A Brief “Huh?” on Gabriel’s Ghost

Gabriel’s Ghost, by Linnea Sinclair. I’ve read a few other SF romances by this author, but this one tossed me out about page 142 with a “WTH?” ringing in my head. Basically, “this book has made a left turn completely out of plausible emotional reality”.

Setup: Captain Chasidah Bergren, late of the imperial Sixth Fleet, was framed for dereliction of duty and exiled onto a near-lethal prison planet. Once there she survives attacks, and is then offered a route off the planet by Gabriel Sullivan; mercenary, pirate, and man she’d chased officially for over six years. Yes, she’d had one drunken kiss with him in a bar when they were both off-duty and stressed out – but still. Pirate. She takes his offer to get off the planet before it kills her, out of practicality. As who wouldn’t.

They get up to a space station (she’s still at risk of discovery and can’t escape) and come across evidence of illegal genetic monsters being created; Sullivan wants to stop it. Bergren agrees, because 1) still her best way out of the system and 2) she really hates these monsters.

Said trip to stop it involves taking over a ship. In the course of which it turns out Sullivan has empathic abilities and can mindwipe people, and does so rather than kill someone who’s recognized Bergren (which would start a manhunt after all of them).

Aaaand there’s where things get screwy.

Bergren, understandably, is not exactly thrilled to be anywhere near someone who could tamper with her brain and wipe her mind completely, no matter how sexy he is. Sullivan stomps off, distraught. And his alien friend, Ren, tells her that her rejection is going to destroy him. And that Sullivan’d tried to rescue her from prison before, because he couldn’t stand the idea that she would be alone and afraid.

And suddenly Bergren decides that her heart has been ripped in half, and the other half is with Sullivan.

Me: What The Heck just happened?

It just… makes no emotional sense, to me. The guy had been a wanted criminal, and gone out of his way to taunt and insult her at every meeting beforehand, according to Bergren’s own words. So he didn’t think she was guilty, and planned to break her out? Okay, still, pirate. So he got her off a death planet? He needed her knowledge of Fleet procedures/codes to accomplish his goals. And again, pirate.

But what really gets to me is the assumption that Bergren has to be responsible for Sullivan’s emotional response. Sorry, no, that won’t wash, empath or not. You can’t make up for years of being on the wrong side of the law with a few sexy innuendoes and empathic pining. And even if you could, they’re both supposed to be adults. Adults are responsible for managing their own emotions, thank you. Yes, even if someone else chooses to break your heart. That’s their choice.

The whole “tough independent Navy Captain suddenly folds because someone else can’t manage their own emotions” really… throws me out of the story. It makes no sense.

Does it make sense to anyone else?


21 thoughts on “A Brief “Huh?” on Gabriel’s Ghost

  1. Oh argh.

    Okay so the fact that her actions hurt him means that he really cares otherwise he wouldn’t be affected. She realizes that she doesn’t want to hurt him like that and has the big “omg I love him” moment and then the mind powers don’t matter because love conquers all right?😨 I assume a confession happens and then they used this as a foundation for a true relationship.

    Now in no way do I believe this is in anyway realistic or healthy. This is just fairy tail romance elements added in make the romance happen quicker and play on readers who want the romance (and the smex😧)to work as quickly as possible and don’t care about to many particulars.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. *wrinkles nose* not really.

    You’re /never/ ‘responsible’ for anyone else’s emotional reaction. And I’d think he’d be used to people freaking out about an ability like that?

    An like, he’s already shown to have dubious morals, having earned that whole bad boy wanted pirate label so she’s RIGHT to be worried about the safety of her own mind here’ isn’t she?

    And that sounds like she’s getting emotionally blackmailed by the alien dude there a too.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You sure this is not a hook to later reveal that she was vrainwashed to ‘fall back’ in love with the guy?

    because having a character act out of character all of a sudden, in a way contrary to logic is a rather good way to spring mindcontrol/brainwashing

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Disclaimer: haven’t read the book. Wouldn’t be likely to in the first place, I think, as the combination of factors doesn’t tweak my “possible interesting book here” nerve.

    So to get this part out of the way, I am completely on board with you V, Bergren is not IN ANY SHAPE WAY OR FORM responsible for Sullivan’s emotional reaction to her quite legitimate reflexive step away from the mindwiper.

    However, she may be a factor (and only a factor, among other factors surrounding this situation) in his continuing mental health and self perception.

    Reasoning from a completely ignorant stance other that what V has put above: Sullivan is not only capable of sensing emotional pattern about him but he is influenced by those same patterns, and directly at that – unlike the bog standard human (i.e. you or I) Sullivan doesn’t have interpretations of others’ emotional stances and reactions but he has those exact same influences playing out in his own brain.

    As a rider to the above, fiction is a real see-saw on just how much an empath can tamp down on sensing other people so Sullivan could be anywhere from complete control over whether or not he’s experiencing those other people’s feelings or he may have no choice in the matter because his brain meats are always shoving that stuff into his head.

    So, supposition: Sullivan is just as influenced (and as directly) by another’s emotional responses as they are. He has limited control over his ability, mostly in the range setting of his powers, but there’s always a bubble of significant size about him wherein he’s just as tuned in on other people as they are in their own heads.

    Final nail: feedback loops are a thing.

    Headcanon for a book I’ve never read! :: Sullivan started out a middling bad guy, sort of like Mal Reynolds on Firefly. He’s not particularly taken with the governing structures and takes exception to things like import/export taxes, bans on trades goods, etc, but he is buy and large a believer in the social structure of treat fairly with those he does business with, and very much a believer in the simple rule: “I do the job. And then I get paid.” (counterpoint, if he doesn’t do the job, he returns any funds advanced, as Mal did in The Train Job)

    But two things ran into themselves: Sullivan wasn’t exactly a feet nailed down type, even when he’d been younger, and so he’d never realized just how easily his abilities could feedback onto himself, and one of the people he’d picked up on his crew and saw him mindwipe someone had a similar but different emotional reaction to Sullivan: “this guy’s a monster, but he pays well.”

    Begin feedback loop: Crew thinks Sullivan is horrible, Sullivan feels that and it pushes him to do something horrible he wouldn’t have done before, crew sees it and gets reinforcement to the idead Sullivan is horrible, Sullivan feels reinforced perception and does another horrible thing, crew sees it…

    Repeat until someone who truly is a friend of Sullivan but hasn’t been around recently comes by, sees Sullivan right as he does something horrible, has reaction “This is not the way Sullivan does business” and that plays out in Sullivan’s head, competing against the “Sullivan is horrible” from the crew.

    Sullivan and friend figure out what happened, crew that is being a problem is sent their own way, Sullivan is left with a much worse reputation due to actions not entirely under his control, and sometime later he crosses Bergren’s path for the first time.

    So, the TLDR is, Bergren isn’t responsible for Sullivan being hurt by her initial reaction, but she may be a factor in whether or not Sullivan remains the somewhat bad guy he is now or gets worse by staying around him, which would definitely be a factor is she’s expecting to keep traveling with Sullivan to get away from the current situation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It would make some sense, though it would be both sad and the perfect setting for a tragedy to occur. If anything, if I was Bergen I’d run away even faster.
      We already influence people around us. if you are a bit manipulative you know exactly how badly you can hurt someone with your actions and words, which is fine when you know to be careful, but sometimes words can still get away from you. It’s hard enough to weigh your words to not hurt another, picture weighing your thoughts!
      It sounds like the sort of relationship that would be unhealthy and exhausting, if for different reasons than not trusting your lover. Fragile empath man may seem sexy on paper, but spending years with one is quite another matter! Even if she figured out she actually love him, it doesn’t really make much sense for the practical Navy Captain to not see the danger of such a relationship.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Run away faster? They’re not out of the problem they’re in yet, so she can’t. But yeah, the way I’m looking at it, you’re entirely correct it is very much *not* a healthy relationship in any way.

        Moderate her own reactions? Yes, this is something Bergren could do, and probably hold to until she can part ways, and then never go after him again.

        ….besides, the whole agnst of “can never be together ” would actually be great from the author’s point of view: “I’ve got this doomed relationship, it sold a million copies of my book… if I could work a way for Love To Triumph Over All then I might be able to get another million-copy… yeah, let’s take another poke at this…”

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Oooh, that would work nicely– and also explain why he latches on to a Law And Order type who can function as a sort of external conscience without her having to actually do that for him, just be herself in his area, which has the unintended result that he’s both driven to Do The Right Thing and get her out … that he literally becomes someone that she can admire the longer he’s around her.

      The way that folks often deal poorly with someone who is exactly like themselves could also explain why he had a tendency to not stay in one place long– there’s usually at least one person in any group who is, ah, strong personality type, and if it’s not a well run shop they will tend to act out on it. Add your Mind Dude not being confrontational by nature, and you get a wanderer….

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Stomping off because someone goes “wait, what, you can do WHAT to MY BRAIN, mister guy I’ve spent years chasing?” is a bit off, yeah.

    There’s a lot of space between “doesn’t want me dead on prison planet” and “isn’t a major threat who has goals for my future which are not compatible with what any mostly-sane person would desire.”

    I can think of ways that might make it work– starting with making “pirate” a lot closer to “smuggler” to dodge some of the body-count issues, or maybe a heavy layer of foreshadowing that establishes that Nobody Knows how this guy somehow manages to not kill anybody in so many situations, then have Alien Buddy deduce that he’s mind-wiped everybody who’s ever seen him use the ability… other than her.

    Do something to establish that there’s a misinterpretation of a situation. Stomping off because you’re leaving a deliberate vulnerability, because you don’t want to wrong someone like that, and then getting smacked for NOT doing what you do in every other situation, that makes some emotional sense.

    Maybe establish that he’d pretty much have to be in ‘high risk trading’ because the ability means that HE would be defined as an illegal genetic monster, thus justifying the pirate thing and making him asking her to help him deal with these yes-really-actually-genetic-monsters things a much bigger deal.

    They’d all take some foreshadowing to explain why she’s doing the emotional flip, though.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have noticed a tendency in some stories to move parts of the story around, for higher impact/shock value, so you get foreshadowing for something that already happened and would’ve made sense story-flow wise earlier.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. It is true that any actually rational interpretation means that our good Captain Bergren cannot be held morally responsible for pirate Sullivan’s … anything (except for her contribution to acts in which she willingly participated).

    Now, whether or not Sullivan-the-Empath had imprinted on Bergren in such a way that he is now literally dependent upon her – and her tolerance/acceptance of him? To be honest, this is no more stupid than the Valdemar/Velgarth Lifebond as first presented by Lackey in the Arrows trilogy. Yes, I know y’all have explained to me that the source material for the Lifebond was much more logical and nuanced, and as y’all have explained that source material to me it sounded pretty interesting, from a story POV.

    So … you might (shrug) be able to get back into the story using headcanon. But only if you want to. Because if you’re going to read something you’re not enjoying, you’d best have a darn good reason to torment yourself. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It would probably make sense if he’d already brainwashed her.

    Accidentally, even, if you didn’t want to make him a completely terrible person.

    Depends on how much control over his ability he’s established as having.

    But I haven’t read the book, so…

    Romance novel tropes, man.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Yeek. That… no, that doesn’t sound remotely sane. Or healthy. In-universe, that sounds like the relationship being a controlling, abusive narcissist, and a doormat. Out-of-universe, that sounds way too much like a certain class of shipper I’ve encountered, the kind that stakes their entire case on what one party feels and never addresses the other party at all (Persona 4 fandom, I’m looking at you; kuso, I hate what the anime did to that fanfic community).

    Either way, yeargh. I can see why you dropped that book in a hurry.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “… that sounds way too much like a certain class of shipper I’ve encountered, the kind that stakes their entire case on what one party feels and never addresses the other party at all”

    What, like Lan Wangji having all his *feelings* about Wei Wuxian before Wei Wuxian’s death? :p (Ducks all the hate-daggers hahahahaha!!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “What, like Lan Wangji having all his *feelings* about Wei Wuxian before Wei Wuxian’s death? :p (Ducks all the hate-daggers hahahahaha!!)”

      You’re entirely correct. To be fair, Lan Wangji doesn’t delude himself that he’s entitled to have Wei Wuxian reciprocate. It’s only Lan Xichen who thinks his brother’s feelings impose an obligation on Wei Wuxian

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I think you have found a particularly badly written romance novel. As a fan of the trashy romance, I can tell you they are not very good at showing healthy relationships generally (fun, though!). And this looks like a really badly written one. Happens sometimes. I hope it was not expensive?

    The reaction makes no sense at all, at least if you assume that Bergren has even the beginning of an understanding what a healthy relationship is. I would have quit at that point, too. This kind of romance will not get better from that point on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This. Bergren’s response is not believable without empath-shananigans (I’m giving my thumbs-up to Ilona’s comment here because my earlier response jumped to the last part of Vathara’s comments, and skipped the first part).

      It’s a shame, too, because Linnea Sinclair has written a fair amount of not-completely-brain-killing fluff. Shrug.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Sorry, can’t give recommendations. When I said “fluff” I really meant it – can’t remember a single one, I just know that I finished two of hers back-to-back, said to myself “Those were fun!,” and made a mental note of the name. Shrug.

        Lindsay Buroker writes more memorable fun stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Sinclair, and specifically this novel, are generally warned against. I see that the avoidance advice I got, back when it came out, was correct.

    To be fair, it seems that was fairly early in her career, and it originally came out under a different name and from a minor publisher. If it was supposed to be a romance subgenre, the tropes might have been different.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s