Friday, May 25, 2012

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

I will tell you right off the bat, I'm not that into werewolves and other fantasy creatures (vampires, ghosts, etc.). Even during my Wiccan years or my goth phase (yeah, it happened) this sort of stuff wasn't really my bag. I should tell you this up front because I didn't like this book, and not being that into werewolves probably had a lot to do with it.

This is the first of Kelley Armstrong's "women of the Otherworld" series. Regardless of how I feel about the actual book, it is awesome to see a woman writing popular Canlit fantasy about women (and female beasties etc.). If you are into fantasy/horror, I recommend you check it out! (If you are not, don't.)

Normally I wouldn't put so much stock into the genre when talking about a book, but it's a difference-maker for me. When I read fantasy, I want the story to be compelling, not leaning on its fantastical worlds. I read stuff like this and I think: would this still be a good story if it wasn't about (wizards/goblins/werewolves/vampires/etc.)? (Hint: for Harry Potter the answer is yes. For this book the answer - in my opinion - is no. For Twilight, the answer is that it wasn't compelling even with the beasties).

Bitten is about Elena, the only female werewolf (the explanation is complicated, I won't get into it here). She is trying to live a normal life in Toronto with a really nice guy and a job and an apartment (on Lakeshore!), while secretly changing into a wolf every week or so (apparently they kinda have to or it just happens on its own). Then her pack leader, Jeremy, calls her and asks her to come back to Stonehaven (no really, that's what it's called), the pack hideout in upstate New York, to solve an urgent problem.

The story deals with two threads: the problem, which is that non-pack werewolves (or "mutts") have been killing people on the pack territory, and Elena struggling to decide which world she wants to live in: the human world with her bland but loving boyfriend, or the werewolf world with this sexy guy named Clay, to whom she used to be engaged, but he betrayed her trust by turning her into a werewolf, but she still kinda likes him.

The main problem I had with the novel: Elena is not super likable. It is certainly a big deal that Clay turned her into a werewolf without asking her first, for sure. But she never listens to him when he tries to explain or apologize - and then continually leads him on by snuggling with him, running around with him (literally, they're werewolves) and fucking him. Elena, you are not really a feminist character, even though I wanted you to be!  Her story brings up lots of issues of consent and agency but then basically dismisses them at will. The vagina wants what it wants. Anyway, I just couldn't really sympathize with her most of the time because she was being so unreasonable, or cruel.

I also found some of the description bland and repetitive, especially the running, hunting and fighting parts (although those readers more interested in wolves might disagree). The writing in general is fine, although the sex scenes are a bit amateurish, but it must be hard to write sex and not make it seem cheesy. Also there wasn't a lot of Toronto - most of the action takes place in New York state. I would hesitate to put this on a list of fiction set in Toronto.

I guess in the end this book just didn't hold my interest. I wasn't that invested in the protagonist, I didn't care when characters I had barely met died, I wasn't that compelled by all the running and biting and so on. This book took me a lot longer than it should have to read, and that is mainly because I was reluctant to keep picking it back up.

I think probably fans of the genre will like this, especially if they are frustrated by a lack of three-dimensional female characters in general. But for me, when you take away the wolves, there is not really a lot going on here - certainly not enough to keep me reading more.

Two CN Towers out of five

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