Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

Bitten (Women of the Otherworld Series #1) Bitten is the first book in Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series.  At the center of this book (though not necessarily the entire series) is Elena.  Elena is a werewolf though you wouldn’t know it if you saw her walking down the street in Toronto.  In Toronto Elena is a journalist who lives with her sweet, considerate boyfriend, Philip.  Occasionally she likes to go for long, solitary walks at night.  Philip finds this habit worrisome but chalks it up to Elena’s need for independence and her difficulty in sharing due to a childhood spent being shuffled from one foster home to the next.  He doesn’t know the real reason – that his girlfriend is a werewolf who occasionally needs to run wild through the woods, the streets, or wherever she can find.  One day Elena gets a phone call summoning her to Stonehaven.  Forced to make up an excuse to tell Philip, Elena reluctantly returns to her pack. 

Elena is ambivalent about being a werewolf and even more so about being a part of pack.  Some werewolves are born and some are made.  Elena was made and it wasn’t her choice.  Unlike many of her brothers (and you’ll see why I said brothers in a moment), Elena still wants to have a life as a human.  Hence the job and boyfriend and Toronto.  But she is not entirely comfortable in the human world either where she has lie and suppress her more violent and aggressive tendencies.  (Although one might wonder why she couldn’t be aggressive as a human as well.)  A big part of her story is figuring out where she belongs, how she is going to live, and who she is going to live with.  There is one other interesting thing Elena, she is the only female werewolf in existence.

Bitten reminded me how much I liked the Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) series and urban fantasy in general.  This series ought to be a nice replacement now that Sookie’s adventures have ended.  I should point out this isn’t a new series.  It is just new to me.  I came to this book via the new show Bitten on the SyFy channel.  Whenever there’s a movie or a tv show that is based on the book I like to check out the source material, which contrary to popular opinion is not always better than the audiovisual version.  (Case in point:  The Notebook – I love, love the movie, not so much the book.)  In this case, so far I like both the book and the show.  I do hope that the show does not mirror the book exactly.  (True Blood totally veered in a different direction from the Southern Vampire series, and I believe that is one of its strengths.) 

I really liked the character of Elena.  She is a strong female character whose life doesn’t revolve around a man/love interest, though her romantic life is a key part of the story.  I would have liked there to have been a bit more about Elena’s non-werewolf life and how she manages to live in the human world with such a huge secret.  I also want to know more about Bear Valley, where Stonehaven is located, and hope the author fleshes out the background characters more.  Part of what made the Southern Vampire series so good was the background setting and characters.  Charlaine Harris made Bon Temps come alive.  Bear Valley isn’t quite at that level yet.  There are twelve more books in the series plus related anthologies so hopefully Bear Valley and its inhabitants will become more vivid in future books.  In the meantime, I thoroughly enjoyed Bitten and would give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.  It definitely got me hooked on the series.  I bought the next book in the series and a related anthology before I was halfway through this one. 

One other thought:  This is my kind of werewolf story.  Based on my reading and viewing experience, there seems to be two kinds of werewolves in the fantasy universe – the kind where the person turns into an actual (although larger than normal) wolf and the kind where the person turns into a wolf-like monster that walks on two legs and is nothing more than an unthinking killing machine.  I’ve always been partial to the person-to-animal strain of werewolf stories.  Those stories tend to be much more interesting as the person tries to balance their animalistic and rational brains.

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