Where's Your Book Today?

That's what people always say to me at work, if I don't have a book or my PDA or my eBookwise Reader with me at lunch. I love to read and I guess it's obvious. So many books, so little time...and so much dust in my apartment.

Friday, April 28, 2006

"Bitten" by Kelley Armstrong

Have you discovered the paranormal or urban fantasy genres? Vampires, werewolves and other shapeshifters, fairies (the fae), witches, the djinn (genies, to most of us), time-traveling druids, Greek gods and goddesses, and more?

I actually discovered the paranormal genre in erotic romance, so at first I was a bit ambivalent about it. The vampires and werewolves are often so "alpha" they seem almost abusive to me. I really don't get the appeal of the domineering hero (the current buzzword is "dominant" - oh, swoon!). If we came up against this behavior in real life, we'd be taking out restraining orders...but I digress.

I'm hooked on these genres at the moment, so you'll probably see a lot of them show up on this blog.

I finally began reading Kelley Armstrong's "Women of the Otherworld" series. The first book, "Bitten," revolves around a 30-something woman, Elena, who became the world's first known female werewolf 10 years earlier when she was in college. She was "turned" by her then-fiance, Clay, who was afraid that his werewolf brethren (his "Pack") wouldn't allow him to keep his human lover.

Elena has been trying to live apart from the Pack, still struggling with her feelings of betrayal at Clay's actions and the loss of her dreams of a normal, human, family life. Those dreams were very important to Elena, who lost her family while she was young, and had spent her remaining childhood in a nightmarish succession of foster homes.

Elena is summoned to the Pack homestead by the Pack "alpha," Jeremy, who was also Clay's guardian and the man who helped her survive the physical and emotional conversion from human to werewolf. Rogue "non-Pack" werewolves, known as "mutts," are threatening the Pack and its members, and Elena is needed to help track them down.

She agrees to help but is adamant that she's only back with the Pack for as long as it takes to solve the problem, then she's returning to her human life. It doesn't matter that Clay wants her back. It doesn't matter that the Pack is the only sort of family she's ever had. It doesn't matter that her human life is based on a whole bunch of lies as she tries to hide her werewolf nature. Clay took away her dreams, so fooey on the lot of them.

My favorite scenes in this book are those that describe the Pack behaviors when they are in wolf form. There's such a sense of play...I kept thinking "This author must have dogs!" I could see the wolves as they jumped and ran and nipped at each other, picturing an apartment I once shared with two humans, three dogs, and two cats. Of all the werewolf fiction I've read, this was the only one that I remember gave me such a strong sense of the doggie-ness of the wolves (as opposed to only imparting a sense of the predatory hunter, which is also strong in "Bitten").

I enjoyed this story. I gave it a 4 out of 5 on my very subjective scale. But it's a story with problems, in my opinion.

It was obvious throughout the book what Elena's feelings were - both for Clay, and for Jeremy and the rest of the Pack. Her continued whining and arguing got old fast, especially since in general she's a strong, self-assured woman. Because of that, the "tension" between her and Clay and the question of how their relationship would be resolved felt forced. This isn't an uncommon problem in romantic fiction...the "big misunderstand" is too often one that is patently fabricated or just left to run on for too long.

I also got bogged down in werewolf mythology/science. Armstrong's werewolves are a blend of traditional myth and Armstrong's twist on the tale. The condition is still transferred by a wolfbite. Werewolves are still able to live in human or wolf form. But they aren't the slavering mad creatures controlled by the changes of the moon, nor are they any more susceptible to silver than anyone else. And in Amstrong's universe, only male werewolves are born. From an evolutionary point of view, I wonder at the likelihood of a species' continued existence if it can only make males during reproduction.

The human mothers, when mentioned at all, are entirely disposable and inconsequential...in fact, the boys are taken from their mothers and raised by the male wolf Pack members. Female werewolves can only be "made", and the conversion process is so harrowing that few humans survive it. Unspoken is the thought that women are less likely to survive it than men, so Elena is the "only" female werewolf.

I kept being pulled out of the story to think about the logistics of that. The werewolf saliva infects the open wound created by the bite and - whammo! - the conversion begins. I'm sorry, but Elena and Clay had been "sucking face" for weeks before the big dramatic moment. They were physically intimate, and it seemed they liked it a little ... rough (in a totally good kind of rough way). They'd already been swapping body fluids for some time. And most of the other werewolf guys were total sluts! In all of that swapping of body fluids, no other woman was ever infected?! It hardly seems possible. But hey, maybe the werewolf has to be in wolf form for the bite to convert a human to werewolfiness.

Then you've got the whole "woman are inconsequential" feeling with these guys. One of the recurring themes in the books is the werewolves' utter ruthlessness when protecting the Pack. "Mutts" are killed with almost nonchalant regularity and Pack members are trained in how to properly dispose of the bodies and any physical evidence. But when the book mentions that werewolf children (well, boys, since there are no girls) are raised by the Pack, it's glaringly silent about how that happens. You are almost forced to assume the women are killed when their "usefulness" is over. The only mothers mentioned are self-centered and indifferent as parents.

As I mentioned earlier, I did enjoy this book. I'll read the next one (and, actually, have already read the next one...but that's for another blog). It probably wouldn't be the first book I'd recommend to someone wanting to try out urban fantasy, but for those of us who want "more, more, more" of the genre, it's yet another twist on the werewolf legend and worth the time to read it.

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