I was going to write a long, learned essay about how much the short story Hatchling in Laini Taylor’s collection, Lips Touch Three Times, pissed me off, but fuck it. Let me get to the meat of the matter: Laini Taylor, your voluptuous prose cannot distract me from your moral vacuity.
Each story in Lips Touch ostensibly has something to do with kissing, although Woman Is Abused Countless Times would be a more accurate title, as Hatchling, in particular, consists mostly of rape. A human girl, Mab, grows up as the ward of the queen of the Druj, cold, soulless, magical humanoids. When Mab achieves puberty, the queen starts regularly mind-raping her through possession. Things escalate even more into a multi-level rape extravaganza when the queen mind-rapes Mab and some Druj dude mind-rapes a human boy, thus compelling Mab and the boy to rape each other physically. Mab conceives a child and escapes Rapelandia to live a fugitive life with her daughter Esme.
Esme hits puberty, and the Druj reappear in Mab and Esme’s life. Chief among these is Mihai, who has been secretly stalking the women for the past fourteen years and lusting after Esme. But it’s okay, see, because it’s not really a barely pubescent girl he’s drooling over, but the Druj Queen, whose essence happens to have been metastasizing quietly inside Esme for her entire life.
How did the Druj Queen end up inside Esme? Well, Mihai has discovered a forbidden technique for the Druj to restore souls to their empty husks. Here’s how it goes: He mind-rapes a pregnant woman, then doubles down and mind-rapes the fetus. The fetus develops, grows, gets born, turns into a baby, a child and then a young adult, unaware that its mental orifices have been clogged with mental Druj penis for its entire life. When the child pubesces, Mihai detaches from his victim/host, performing rape squared again as he tears off part of the victim’s soul and appropriates it for himself. But it’s okay, see, because Mihai’s victims’ unconsenting association with mental Druj peen give them centuries of longevity, as well as magical powers. So they get to outlive their families and friends, while their most enduring bonds are with their immortal rapist, with whom they have an unbreakable mental link. And what does Mihai call this charming process? Hathra, or "wholeness." Well, when you put it that way, I don’t see how I can object!
Anyway, because RAPIST Mihai loved the RAPIST Druj Queen, he told her all about the DOUBLE RAPE of stealing souls from humans. She then RAPED her way into Mab, then RAPED transitively into Mab’s fetus, which eventually became Esme. The rest of the story follows how Mihai enlightens Esme to her status as RAPE victim and parasite fodder par excellence and then abets the Druj Queen RAPING her way out of Esme. The Druj Queen runs off, angry at Mihai for letting her empire fall to ruin while she was busy RAPING Esme. We get a quick paragraph or two about how Mab and Esme now have to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives as a result of so many levels of RAPE that I can’t even fathom multiplying them all, but the story ends with soulful RAPISTS Mihai and Druj Queen reuniting, presumably to RAPE off into the sunset in pursuit of their goal of greater humanity.
Taylor really destroys her reputation with this story. At first, I was on board with her narrative project because she was following Esme in her panic and confusion as she experienced foreign, familiar memories from Queen RAPE, as well as a disturbing attraction to Mihai. When the story flashed back to Mab’s history, I read with sympathy her terrifying, dismal life as a victim of emotional, sexual and physical abuse from which she eventually escaped. The desperate, exclusive love between Mab and Esme formed a powerful emotional core of these sections. I wanted to see how Mab and Esme would reckon with the horrible circumstances of Mab’s childhood and Esme’s creation.
But no. Instead, Taylor switches perspective over to Mihai, who’s your standard Irresistible, Immortal, Seductive, Bad Boy Pedophile, but it’s okay, see, because he had a pained look on his face when Queen RAPE and RAPE Dude were making Mab and the human boy RAPE each other, and he suffers said pain because he has a soul [which he RAPED out of other people], so he’s not all bad. Besides, as he RAPES himself into ensoulment, he remembers more of his pre-Druj past, during which he loved the Queen RAPE when he was a human too blah blah blah star-crossed love snore. Therefore, Mihai’s serial RAPE campaign is actually a compassionate mission to restore feelings and humanity to his damaged sweetie. Yes, folks, that’s our hero, tediously RAPING his way toward redemption.
I could deal with this "RAPE = redemption" development if Taylor handled it critically, but she doesn’t. I thought that she would, as she spent about two-thirds of the story demonstrating, through Mab and Esme, how much sexual abuse and exploitation can fuck people up. However, she then neglected them, as well as the most powerful material in the story, to focus on Mihai, who has about as much personality as a pile of warm phlegm.
Curiously, Taylor appears not to notice her de facto hero’s repulsive nature. She has him name his centuries-long RAPE campaign his quest for hathra or "wholeness," and she obviously doesn’t give a shit that Mihai’s wholeness comes at the expense of that of his human victims. By refusing to follow Mab and Esme and tell their story, which she had started, Taylor privileges the RAPIST Mihai over them, implying that his violent, exploitative means justify the ends of Twoo Wuv. Taylor ends up using Mab and Esme as a springboard for Mihai’s deadly dull Romeo and Juliet bullshit in the same way that Mihai and Queen RAPE use Mab and Esme for their own selfish ends.
Congratulations, Laini Taylor. You’ve just taken one of the most revolting things that one person can do to another and presented it uncritically as a path to humanity, compassion and love. You’re a role model to rapists everywhere, and I’m never reading another thing you write ever again.