Deep in the Forest Where Nobody Goes

Bitten — Kelley Armstrong
Otherworld, book 1

Bitten

To quote Kelley Armstrong’s website:

I’ve been telling stories since before I could write. My earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, mine would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to my teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make me produce “normal” stories failed. Today I continue to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves while safely locked away in my basement writing dungeon.

She has published in excess of thirty novels since 2001.

2001’s Bitten is the first novel in Armstrong’s Otherworld series.

Determined to live her perfectly normal life with her perfectly adorable boyfriend Philip, Elena Michaels carefully withholds one or two facts about herself from Philip. Chief among these is the fact that she is, occasionally, a wolf. Not only are werewolves uncommon in Toronto, but Elena is the only known female werewolf on the planet.

Just one part of a colourful past she is determined to leave behind her.




Before Elena was bitten by werewolf Clayton Danvers, her life was horrible. Her life after being bitten was scarcely better. The werewolf community takes a dim view of women. She eventually made a place for herself in werewolf society, but she did not at all relish the necessary bloodshed. So she left. At the time, her packmaster, Jeremy Danvers, was unable to keep her or bring her back.

And yet … when her old pack reaches out to Elena, she leaves her comfortable urban Canadian life and heads back to Jeremy’s isolated Stonehaven estate. Why?

Werewolves are not all that fond of the rule of law, but they are rather keen on rank and position. “Mutts,” werewolves who are for one reason or another outside the pack, are at the bottom of the heap. They should be happy if they’re permitted to live. For them to thrive, or push for territory of their own, should not be possible and is certainly not right. One Mutt is refusing to bow to custom and has found an effective way to push back.

Most humans don’t know much about werewolves (they may think they know, but they don’t). Those who do find out anything of import are killed to keep them from sharing their knowledge. Humans are, however, quite knowledgeable about homicide and methods for investigating same. Leaving ostentatiously murdered corpses scattered around Stonehaven is an excellent way to draw unwanted attention to the Danvers.

If that doesn’t work? Well, there’s always picking off the pack one by one with ambushes and committing extremely public mass murders. Not to mention Mutt’s predilection for filling his ranks with homicidal maniacs.

 ~oOo~

On the one hand, I believe in supporting local writers, and Armstrong is one of the best-known KW authors1. On the other hand, I don’t like most urban fantasy/paranormal romance. Bitten is just that; moreover, it is a textbook example of some things that I do not like about urban fantasy/paranormal romance. So, not the best reviewer for this book. Ardent fans of this series might want to stop reading now.

A) The Smurfette trope. Elena is the only woman in the lot, the only female not to die after being bitten2.

B) She is not a cute happy Smurfette; she is an oppressed female. The male werewolves think of human women as something one rapes or eats or rapes and then eats.

Not that werewolf society is particularly admirable aside from misogyny. It’s trying to be as enlightened as the feudal system, but for the most part, hierarchy is based on competitive killing. They fight among themselves; they take what they want and kill anyone who gets in the way.

All of this means that I care nothing about their internal conflicts. The antagonists in this book are nastier characters than the protagonists but it’s only a matter of degree, not kind. They’re all murder puppies.

(Who don’t act in any way like real wolves. In case you were wondering.)

This is one of the recurring tendencies of urban fantasy that puts me off: the tendency of people with special abilities to immediately assume the laws of society do not apply to them, that their gifts give them the right to treat other people as property. It’s not a universal characteristic in urban fantasy, but it is common enough the exceptions stand out.

Still, nobody sells over thirty books without an audience. There must be something here I don’t see but that the author’s fans do. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy and have missed Armstrong’s work, you may want to give it try.

Bitten is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Or so I have been assured, most recently by Armstrong’s champion in the local event, Waterloo Reads. The champion is Mandy Bujold. If you cannot trust Gold Medal Olympians, whom can you trust?

2: There are two ways to become a werewolf. Being bitten works (if you survive the transformation, which many do not, especially poor frail women). So does being the male offspring of a werewolf; the trait is passed along the male line and the male line only.


Comments

  • Thorn

    I could not finish this book, because we were somehow meant to believe that Clayton's actions were romantic and that the heroine still had feelings for him.

  • Robert Carnegie

    I haven't read her books and won't argue for them specifically, but, if your "special ability" is being a werewolf or a vampire or an ethnic minority then the law of society tends to say it's illegal just to be what you are. With reasons in the vampire and werewolf cases. But if the law persecutes rather than protecting you, why respect the law? And as you describe it, the Mutt known as "The Mutt" (how wrong on, oh, ninety to a hundred to think of Isaac Asimov's "The Mule"?) is even an outlaw from the werewolves. Outlaws are rarely paladins of justice. Spider-Man, obviously. The X-Men. Early Harry Dresden. But it's... eccentric.

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