Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,
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inverarity

Book Review: Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn

A late-night radio DJ comes out of the closet as a werewolf.



Warner Books, 2005, 288 pages


Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station---and a werewolf in the closet. Sick of lame song requests, she accidentally starts "The Midnight Hour," a late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. After desperate vampires, werewolves, and witches across the country begin calling in to share their woes, her new show is a raging success. But it's Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew.



I have really not read a lot of paranormal romance; in fact, I mostly dislike the whole genre on principle. If I'm going to dip into the "hotbodies-banging-the-supernatural" genre, I at least want a real story and real writing and some seriously interesting worldbuilding.

But, Carrie Vaughn is going to be at an event I will be attending soon, so I figured I should familiarize myself with her work, and the Kitty Norville series is her bestselling one.

Overall, I give Kitty and the Midnight Hour a mildly approving "Eh, it was all right."

Pluses:


  • There wasn't that much sex, and none of it was explicit.
  • Writing is good, above average for the genre.
  • Kitty's "Midnight Hour" segments were entertaining.


Minuses:


  • Worldbuilding was on the weak side.
  • Most subplots left hanging.
  • Dead Gay Boyfriend syndrome.
  • Wolves don't act that way!


In which I take a brief detour into academia so that I may rant about your stupid fucking werewolves:



So, in the Kitty Norville series, the supernatural is real and is pretty much taken at face value. We aren't given a lot of explanation or details. The only supernatural beings who appear in the first book are werewolves and vampires, though it's hinted that others exist. Both werewolves and vampires seem to be your standard issue variety with no major twists. Kitty, who is a werewolf, is part of a "pack" consisting of other werewolves.

Herein I began having Issues.


Abstract:
The prevailing view of a wolf (Canis lupus) pack is that of a group of individuals ever vying for dominance but held in check by the "alpha" pair, the alpha male and the alpha female. Most research on the social dynamics of wolf packs, however, has been conducted on non-natural assortments of captive wolves. Here I describe the wolf-pack social order as it occurs in nature, discuss the alpha concept and social dominance and submission, and present data on the precise relationships among members in free-living packs based on a literature review and 13 summers of observations of wolves on Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories, Canada. I conclude that the typical wolf pack is a family, with the adult parents guiding the activities of the group in a division-of-labor system in which the female predominates primarily in such activities as pup care and defense and the male primarily during foraging and food-provisioning and the travels associated with them.

Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs, by L. David Mech, Canadian Journal of Zoology, 1999, 77:(8) 1196-1203, 10.1139/z99-099


In Vaughn's world, pack dynamics among werewolves are more like those of a hen house: there is not just an alpha male and female, but every wolf in the pack has a place in the pecking order, and every "challenge" of someone's authority means you either roll over and submit or fight it out to see whether you switch places. Being higher in the pack hierarchy apparently means you can screw, bully, and even take money from anyone who's lower than you. Keep in mind, these are not "wolves" playing all these dominance games, but people who happen to turn into wolves. I got sick of it fast. I find it completely implausible. Even assuming that being a werewolf gives you some "wolf-like" instincts that affect your social habits, these are still fully autonomous human beings who function (to varying degrees) in human society. I mean, they drive cars, they hold jobs, they use the Internet. I can't see everyone who contracts lycanthropy being willing to accept prison gang conditions where you have to roll over and whimper for anyone who's bigger than you.

Now, granted, Kitty does start questioning this whole setup and we learn at the end that this particular pack is in fact dysfunctional because the pack "alpha" is a great big fuckwad, but still, we're told throughout the book that the dominance games are "instinctive" and Kitty even has to suppress them herself when she's facing normal humans.

I would really like to see a werewolf book written by someone with an actual appreciation of wolf behavior that doesn't seem like BDSM fantasy as performed by furries.

But anyway, what about the plot?



Kitty and the Midnight Hour presents us with three subplots.

The first is Kitty's gig as a late-night radio DJ. One night she takes a call from someone she realizes is a fellow supernatural, and he unburdens himself with his supernatural problems. Pretty soon other vampires and werewolves are calling in to ask Kitty for advice, she's a ratings hit, and the local vampires and werewolves are kind of pissed because HEY WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SEKRIT! This leads to conflicts with her furry friends, as well as someone trying to kill her on-air.

The second subplot is a serial killer whom Kitty begins to suspect is one of her own: a rogue werewolf. She ends up romantically entangled with a werewolf hunter and acting as part-time consultant, part-time suspect for the police.

The third subplot is a Christian cult leader who claims that he can cure vampirism and lycanthropy, turning his supernatural followers human again.

We don't get any real answers about the last, and hardly anything else is resolved with any kind of finality, so there are a couple of Big Bads and a bunch of Little Bads still running around out there to bother Kitty in future books.

I might have liked this book more if Kitty weren't such a mewling, hapless, submissive thing for so much of the book, in marked contrast to her sassy, snarky on-air personality and her generally aggressive attitude when facing anyone except men who want to fuck her. Stronger worldbuilding might have made me at least care enough to read deeper into the series, but a quick scan through some of the summaries of later books tell me there's more stuff about werewolves vs. vampires and the government and were-jaguars and okay, whatever.


Verdict: If a hardbody with obligatory tramp-stamp on the cover is enough to make you read a vampire/werewolf book, then this one has competent writing and a decent story. I didn't find it to be anything special though, and after gritting my teeth through a bunch of wankery about "alpha" wolves and the heroine taking forever to assert herself (yeah, it was character development, but seeing her start out so weak, she only manages to acquire half a level in bad-ass by the end of the book), I'm not a fan, sorry. The setting isn't interesting or original enough for me to wonder what else is happening in other corners of the world, and that and interesting characters are my main reason for reading anything in the urban fantasy genre.
Tags: books, books that fail, carrie vaughn, fantasy, reviews
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