Review(ish): Hard Bitten and Drink Deep by Chloe Neill

It doesn't really need to be said that we are in the last year before the final Chicagoland Vampires book releases, but that looming event, combined with the spectacular penultimate book, Midnight Marked, have some of the Wenches taking our time revisiting the journey of our favorite vampires. I recently told you about my reread of my favorite CLV book, Twice Bitten, here, and Anne and Zee are going to be reviewing Some Girls Bite and Friday Night Bites soon, and Anne has had questions in posts here, here, and here.

But I just finished Hard Bitten and Drink Deep, and I have lots of thought about these two books. First of all, it is imperative that one reads both books together. You simply cannot stop, or even pause between the two because Hard Bitten is devastating. So if you haven't gotten this far in the series (and really, what are you waiting for?) then read HB and DD and then join us back here for some super spoilery discussion. If you are well past these two, as most all of us are, come with me through the jump where I'll discuss the devastation, why I love it--it's not just because I'm a glutton for punishment--why I think it was necessary, and why I think CN is incredibly brave and talented for tackling things the way she did.

***Warning: Super Duper Spoilery Discussion of Hard Bitten and Drink Deep Ahead***

When we left our fearless vampires at the end of Twice Bitten, the House had been attacked and seriously damaged, the budding alliance between Cadogan and the Pack was precarious, and Ethan had made a huge mistake where Merit was concerned, but realized what he did and was trying to make up for it. Honestly, I'm not going to talk much about the Pack issues, the Chicago issues, or the GP issues, because all of those fronts are up and down throughout the series and are background problems in HB and DD. Interesting stuff, but not the reasons we adore this series or these books in particular.

One huge reason that I adore Hard Bitten is the stunning way that Ethan tries to convince Merit that he realizes the mistake he made, that he is deeply sorry, and that he wants nothing more than for her to give him another chance. It took him a couple of months to accept his feelings for Merit, as it did her, and it also took him some time to fully realize what kind of vampire she was going to be, what kind of Sentinel, leader, partner. She is a perfect complement for him in the House, and she is a perfect partner for him in life. He is fully aware of this now, and he tries to tell her and show her, repeatedly, what she has grown to mean to him. It's glorious
NOBODY does apologies like Sullivan.
"You can run. You can keep running to the ends of the earth. But I won't be far behind you."
"No. I will never be far behind you." He tipped up my chin so that I could do nothing else but look back into his eyes. "Do the things you need to do. Learn to be a vampire, be a warrior, to be the soldier you are capable of being. But consider the possibility that I made a mistake I regret--and that I'll continue to regret that mistake and try to convince you to give me another chance until the earth stops turning."
He leaned forward and pressed his lips to my forehead, my heart melting even as my more rational side harbored suspicions.

"No one said love was easy, Sentinel."
But the fact of the matter is, that all of this is bittersweet (Anne thinks it's tainted) because of what is going to happen at the end of Hard Bitten. Zee wrote about the devastation of these books here, and she has said that Ethan's declarations made her nervous because, while they were wonderful, his repeated note of his immortality was tempting Fate. The first time I read this book I did not know that Ethan would die at the end of this book, and it was absolutely devastating. I cried so hard that my husband thought something was wrong with me. This time I was okay for the most part until Malik helped Merit up to take her home and told her to Be Still. Those two words undid me and I knew I had to tear through the next book to get to the good part.

We're still a little scarred.
Getting to the good part through Drink Deep is easier said than done. I love my "I Survived Hard Bitten" button and appreciate the sentiment, but I've always felt that Drink Deep is much harder because Merit's and the House's grief is so fresh and raw, Merit's regret so close to the surface that I sobbed through that entire book the first time. Every time someone mentioned Ethan, every time Merit thought about what could have been I was washed in sadness all over again. Merit's observation that "the world is completely askew because he's gone" will never not make me sad. Even knowing now that he's coming back, anyone who has ever lost someone dear knows that feeling well. This book, seeing everyone trying to live without Ethan, is excruciating, and I'm so glad that this is the only book where that's necessary, although I have no doubt Chloe Neill could easily have had these beloved characters thrive in a world without him. I'm just glad they didn't have to. 

These two books are filled with courageous creative choices, from killing Ethan to bringing him back, including the choice to make Mallory the Big Bad. I've been trying to think of another series wherein a major character, someone the central heroine loves and trusts, completely shatters that trust and does despicable, wholly selfish things, but I can't think of one. I believe it was incredibly brave of Chloe Neil to choose Mallory as the person trying to destroy Chicago for her own nefarious reasons, the person lying to everyone, stealing, and generally not giving a shit about anyone but herself. I despised Mallory for a long time because of her actions in this book, and I suspect CN knew that would happen but she bravely went there anyway. From the very first conversation Merit has with Mallory in Drink Deep, well into Biting Cold, Mal is a complete raging bitch, and that is not a word I use lightly. She is horrible to Merit, even going so far as to try and use Merit as an excuse for why she's fucking with the balance of magic. So low. But with an amazing and wonderful accidental result. 

WTF Catcher?
We can't let Catcher escape his portion of blame here, either. It's no secret that I cannot stand Catcher, but his role in Drink Deep and subsequent self-flagellation are infuriating to me. This is the guy who is a complete hypocrite through much of the series, telling Jeff that he's moving too fast with Fallon after moving in with Mallory the very night they met, and also the guy who presents himself as the ultimate knowledge on all things supernatural especially things magical. But in Drink Deep not only does he miss the signs that his live-in girlfriend is using black magic to try and create a familiar, wreaking havoc on the city, but he also dismissed obvious magical clues when Merit suggests them. Seriously, dude. You fucking suck. But the bit in Drink Deep that makes me feel particularly stabby is when he asks Merit if she is honoring Ethan's memory by spending time with Jonah. I could write an entire post about the offensivness of that questions, but I won't. I'll just say that at this point in the series Catcher is second on my shit list only to Mallory. 

I'm going to take a moment to discuss why I think that Ethan's temporary death was an important and necessary choice, because I do; I think that it was vital to Merit's journey that she understand exactly what it would have been like to have to live her life without Ethan by her side, and equally as important that she didn't have to do so. I read these two books together the first time, Drink Deep being the last available book (thank GODIVA!) when I started CLV, but I had Sookieverse friends who read HB on release day and reactions were mixed to say the least. After I read the books I had a bit of a wait until Biting Cold so I read lots of reviews, many of which were unsurprisingly not pleased about Ethan's death or his resurrection. A complaint that has always stuck with me was the idea that Ethan died to prove his love to Merit, and that it was simply unnecessary; he shouldn't have had to prove anything. I disagree, and think that that idea misses the point. I believe that the purpose of Ethan's death was to prove to Merit her own feelings, to show her what life would be like without Ethan, which I think was vital for Merit's journey. Our stubborn heroine might never have taken the chance, might never have let herself be vulnerable enough to trust him again. It was necessary and so well done! Not only do I approve, I love that they weathered this particular storm, making their bond that much stronger.

When I read these books the first time I didn't know Ethan was going to die, although I knew someone was going to, and I definitely did not know he would come back. Friends repeated the mantra "keep reading" but I thought that things would get okay for Merit, not that Ethan would come back. So when he strode through the clearing smoke and Merit saw his green eyes I don't think I've ever squealed so loudly when reading. It was wonderful and perfect, and our favorite couple have taken their second chance and made the most of it. They are stronger together than they ever were apart, and neither of them has hesitated again, understanding that immortality doesn't always last forever. 

Wench Rating:
All the stars. Five aren't enough--HB and DD get all the stars!


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