that happens when I get hand injuries, so I was pretty lucid. It was a waiting room, kinda cramped, the same hard edges all our hospital areas have, hard tile floor for easy cleaning, and no muted tones thing – they had a bunch of documents on the walls explaining people’s rights in various languages with black frames to stand out. The feel was more “overworked” and “cramped” than “cool dispassion”. Plus there was someone in a wheelchair with a head injury who kept talking about how she’d got the better of whoever she’d fought with to what I assume were the friends who’d brought her, and I suspect “people who’ve willfully made bad decisions” is a much more universal emergency room thing.
In this case, the only other people mentioned as sharing the room is the five-year-old girl holding a broken arm Harry’s bumped ahead of because they prioritize head injuries.
We learn Harry apparently is horrendously injured…
The doctor who examined me wore a nameplate that read SIMMONS. She was broadly built and tough-looking, hair going grey in sharp contrast to her rich, dark skin. She sat down on a stool in front of me and leaned over, putting her hands on either side of my head. They were large, warm, strong. I closed my eyes.
…because we have no idea what this woman’s breasts OR legs look like, just that he likes her skin. However, she goes on to say there’s no injury at all under the blood and then yell at him for this stupid and inconsiderate prank, so I guess it’s permanent brain damage. He may never be able to comment on how attractive he finds women’s body parts again.
I got up and made my bruised way into the bathroom. My face was a mess of faint, dried blood. It had settled mostly into the lines and creases, making me look older, a mask of blood and age.
This is a much better description than that lackluster emergency room.
There was a faint, pink line beginning about an inch below my hair and slashing up into it at an angle.
It felt very tender, and when I accidentally touched it with the rag, it hurt so much that I almost shouted. But the wound was closed, healed.
This actually sounds like it’s not really healed and there’s just some sort of super glamour holding him together. If she actually sped up the healing process so it was months ago, it shouldn’t still hurt at all.
Harry goes on to explain this is serious fucking business.
Working magic directly on a human body is difficult. It’s very difficult. Conjuring up forces, like my shield, or elemental manifestations like the fire or wind is a snap compared to the complexity and power required to change someone’s hair a different color-or to cause the cells on either side of an injury to fuse back together, closing it.
This is a pretty good idea – it also covers why Harry can’t work at the hospital or similar straightforwardly helpful things – but doesn’t fit particularly well with all the times we’ve seen Harry’s potions have no trouble interacting with human bodies, nor did it seem like a concern in calculating how much energy it’d take to heartsplode someone. There might be something there with the issue that conjured forces are temporary. Maybe magic can smush you back into shape just fine, but the moment you stop pouring power in you fall apart again. This would even give us an explanation for how Harry survives getting his skull smashed in at all.
The healing cut was a message for me. My godmother had power over me on earth now, too, as well as in the Nevernever. I’d made a bargain with one of the Fae and broken it. That gave her power over me, which she demonstrated aptly by the way she’d wrought such a powerful and complex working on me-and I’d never even felt it happening.
He broke his bargain with her twice already and nothing happened.
A real scary message would be if holding people together by magic was a thing, because then that’d suggest that Lea didn’t actually heal him but has an ongoing spell holding him together that she’s powerful enough to keep running indefinitely. That would further suggest she’s expending major energy keeping him alive, which means both that she’s very sure this will work out in her favor AND that if he does anything to convince her otherwise, he may die on the spot. And yet, so long as she keeps it going, he can’t even get medical treatment for it!
We can counterbalance this to keep it from getting too terrifying if we keep whatever super-healing Harry had going on back in Fool Moon. Magic being bad at healing doesn’t mean it’s totally useless, so he could still keep enhanced healing, plus even if you can’t cause the cells on either side of an injury to fuse back together magically, holding them perfectly in place to make fusing easier will still speed things up naturally – that’s half of why we sew people up! If Harry pisses off Lea too early, half his brain’s going to plop out onto the floor, but she’ll only have this hold on him for a few days.
But that is not this. This is Harry going on about how I’d always known that Lea had outclassed me-she was a creature with a thousand years or more of experience, knowledge, and she had been born to magic like I had been born to breathing. So long as I remained in the real world, though, she’d had no advantage over me. Our world was a foreign place to her, just as hers was to me. I’d had the home field advantage.
So, she’s got a thousand years of practice in something she’s born awesome at, but Harry thinks it’s natural that previously, he still had the upper hand in our world. This is the same sort of thing as how he always insists whatever’s happening is the worst ever. He just has no sense of scale. Every advantage he has is taken as a given, every advantage anyone else has is the most unfair and horrible thing to ever happen to him.
Harry is trying to clean himself up in the bathroom when one of the Murphy-adjacent police, Stallings, comes in. He explains that Murphy is now also in the hospital, apparently in a coma because, as you may not recall, Harry earlier did a sleep spell. Part of why you might not recall it is that sleep is what makes you vulnerable to attack by this thing, but since apparently the sleep spell specifies dreamless sleep, it instead locks the creature out. Harry and the book at large don’t seem aware this is actually makes it all more boring – normally, stories where you get attacked if you fall asleep end up with people having to keep going until they solve the problem or drop, but here naptime is totally an option.
“My spell won’t hold her for long. Maybe a couple more days, at the most. Each time the sun comes up, it’s going to degrade it a little more.”
So Harry’s spells are weakened by sunrise, yet another point for them not being the every shiniest of white magics.
Also, Harry’s standard for “not long” is “days”, and this is after getting nommed on (and also, after he just explained that magic affecting the body is extra doubleplus hard). Given we also know Harry’s exceptional verging on unique for the amount of power he can chuck at things, this suggests a regular wizard’s maximum would be in the realm of hours at best.
Stallings then delivers Kravos’ spellbook!
a little journal, thick but not broad, bound in dark leather.
Kravos why are you such a disappointment. Shadowpants in the first book had a spine staff! You just know that guy’s black leather spellblook was embossed in red gold with, like, a skull in each corner. Why can’t you be more like Shadowpants, Kravos?
Stallings then tells Harry, If you touch this, if you open it up, you’re going to be leaving your prints on it. Skin cells. All sorts of things. Unless it disappears.” I like that he just accepts that, and in the middle of a hospital no less, that there’s no way Harry would just put on plastic gloves or take any other reasonable precaution.
Harry, for his part, does have a non-stupid reaction to this. He’s baffled because he doesn’t get why the book would even matter, and Stallings just mumbles ominously about stuff he can’t explain and therefore Harry has to burn the book if he touches it. You know, I’d actually say this goes beyond baffling to suspicious – why is he so insistent that the book be destroyed instead of just saying it’ll be a headache if anyone finds out he gave Harry stuff from the evidence locker? Why is he so sure that this already processed piece of evidence is going to be gone over with several fine toothed combs for evidence? …How sure is Harry that Stallings here didn’t take a nap before dawn as well?
Harry doesn’t think of this and instead goes to find Michael, who informs him there’s an issue with the baby.
“The labor was complicated. She was cold, and might have been getting sick with something. Her water did break, back at the graveyard. I guess it makes it a lot harder on the baby.”
I’m not quite sure which way to read this: that the mystery fluid gushing from Charity’s vagina was, in fact, amniotic fluid, and that’s apparently the very worst thing you have to worry about when pregnant? Or that Charity, as one of the easily confused ladyfolk, could have been wrong about the fact anything at all was coming out of her vagina and we need doctor confirmation that yes, a thing happened.
The bit about water breaking being hard on the baby makes it sound like the author may think that’s not supposed to happen at all – like maybe he interpreted the standard “oh no my water broke!!!” bit in TV as the women panicking about an objectively bad event, as opposed to just a signal that that labor was progressing faster than predicted and which you probably don’t want all over your pants. (It also means the baby no longer has a chance to inhale fluid if it tries to breathe before birth.)
The fact it’s about dawn and the baby’s already out means there really wasn’t time for any of this to be hard on the baby. Interestingly, extremely fast labor does have some medical concerns – for the mother, in both the obvious tearing way and also all sorts of other complications with stuff like the placenta not detaching right. In this case Charity didn’t even give birth naturally, they hacked her open a while ago, which given it’s only been a couple hours means either these guys are amoral butchers getting paid by the C-section or there was something else that was really, really wrong.
If the issue wasn’t “water” but blood, we’d have an easy answer – a ruptured placenta can so easily kill both. Attempting to stem the bleeding for the mother will starve the baby of oxygen even faster, but even if they have blood on hand to pour into Charity, the baby might still suffocate, so the easiest option is just to tell it to start breathing air instead of mooching around in the womb.
Michael adds, They don’t know if she’ll be able to have children again.” It’s interesting this is presented with exactly the same emphasis as that the baby itself may die. (It’s also odd that suddenly, the idea God will make it work out okay has disappeared. They didn’t actually yoink out her uterus, nothing about this is certain, it’s exactly the level of concern that many normal Christians who wasn’t getting personal miracles every day would be willing to pray and trust in God about instead of freaking out.)
Then it’s time for another trope that’s about as awful:
“The doctor thinks I beat her. That’s how she got the bruises. He never said anything, but …”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said, at once. “Stars and stones, Michael, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Michael isn’t upset that the doctor is going to report him, that he’s looking at legal issues and maybe losing his kids, and neither is Harry. Harry’s offended (how dare a person misjudge precious perfect Michael!) and Michael’s emoing about how really, doesn’t he deserve the doctor’s silent, definitely-not-actually-going-to-do-anything judgment because it is his fault Charity’s hurt, sorta!
His voice came out hard, bitter. He stared at his faint reflection in the glass. “It might as well have been me, Harry.
This kind of thing is why people talk about manpain and fridging. The fact that husbands who beat their wives into miscarriages will face no consequences and their wives just go back home with them without help isn’t something Michael cares about. It’s not something the narration cares about. That’s why it can be presented as completely equivalent, and why there’s no extra horror to the fact the most the doctor does is give Michael a dirty look. And neither spare any thought for how Charity feels about this either, because that’s also not something worth caring about it. Why this happened is really irrelevant. Michael feels bad his property was damaged and that people think less of him for the damage. Whether it was him deliberately doing it to her or him failing at his manly role of family protector doesn’t matter in the least. That’s also why this current baby dying and him not being able to get other babies out of his wife are similarly completely equivalent – from the point of view of possessing an object, losing a new one and losing the ability to get another are pretty much the same.
I know the simple advice here is stop concentrating the bad things on women and the main character role on men, and that is an aspect of it, but the greater part is in treatment. I listened to a lot of podcasts over the summer, and one of them, Wolf 359, killed off a female character. It was a textbook fridging: a bunch of characters are in peril, she dies so people can be upset about it – except, as the episodes progress, they’re not upset about “it”. They’re upset about her. One character is left both mourning and raging, having been close friends with but also betrayed by her – the reaction is all to who she was and what she did, with the death just throwing all of that into sharper relief. Another character has a more straightforward reaction…but it’s the reaction you usually see when the female character loses her male mentor, where he turns on everyone using the skills she taught him rather than his own and burns all his bridges in the process because who cares now that she’s dead? (He also has a sweet rant about how it’s everyone else’s fault because she was a genius and the only way she could have gotten killed is the people fucking things up for her.)
Michael says he’s hurting so much because of what happened to Charity. But if someone really were, they wouldn’t even be bringing it up. If you want to show someone devastated by what happened to someone else, you’re better served with swearing up and down that they’re fine and all that matters is the other person rather than wallowing in self-pity.
But this book revolves around that. Michael goes on about that old cliche of “It should have come after me.” and Harry informs us that actually, it should’ve.
“Demons are tough, Michael. They’re dangerous and they’re scary, but they’re really kind of clueless in a lot of ways.”
“They just don’t get it, about people. They understand things like lust and greed and the desire for power, but they just don’t get things like sacrifice and love. It’s alien to most of them-doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Aside from yet another reveal that the reader really can’t figure out, there’s the problem that even with the specks of demon information we do have, this seems like bullshit.
Going after Michael’s wife and kid is covered just fine under greed – demon fucked up his property. And while it’s presumably using Harry’s form just because Harry’s the alpha sue, in theory it should be trying to go for a betrayal angle, where it mangles people and Harry gets blamed and turned on by his friends.
“Remember what I said, about how I knew the worst way to get to you would be through your family?”…”I know that because I’m human. I know what it’s like to care about someone other than myself.
Multiple serialkiller sociopaths have expressed the fact that they would be infuriated by other some other murderer harming their family. This isn’t some super special rare trait. And yet Harry, even going on to specify that yes, he means the ones who do the soul contracts with humans all the time, claims this is beyond the understanding of demons. Realizing the thing humans explicitly say would hurt them would hurt them is beyond the understanding of demons? How the fuck do they get souls, then? Why did that demon last book think Harry would give a flying fuck about finding out info on his mom?
Now, you might think Harry’s point here is that eating him made it more human, but no.
I don’t think it ever would have occurred to it to take a shot at someone that we care about-even if it did have my knowledge about you. There’s got to be something else going on here.”
Michael’s eyes widened a bit. “The Nightmare is a cat’s-paw,” he said. “Someone else is using it to hit at us.”
“Someone who can cast those barbed-wire torment spells,” I said. “And we’ve been chasing around after the tool instead of going after the hand that’s wielding it.”
Right! Someone like
“I don’t know.
Oh for fuck’s sake Harry.
Did the werewolf pileup just break you? You assume everything you encounter is completely unrelated?
If it’s not vampires, SAY IT CAN’T BE VAMPIRES before you go back to mumbling about how it could be literally anything, who knows, plot just does whatever and we’re all along for the ride.
Even more infuriatingly, Harry now begins to bring up completely random options, like, maybe it’s wizards who don’t like him? Because it’s not like wizards killing other wizards is heavily policed or anything. And then Michael suggests it’s fairies since one is actively showing up and fucking with them and Harry says nope because apparently They aren’t usually this methodical or organized. So the things that live and die by excruciatingly complex legal bullshit can’t handle “be active two nights in a row attacking any one of a big set of people”, because fairies! So whimsical! And they aren’t impatient, either. This thing’s been active every night which is completely unlike how Sexy Cougar Godmum has appeared twice already, jumping on every chance to harass Harry. That’s not impatience at all.
At this point, the characters feel they’ve done enough pretending they’re trying to actually solve this problem and go right for talking about Harry’s manpain again. How did he end up with Sexy Cougar Godmum??? We desperately need this rehashed yet further!!! Harry explains that his mom presumably picked Sexy Cougar as Godmum, because, I assume, there were zero non-rapey fairies as an option. So, yeah, if you were really confused about if “godmother” required the parent to pick, or if kids can enter into the contract themselves, and you really needed that and not every other nonsense thing in this book clarified, congrats! We know now. Mostly. Because Harry’s just guessing that’s how it happened.
Michael is not done being manpain exposition facilitator, and wants to know what precisely the deal was. Harry doesn’t even give us new info here. He gives Michael the cliffnotes version, meaning there’s no point in having this conversation on camera at all.
“She did take the sword though.”
I winced. “Yeah. I guess that was my fault. If I hadn’t have tried to use it to weasel out of the deal …”
“yeah I guess that was my fault” is these books in a nutshell. And indeed, Michael reassures Harry that it isn’t, because apparently the magic geek who knows all about fairies, well, “You couldn’t have known,”
Now it’s time for Micahel to transition to his own whining.
“The sword won’t stay in her hands forever. The Lord won’t allow that. But it may be that my time to wield it has passed.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Perhaps it was a sign. Perhaps that I am no longer worthy to serve Him in this way.
So, Charity and Baby being in dire medical states because of an outside force: oh no!!! what can be done??? oh it is my fault, it is my actions that have caused this!!!
Sword being lost explicitly because of Harry’s layered fuckups: This is probably, like, God’s plan, you know? God is in control of everything. Everything happens for a reason, man.
Harry, being a Good Person and Good Friend, reacts to this exactly as you’d expect:
Oh, great. All I needed, now, was a crisis of faith and bad case of career doubt from the Fist of God. I needed Michael. I needed someone to watch my back, someone who was used to dealing with the supernatural. Sword or no sword, he had a steady head, and his faith had a subtle power of its own. He could be the difference between me getting killed and defeating whoever was out there. Besides, he had wheels.
He explains to Michael that hey, it’s not like he can do anything to help his family (except pray, which pretty obviously does have power in this world), and since they’re just objects and not things where you might desperately want to be with them for their last night on Earth, well, let’s just ditch them!
Michael does make a tepid objection to leaving his family yet again. Harry brushes it off with, “No, not leave them. But we need to find the person behind the Nightmare and take care of them.” By leaving them! But the point isn’t leaving them, it’s just that’ll happen as an unimportant consequence of you doing other, more important things.
“Harry. What are we going to do? Kill someone?”
“If we have to. Hell’s bells, Michael, they might have murdered your son.”
His face hardened, and I knew then that I had him, that he’d follow me into Hell to get at whoever had hurt his wife and child. I had him all right-and I hated myself for it.
Seriously, this is a level of morality serialkiller sociopaths manage. Does Charity want him to go? Nobody cares Charity, we’re busy avenging you, shut up. Tiny dying baby, would you like to be held in your last moments? Too bad, Dad just left to stab somebody he blames for this instead!
And then they leave. For Harry’s lab, where Michael won’t actually be doing anything but waiting, but, as Harry said, he needs wheels and is too stingy to pay for a taxi and that’s way more important than being with your dying wife and baby.