“You used magic to save me. I could smell it–lady’s mantle and ambergris.”
Y’all. I know this chapter is all about Diana coming back to life and people making frantic efforts to save herself from her own recklessness, but…. I would like to know why magic smells like whale intestines.
According to Wikipedia, ambergris (or ambergrease) is produced in the digestive system of the sperm whale and has a “marine, fecal odour” when fresh. When aged, however, it’s “sweet and earthy.” I presume that Deb is referring to the latter, not the former. But my goodness gracious.
Fragrantica.com describes “ambergris” as smelling “marine, animalic, and sweet.” Many perfumes contain ambergris, because it apparently makes scents last longer. However, it’s also illegal to collect the real thing in many places because of restrictions on the hunting and exploitation of whales. The Smithsonian published a rather thorough article on the subject entitled Your High End Perfume is Likely Part Whale Mucus. Apparently, there’s a “thriving clandestine trade” in ambergris, similar to that for hunting truffles. As a side note, ambergris and truffles look remarkably alike.
“I love him,” I said fiercely. “And he loves me.” Matthew’s many secrets–the Knights of Lazarus, Juliette, even Marcus–I pushed to the side, along with my knowledge of his ferocious temper and his need to control everything and everyone around him.
But Em knew what I was thinking. She shook her head. “You can’t ignore them, Diana. You tried that with your magic, and it found you. The parts of Matthew you don’t like and don’t understand are going to find you, too.”
Sigh. Jen and I will talk about this as it comes up in the text, but I’m going to dip my toes in now.
There are times when it will be necessary to talk about Matthew, Diana, abuse, and domestic violence. While–most of the time–I think ADOW and the AST manage to reckon–successfully–with the vampire trope, there are moments where it falls flat. For me, this is one of them.
The vampire trope in fiction tends to romanticize violence, distance, disdain, aggression, and dominance. In modern stories, that trope usually comes with nice trappings – plenty of money, good looks, a certain frisson of romantic danger. Generally speaking, ADOW treats Matthew as a character as more than a vehicle for these traits. Over the course of three books, he approaches his best self and many of the bad traits are either explained or he arcs away from them. However, in this moment, I have trouble processing Matthew because of the way that Diana reacts to Em’s comment and the way that the text discards it.
My hackles rise any time a character finds themselves in a dangerous situation and they dismiss or undermine voices expressing concern. Diana has a tendency to do this as it relates to Matthew–especially when the criticism comes from Hamish, Sarah, and Em. There are survivors of emotional and physical abuse who would find Matthew and Diana’s relationship quite triggering. I find it (generally) to be nicely contextualized, but this bit needs calling out every time we see it. It is desperately important to be explicit and honest about fiction when it screws up as I think ADOW does here.
Diana’s description of Matthew in this chapter should be troubling because it romanticizes possessive, dominating behavior combined with a tendency towards anger and violence. There are very fair criticisms of A Discovery of Witches centered in domestic violence, and we would be remiss not to talk about them. Matthew often acts towards Diana in ways that are domineering, controlling, and authoritarian. He threatens to kill her. He makes choices for her on the basis of her not knowing enough about the world to make them herself. He often disposes with Diana’s agency by either failing to consider it or by simply acting without reference to her and forcing her to live with the consequences. This is aided by Diana’s weaknesses as a protagonist–her goals aren’t clear, she’s already isolated, and she’s clueless about a lot of Really Important Shit for the duration of the book.
I would not fault anyone for turning away from ADOW based on Matthew, especially not when you compare his behaviors to the very famous list of DV warning signs published shortly after the peak of Twilight mania. For me, I think Matthew’s context evolves in a way that I can forgive him for some things, but not all of them. We’ll explore those in the podcast to avoid spoilers.
I think a good deal of fiction is about the emotional experience of the story and what the story can tell us about ourselves. It is possible that this warning note is intentional; Matthew’s darkness and potential for redemption are major topics for Shadow of Night, which we’re approaching with great speed. It’s possible that we’re situated so deeply in Diana’s POV that we’re meant to feel the knee-jerk, tidal pull of her connection to Matthew more than we are supposed to feel Em’s warning. That’s possible. It doesn’t sit especially well with me, but it’s possible.
I would like to have a conversation with Deb someday about the choices she made in this scene with respect to–essentially–tossing away the concerns of a character with a vested interest in Diana and her well-being. I hate that Em’s dialogue minimizes the danger of Matthew (physically or emotionally) by talking about character traits Diana doesn’t “like” or “understand.” I hate that Diana, who is supposed to have such incredible power and independence, does not engage with this comment or with Matthew’s authoritarian behavior in more than a foot-stamping, “oh-fine-have-it-your-way” way until much, much later. Some would say “too late,” and that’s valid.
I won’t give any conclusions on my thoughts re: Matthew until the end of the trilogy, because I don’t think we have all of the tools for the discussion, yet. I will say, however, that this is a moment where I think that this chapter and scene stumbles–hard–on the worst of Matthew in a way that requires honest discussion about how romanticizing relationships with a dangerous power imbalance normalizes domestic violence.
As usual, I welcome your thoughts and comments. You can find us at @chamomilenclove on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,